If you watched Andrew Luck a lot last season, he had to do a lot with very little. For most of the season he was without his deep vertical threat Chris Owusu, which caused him all sorts of problems. Luck had to anchor the offense with tight ends, which are a good complement to a vertical passing attack but not terribly sustainable.
Jim Harbaugh can probably empathize with his former quarterback--anyone watch the 49ers offense most of last season?--but at least Harbaugh could rely on an all-star defense and special teams to support his often moribund offense. Luck had no such luxury, and had to shore too much of the load in the big games.
No where was that more emphatic than that decisive defeat to Oregon. Our first look at Luck's performance from that game.
Andrew Luck vs Oregon 2011 (via JMPasq)
0:05: 2nd and 6, Stanford 21, 14:16 1st.
Luck starts out in a Pistol formation with the tight end in motion from left to right, and Oregon shows a 3-4 look. The Ducks rush their weakside defensive end and drop everyone else back in coverage. Luck's intended target is Coby Fleener (man-in-motion) running a square out, but the throw is too high. This is a catch an athletic slot receiver might handle, but Fleener is ground-bound and can't make the leap.
Interestingly Oregon doesn't send a man against David DeCastro, choosing to bring pressure against the weaker right tackle Tyler Mabry. Luck does get the throw off but gets hit just after the release. This will be a constant theme in this contest.
0:16: 3rd and 6, Stanford 21, 14:10 1st.
Luck back in the Pistol, Oregon has four men at the line and seven back in coverage, including two linebackers intermediate. At the snap, the Ducks rush three of those defenders, but drop one back, probably to shadow Luck in case he decides to take off and run. That third defender is a linebacker, as Oregon tries to hint at a 4-2-5 when it's actually a 3-3-5.
Luck goes to the short flare-out, but one of the linebackers (the other one drops back and gets blocked out) begins pursuit of the Stanford ball-carrier and tracks him down for minimal gain. The play was designed well enough, it's just the Oregon defensive athletes were superior at shedding blocks and committing bodies to angle pursuit while forcing Luck toward the outside flare.
0:23: 2nd and 8, Stanford 10, 11:32 1st.
Probably Luck's best throw of the first quarter. Luck goes to shotgun and the Cardinal go into max protect to watch against the Oregon pass rushers. When they don't show and the Ducks only commit their front four, Luck has to step out of the pocket and find a secondary receiver because his primary receivers are blanketed downfield.
Luck finds his secondary receiver Griff Whalen who cuts inside underneath the Oregon zone to move past the linebacker and make the catch moving perpendicular from the direction Luck is throwing it. Luck makes a good throw going to his left (the weak side) to zip it in between the Ducks defenders while running toward him; accuracy is important because the ball might have been intercepted otherwise.
0:46: 3rd and 4, Stanford 24, 9:30 1st.
This time the pressure does come, as the Ducks move into man-to-man coverage while all seven of their rushers engage the seven Stanford blockers (5 OL + RB + TE).
Luck has to escape the pocket to try and find a better passing angle as the pocket constricts from the pressure, and does a good job finding Whalen moving toward the outside, but Whalen's initial slip on his route allows his defender to play tighter on him and break up the play.
Early conclusions: You can already see some themes developing. Nick Aliotti, Oregon defensive coordinator, is bringing multiple looks to try and confuse Luck, but also the playcalling--you can already see Stanford committing more bodies back, partly because they don't have the personnel to defend, but also they're worried about how the weaker blockers can handle the Stanford pass rush.
You also see the limitations of the receivers on plays 1, 2, and 4, as they either lack the requisite athleticism needed to make the play, or they just make mistakes. The only real positive Stanford play was from Luck alone. You're starting to get an idea of the limited palette Luck was given to show off his artistry, and those themes get amplified later on in this contest.