Stanford heads into Big Game with Luck on its side | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Stanford heads into Big Game with Luck on its side

Josh Dubow, The Associated Press

STANFORD – Jim Harbaugh’s first recruiting trip as Stanford’s football coach was to Texas to visit Andrew Luck even though it would be more than a year before the quarterback could arrive on campus.

Harbaugh visited three other quarterbacks on that trip but liked Luck best of all to be the quarterback to build a program around. Nothing Luck has done in his first year as a starter at Stanford has altered that opinion.

“I thought he’d play well, but he has surpassed what we thought he would do in his freshman year,” Harbaugh said.

Luck is a major reason why No. 14 Stanford (7-3, 6-2 Pac-10) has moved into The Associated Press rankings and qualified for a bowl for the first time in eight years and is in the running for a Rose Bowl bid heading into the Big Game on Saturday against rival California.

The Cardinal can achieve that once unfathomable goal by beating the Golden Bears, and getting losses down the stretch from Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona.

While that is a bit of a long shot, it’s remarkable that it is even a possibility considering where the program was when Harbaugh made that first trip to Stratford High School in Houston shortly after being hired in December 2006 to turn around a program coming off a 1-11 season under Walt Harris.

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“I was impressed with his enthusiasm,” Luck said. “He cared a lot. He just seemed like a fun guy to play for. I could tell he wanted to win and was a real competitive guy. When I went out on a trip and met some of the players, I could tell they weren’t losers. They were winners as well.”

Luck, who redshirted last season, has helped make Stanford winners on the field once again. In a year of focus on freshmen quarterbacks, Luck just might be the best of the lot. A couple of weeks ago, people scoffed when Harbaugh said he thought Luck was playing as well as any quarterback in the country.

After leading the Cardinal to 106 points in back-to-back wins over nationally ranked Oregon and Southern California, that notion doesn’t seem so farfetched.

“Andrew Luck I really believe is the most underrated player in the country,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “You don’t hear a lot about him but we’ve had a chance to watch a lot of tape on him this year through crossover games and he is unbelievably poised and confident. … He’s one of the impressive quarterbacks I’ve seen this year.”

In the 51-42 victory over then-No. 7 Oregon, Luck threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 completions.

Then in last week’s 55-21 win over then-No. 11 USC, Luck picked the Trojans apart with shorter passes and his legs. He threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 61 more and another score.

Luck has completed 58 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has allowed Stanford to stretch the field, helping open up holes for star running back Toby Gerhart, by averaging 16.1 yards per completion, third best in the nation.

“He’s been the reason for this success and the reason for this turnaround,” Gerhart said. “He’s opened up the offense. He doesn’t make our offense one-dimensional. He can run, he can throw play-action, he can scramble. He’s done some tremendous things.”

Harbaugh said Luck has the rare combination of book smarts and football smarts. The valedictorian of his high school class, Luck has an almost photographic memory that helps him master game plans in almost no time at all.

Harbaugh described Luck’s knowledge of the game like being that of an Advanced Placement student while others are just taking the normal classes.

“He’s able to grasp concepts and understand game plans by Tuesday the way you want a quarterback to have it by Saturday,” Harbaugh said.

It probably helped that Luck grew up with a father who played quarterback in the NFL and later was a longtime executive in the World League of American Football and NFL Europe.

While Oliver Luck’s career with the Houston Oilers ended before Andrew was born, some of the football knowledge has been passed down.

Oliver Luck coached Andrew in Pop Warner and played frequent games of catch with his son when the family lived in Europe. But father-son moments in the Luck family weren’t spent studying game film or delving into playbooks.

“I made a decision that I wanted to be his dad as opposed to his coach,” Oliver Luck said. “Football was not standard dinner table conversation. I’d try to be encouraging. I’d give him a tip or two. But I always assumed he got enough football at practice.”

One big role Oliver Luck did play was in vetting Harbaugh before his son committed to Stanford. Luck called his former college coach at West Virginia, Don Nehlen, to get a scouting report because Nehlen had worked with Harbaugh’s father, Jack, at Bowling Green and Michigan.

“I really trust Don Nehlen,” Oliver Luck said. “He spoke very highly of Jim, Jack and the whole family. I told Andrew, ‘This guy played 15 years in the NFL and can teach you a lot of things I can’t teach you.”‘

The decision is paying off on both ends.

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