Luck throws four TD passes in Stanford’s 52-17 win.
STANFORD – Andrew Luck stood up for his running backs. He also stood up and found his wide receivers – a lot.
Luck threw a career-high four touchdown passes in helping Stanford win its first game without Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, beating Sacramento State 52-17 Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson each scored a touchdown for the Cardinal. They were among several running backs used by Stanford, which gained 213 yards, 82 in the first half, on the ground.
“The running backs played a heck of a game,” Luck said. “We have been through a spring, a summer and a training camp with them, and as much as we love Toby, these are the guys now.”
Luck completed 17 of 23 passes for 316 yards, including an 81-yard scoring toss to Doug Baldwin and a 59-yard touchdown to Stepfan Taylor. Luck also threw TD passes of 15 yards to Baldwin and 5 yards to Zach Ertz.
“We were running the ‘fresh legs program,'” Luck said. “Doug had the fresh legs, ran a great post route, ran underneath the ball and finished.”
Baldwin caught four passes for 111 yards.
Kyle Monson returned a punt 70 yards for a score, and Curtis Shaw rushed for a touchdown for the Hornets. Chris Diniz matched his career-best with a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Luck more than made up through the air what Gerhart once provided on the ground. He was 14 of 18 for 301 yards in the first half, and that was without wide receiver Chris Owusu, who missed the game with an apparent right foot injury.
“I think we came out strong,” Luck said. “We made some mistakes, but we were on the screws for the most part.”
The 316 yards was Luck’s second-highest game total, behind his 423 yards last year at Arizona.
“He’s athletic, he’s big, he’s fast, he makes good decisions,” Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “He’s the real deal.”
The Cardinal scored on their first two possessions to open a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Stanford needed seven plays to march 75 yards after taking the opening kickoff. Stewart went the final yard.
The Cardinal took over on their own 15-yard line on its next possession. After Luck ran for 4 yards, he connected with Baldwin on an 81-yard scoring toss, the longest Stanford TD pass in 10 years and the eighth-longest in school history.
“We’ve been working on that play all week, so it felt like another routine play,” Baldwin said. “As long as I beat him off the ball, I knew Andrew was throwing to me. I tried my best to get open, and he did the rest.”
Monson had Sacramento State’s first punt return for a touchdown in seven years.
UCLA transfer McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who opened at quarterback for the Hornets, completed 9 of 15 passes for 69 yards before hurting his ankle just before halftime. Jeff Fleming replaced him in the second half, adding 44 yards on 6-of-12 passing.
Fleming, a transfer from New Mexico State, arrived at Sacramento State on Sunday and was cleared to play on Thursday.
“I was in New Mexico packing my bags last Saturday,” Fleming said. “Coach told me he needed someone in the backup position, and I was ready to step in. It was good to get back on my feet.”
Alex Loukas, who replaced Luck at quarterback late in the third quarter, finished as Stanford’s top rusher (57 yards) thanks to a 48-yard gain on a broken play.
“I saw the hole, and it was wide open,” said Loukas, who missed last year with a torn ACL. “I got excited and thought I was going to fall over. It was kind of a blur.”
Bryan Hillard made his first appearance in two years. The Hornets’ leading rusher in 2008 missed last season with a shoulder injury.