English: Nothing ‘Luck’y about Andrew

Published 10:15 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2012

By Jim English

Seems like it happens every year.

As bowl season approaches, I am filled with anticipation of being able to, for once, sit down and watch every at least one bowl game every single day. But for one reason or another, it never happens. In fact, this year, it seems that I have been able to watch fewer bowl games than ever before.

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But one bowl game I was bound and determined to watch, other than the BCS Championship, was the Fiesta Bowl.

The matchup between #3 Oklahoma State and #4 Stanford was an intriguing one for several obvious reasons.

The contrast in styles – Oklahoma State’s spread-the-field, fast-paced, high-scoring passing game vs. Stanford’s methodical, balanced, efficient, wear-you-down offense.

The opposing quarterbacks – Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who returned for his senior season to become the consensus overall number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft. So much so, in fact, that ESPN for the last few weeks has been referring to the worst teams in the league as competing for the Andrew Luck Lottery. And Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, the 28-year-old former walk-on and former Minor League baseball player, now the record-breaking master of the Cowboys wide-open passing attack.

And then there was Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys’ sure-fire first round NFL prospect wide receiver with the Terrell Owens body and speed to burn.

None of the three disappointed.

Blackmon, though probably an afterthought for most going into the game, compared to the other two, stole the spotlight. After falling behind Stanford 14-0, he caught TD passes of 43 and 67 yards to tie the game. Then trailing 31-24 in the 4th quarter, he took in a 17-yarder to tie the game again. His three touchdown catches tied the Fiesta Bowl record and earned him Player of the Game honors.

Weeden threw an interception on Oklahoma State’s very first play, but put that behind him in a big way, throwing for 399 yards and three touchdowns, with no more interceptions.

But the one I was most anxious to see was Luck. I had heard all the hype, which started before the season when ESPN had practically already awarded him the Heisman. But I had not had the opportunity to see very much of him for myself.

I honestly could not have been more impressed. He passed for 347 yards and two touchdowns, which was impressive enough. But the stat that practically jumps off the page is that Luck threw 31 passes on the night and only FOUR were incomplete.The super-slow-motion replays of his throws looked so perfect, it made you wonder if they had been digitally enhanced by some Hollywood animation studio.

And Luck’s passing ability was only part of what caught my attention. It was clear that he had complete control of the offense. That was never more evident than Stanford’s final drive of the fourth quarter. Tied 38-38 with only 2:35 left in the game, Luck appeared completely at ease, completing pass after pass after pass, culminating with a 25-yarder to put his team in field goal range at the 25 yard line.

For some reason, the coaching staff apparently thought that was close enough, and called two straight running plays which netted only eight yards and ran the clock down to three seconds. I’m convinced that if they had allowed Luck to throw a couple more times, they would have scored a game-winning touchdown, or at least been in extra-point range for a game-winning field goal. But as it happened, the Cardinal’s freshman kicker – who had already missed one earlier – missed a 35-yarder.

Inexplicably, in Stanford’s lone overtime possession, they chose again to run the ball on their first two plays, in effect sealing their fate with an overtime loss.

It’s not very often that I come away from a game with a player on the losing team making the biggest impression in my mind, but this time was the exception – with no disrespect intended to Blackmon’s stellar performance. But I have watched a lot of great quarterbacks in my 44 years, from Staubach to Elway to Marino to Montana to Favre to Manning to Brady. And I’ve seen a lot of college QB’s hyped as can’t-miss prospects to succeed at the next level, from Testaverde to Ware to Torretta to Wuerffel to Leaf.

But after watching Andrew Luck’s poise and performance on the biggest stage of his career, he is the closest thing to a sure bet as I have seen at the quarterback position.