Oct. 1, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Add catching passes to Andrew Luck's growing legend.
The Stanford quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful has been known for throwing touchdown passes, blasting through defenders, and even breaking long touchdown runs. Now? How about making one-handed catches?
Luck did so on the Cardinal's first drive, taking a throw down the sideline from receiver Drew Terrell on a flea flicker. The catch, at first ruled an incompletion but reversed upon review, led to Stanford's first score in a 45-19 victory over UCLA before a soldout Stanford Stadium on Saturday night.
Luck would do much more than that, completing 23-27 passes for 227 yards, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions as Stanford increased the nation's longest winning streak to 11 games.
"There's about five posistions the guy can play - receiver, tight end, outside linebacker," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach. "We kind of like what he does at quarterback. But I'll tell you what, we just put him in a position to make plays and he never disappoints."
The Cardinal truly is standing in rarified air, with a No. 6 AP ranking, a 4-0 record and a 2-0 Pac-12 mark heading into a contest with visiting Colorado next Saturday. Stanford is one victory away from tying the longest winning streak in school history, one that dates back to the Vow Boys of 1939-41.
Stanford has never trailed this season, and still hasn't. Barely. But a goal-line stand in the game's early moments may have been the game's turning point.
With fourth down at the 2, UCLA shunned a field-goal try and went for it, sending quarterback Richard Brehaut up the gut after a play fake, only to be stonewalled by Delano Howell and A.J. Tarpley at the 1.
"We got stopped on the 1," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We've got to get it in."
Stanford then embarked on a 99-yard drive that took 16 plays and 8:08 off the clock, converting three third down tries along the way. The drive set the tone for Stanford, which effectively used its' preferred a ball-control style the rest of the way.
"It was huge," Shaw said of the goal-line stand. "You know, when it happened, just for a split second I flashed back to my time in Baltimore (with the NFL's Ravens). Ray Lewis used to always say, `Opportunity for greatness. Ball's on the 1-yard line, it's an opportunity for greatness.' Our guys stepped up to the challenge."
Though Stanford showed cracks defensively, its offense was typically efficient. Besides Luck, Stepfan Taylor ran for 112 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Tight end Coby Fleener caught two touchdown passes, each in memorable fashion, on his way to a four-catch, 78-yard performance.
And time of possession, the supreme indicator of Stanford's offensive strength, resulted in a 34:17-25:43 advantage.
"We talk all the time about efficiency," Shaw said. "When Bill Walsh put the West Coast offense together, we talked about being efficient, gaining ground every single play."
The tight ends continued to maintain their productivity. Of Stanford's 12 touchdown passes this season, nine have gone to tight ends. The Cardinal frequently had three tight ends on the field, often all lined up wide, and produced a variety of looks that ranged fro three backs in the backfield, no backs on short yardage, to Wildcat formations and flea flickers.
Though tight end Zach Ertz had his touchdown streak ended at six games, Fleener made up for it with the quality of his touchdown catches. On Stanford's opening score, Fleener made a one-handed grab in the end zone with a defender on his back to complete an 18-yard play.
He gave the Cardinal a 24-7 third-quarter lead when he got behind the defense on a deep pass and outran the secondary to the end zone on a 51-yard play.
UCLA closed to within 17-7 at the end of the first half and 24-13 early in the third. But the game seemed to turn Stanford's way for good when freshman Ty Montgomery blasted UCLA punt returner Taylor Embree, causing a fumble, and recovered it himself on an attempted scoop-and-score.
Given the ball at the UCLA 34-yard line, Stanford struck again. At the 16, Stanford lined up in the Wildcat formation and the ball was snapped directly to Tyler Gaffney, who ran up the middle for a touchdown and a 31-13 lead with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
The Bruins answered back with a score - missing their second extra-point try of the night - to close to within 31-19 on Josh Smith's seven-yard run with 13:21 left, but Stanford countered with Taylor's second touchdown run, this one from 1 yard with 10:22 to go.
But, afterward, most of the attention was given to a 13-yard catch.
"I just tried to put my hands up there and catch the ball," Luck said. "And hope I had a foot inbounds."
He did. And, for Luck and undefeated Stanford, it appears more memories await.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics