What a remarkable game.
Stanford, unbeaten behind Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck and a No. 4 national AP ranking, needed three overtimes to beat USC, but the Cardinal finally got their first signature win of the 2011 season in dramatic fashion, topping the 20th-ranked Trojans 56-48.
To say it was a Hollywood ending with the glimmers of Tinseltown in the background is too easy, and really, largely inaccurate. Much of the game, after all, felt like something that could only come from the mind of John Carpenter or George Romero. Penalties, turnovers, and mental errors galore — all of which were committed by Luck, no less — turned Stanford’s trip to the Coliseum into something that resembled “Night of the Living Dead” — a gritty, blood-soaked scrap for survival — more than it did a classic love story with a happy ending.
Halloween is Monday, folks.
And here are some scary stats: Luck’s touchdown to interception ration is over 5-to-1. He’s thrown for over 2,000 yards already on the season and has completed over 70 percent of his passes. But it’s not just the numbers. Luck’s command of the Stanford offense, combined with his football IQ and leadership, makes him the most complete player in college football. And it’s not even close. Luck’s Heisman buzz has been prevalent all season, but with the lack of elite competition, the future first-round pick didn’t have the Heisman moment yet.
(Not that Luck cares, but we do. So there.)
That all changed tonight, and incidentally, it occurred because of a rare mistake by the best quarterback in college football. Tied at 27 with just over three minutes left in regulation, Luck threw a pass on third down to his right — a comeback route that was jumped early by USC cornerback Nickell Robey, who picked off Luck and returned it 33 yards to the house.
It was Luck’s only major mistake of the night. For someone who played so well under extraordinary pressure for the first time all season thanks to USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Luck screwed up in one of the worst possible situations. It was a situation that, had it not been for an instant replay call that overturned a Cardinal first down, may not have occurred.
Luck knew it too, his hands glued to his helmet in disbelief.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
But Heisman moments come in a variety of forms. Luck’s came not because of inflated numbers or touchdowns, but because of how he responded to nearly giving away the game. Just minutes after throwing the interception, Luck navigated a 76-yard scoring drive in 2:30 exactly.
Luck’s been great all year, but there it was: the clutch game-tying drive on national TV against a team that played 57 minutes of fine defensive football. There was the separation.
Upon falling behind to USC 13-10 in the third quarter — the Cardinal’s first time trailing this season — Luck was heard saying “We need this adversity.” Guess he was talking about himself too.
As a redshirt junior, Luck’s been in this situation before. Come to think of it, USC would know a thing or two about Luck’s ability to execute a two-minute drill. Remember, it was Luck who burned the Trojans last year in Palo Alto 37-35 on a late drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal.
Yes, the Trojans know all about Luck, and coach Lane Kiffin, along with the rest of the Pac-12, will be happy to pat Luck on the back as he heads out the door and into the NFL. The Trojans gave Stanford everything they had in the fuel tank tonight. They just came up a little bit short after the Cardinal recovered a Curtis McNeal fumble in the third overtime.
Stanford, Luck included, was far from perfect tonight, but David Shaw‘s team will surely be glad to leave L.A. with a win. They survived, and in a horror movie, that’s all you can want.