After four weeks of the CFB season, Andrew Luck hasn’t really been tested. Stanford have coasted to big wins against Sacramento State, UCLA, Wake Forest and Notre Dame. With a 19th ranked rushing attack that’s averaged 223 yards per game, they’ve been able to control the clock and ease to four wins. Luck’s numbers in the two tougher games (UCLA and Notre Dame) were unremarkable – he completed just 46% of his passes against the Bruins in a 151-yard performance. Against the Irish, he threw two picks for 238 yards and completed 19 of 32 overall. When I’ve watched Luck the words ‘game manager’ jump out at you and the numbers don’t do anything to dispel that.
However, this weekend’s test at Oregon could define his draft potential either way. The Ducks are also unbeaten with an even better ground game (4th overall, averaging 317 yards per game) and they’ve scored more points than any team in the country (58 points per game). They haven’t faced an opposition like Stanford yet, but clearly they’re a prolific offense who will score points. Stanford and their quarterback will have to keep up.
If Oregon go ahead early, this will test Luck. If it gets to 14-0 or worse, Stanford won’t be able to chip away on the ground and manage the situation. They’ll be forced to pass and Luck will have to take the initiative. When Florida State traveled to Oklahoma in week two, Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder couldn’t keep up with the Sooners offense and became eratic in a performance that hindered his stock. Luck will have to cope better than Ponder did that day to maintain lofty consideration as a potential #1 pick.
This is essentially the issue I have with Luck. Whilst he’ll probably ride a winning record with Stanford and go to a Bowl game, when has he been the focal point? Toby Gerhart was the star last season and almost won the Heisman. There’s no Gerhart now, but in his place are a stable or running backs who have maintained the high level of ground production. Can Luck stay with a big scoring, highly ranked offense like Oregon’s? When the situation demands he use his arm regularly, can he complete +60% of his passes and get the big yards?
Last year Luck put in one of his best performances against Oregon at home, helping the Cardinal to a high scoring win 51-42, completing twelve passes for 251 yards and a pair of scores. On the road he generally struggled – 40% completion rate against Oregon State in a comprehensive defeat and 48% completions against Washington State in a mediocre win. If he can go to Oregon and put up solid numbers, that will do a lot for his draft prospects. Winning the game isn’t crucial on a personal level, he just needs to perform and show he’s more than just a game-manager.