Jaffe: Luck even better than stats show

Oct. 10, 2011, 1:40 a.m.

Another game, another rout for Stanford football. Here’s Stat on the Back’s take on this week’s numbers.

Number of the game: 12

What it means: If you’re going to learn the uniform number of one Stanford athlete, make it Stanford football’s No. 12. A guy you might have heard of named Andrew Luck tends to sport that number, and he tends to do so pretty well. Saturday’s 48-7 win against Colorado was just the latest example of what No. 12 can do.

Why it matters: Stanford played very well as a team on Saturday. The defense was as good as it’s been all year, the running game was strong late and the Cardinal had a big score on special teams early. But this game was all about No. 12. Luck had one of the best games of his exceptional Stanford career. He completed 79 percent of his passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception.

However, contrary to most of this column, numbers can’t completely capture how good Luck was. The fact that he gets credit for an interception is a perfect example of how statistics can be misleading. That pass was as perfect as his touchdown throws, but Chris Owusu momentarily forgot how to catch the ball, popping it up in the air directly to Colorado defensive back Terrel Smith. Besides giving Luck an undeserved interception (his second of the year, both on passes off the hands of Owusu), this play also took a completion and yards away from Luck and erased a good scoring opportunity for the Cardinal.

But enough of the bad. There was so much more that went well for Stanford’s all-time winningest quarterback. Yep, the win was Luck’s 25th as a starting quarterback, passing Steve Stenstrom for the most in Stanford history.

If you want a sense of how good Luck was, just take a look at whom he threw the ball to. Once again the tight ends made an impact, as the three future NFL stars were among the top four receivers on the day, totaling eight catches for 156 yards. However, they were only three of the 11 players who caught a pass. Possession receiver Griff Whalen came into the game with 101 receiving yards and no touchdowns on the season, and he promptly caught four balls for 92 yards and his second career touchdown. Fullback Ryan Hewitt had two touchdown catches, more than Owen Marecic had in his entire Stanford career. Little-used Corey Gatewood caught his first pass since 2007. Luck even completed passes to three different running backs.

It wasn’t just about the breadth of Stanford’s weapons. Luck made all the throws: standing in the pocket, on the run, across his body, deep, short, over the middle and to the sidelines. He can really do it all. Oh, and by the way, he called his own plays, bludgeoning an outmatched Colorado defense into submission. The Buffaloes had no answer for him, and I don’t think there is one.

Other notable numbers:

3-for-9, 18: These are the passing numbers for Colorado in the second half. Though Stanford’s pass defense looked vulnerable in the first half, the Cardinal clamped down after the break. Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen went 13-for-21 for 186 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but he had no answer to the Stanford defense after that. The Buffaloes could only manage 18 passing yards in the second half, and Hansen ended the Cardinal interception drought by lofting a ball directly into the hands of Stanford safety Michael Thomas. That gift helped the Cardinal pitch another second-half shutout.

2.2: Colorado’s poor rushing offense and Stanford’s stout rushing defense converged to perfection as the Buffaloes managed a measly 2.2 yards per carry on their way to just 60 rushing yards. And that’s including a 25-yard scramble by Hansen and several garbage-time runs by backups in the fourth quarter. After a subpar week, the Stanford run defense was back to its old self, moving back up to second in the country.

5, 65: One negative from the game (and there weren’t many in a 41-point win) was penalties. The Cardinal came in among the top third in the country in fewest penalties and penalty yards, but a few silly late hits put Stanford in tough situations. Five penalties for 65 yards were not costly in an easy victory like this, but in a close game they could become the difference.

50,360: For the second consecutive week, the listed attendance was 50,360. In other words, a sellout. Although there were definitely fewer people in the stands for the Colorado game than last week’s against UCLA, the fact that these games are even close to sellouts is a sign of major progress. One of the big knocks on Stanford last year was that even with such a successful team, fan support was shockingly low. Well, it appears fans have finally realized what an exciting and potentially great team Stanford is trotting out on a weekly basis. Student tickets are running out within hours, and you can’t spot too many empty seats (at least until Stanford is up by 41 in the fourth quarter). Oh, and Tiger Woods and John Elway stopped by as well. With the best games of the year (Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame) still upcoming, the best could be yet to come from the Stanford faithful.

13: Stanford has extended its win streak to 13 games, the longest active streak in the country. It also ties the school record, set from 1939-41.

With all these wins, many people are starting to think about national title chances. However, this year features a large number of teams with chances to go undefeated. LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin are all ranked above Stanford in both major polls, and their strengths of schedule figure to be better than the Cardinal’s as well. So is Stanford sure to be left out of the national title race?

Consider this: after seven weeks, there are currently 13 undefeated teams in college football, and all are ranked in the top 25. Last year, after seven weeks there were 13 undefeated teams in college football, and all were ranked in the top 25. By the end of the year, the title game of Auburn vs. Oregon was obvious, and TCU was the only other unbeaten team.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of college football left to be played.

Jacob Jaffe is seething that he wasn’t invited to stand on the sideline with Elway and Woods. Cheer him up at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.

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