Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Not lucky, just very good

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was ticking off the attributes, one by one.

Size? Yes, Andrew Luck has that. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, the Stanford redshirt sophomore is the most physically mature quarterback of all the greats the Hokies have faced over the years, Foster said.

Poise? Yep, Luck's got that, too. Some of it's been inherited from his father, Oliver, a former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia athletic director.

Strength? If Luck doesn't have the ball, he's looking to hammer someone as a blocker.

Elusiveness? Touch? Accuracy? Yes, all of it.

Finally, Foster just gave up.

"I haven't been able to find anything he doesn't do very well," he said.

Well, there is one thing. Luck can't watch himself. If he and some teammates are sitting around the TV, and a shot of the Stanford quarterback comes on ESPN, he'll stand up and change the channel.

No need for all the attention to be focused on him, he figures.

That humility -- combined with all his physical talent -- is what has his coach and teammates gushing, NFL scouts drooling and a palpable buzz descending on South Florida, where Tech takes on Stanford in Monday's Orange Bowl. Most assume this will be Luck's final college game.

Luck insists he won't decide about going pro until Tuesday at the earliest ("I think it's a big life decision, so I'd better put some thought into it," he said). But with coach Jim Harbaugh also rumored for possible departure -- not to mention the millions of dollars available to a top draft pick -- it'll be difficult for Luck to stay.

"When he gets to the next level, it will be amazing," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "I don't think people realize how good he is. Everybody is saying he is a first-round pick. If there is any higher than the first pick, he would go there. He's the best player out there."

The Charlotte Observer sent a reporter down here this week to write specifically about Luck. The 2-13 Carolina Panthers have locked up the first pick in the draft with one game to go.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up already has climbed to seventh on Stanford's career list for passing yards despite playing only two seasons. This year, he's thrown for 3,051 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions while leading the Cardinal to a school-record 11 wins.

Luck has been particularly efficient during Stanford's seven-game winning streak to end the regular season, connecting on 76 percent of his throws during the run.

"He makes the receivers much better," Tech cornerback Rashad Carmichael said. "On film, you see a number of times where he just puts the ball in [a tight spot] and no one knows how it got there. As a defensive back, that is tough; you hate to see that, but it is a challenge for us."

The good news for the Hokies is that their greatest defensive strength lies in the secondary. Still, the Stanford offense is more complex than most. The Cardinal uses multiple personnel packages -- 27 players have taken at least one snap with the first team in a game this season -- and have roughly 350 plays written on Luck's wristband.

Luck's intelligence (he has a 3.4 GPA in architectural design) is evident on the field, where he's allowed to improvise with the calls. Harbaugh went so far as to compare Luck to his wife -- later explaining that he meant they were both pretty close to perfect.

"I'd just put it this way: He's the kind of guy where you don't say, 'I wish he could do this,' or, 'I wish he could do that,' or, 'I wish he didn't do this or didn't do that,' " Harbaugh said. "There's nothing you would change about him."

Unless you're Foster and the Hokies. Then, perhaps, you'd change it all.

"I haven't been able to find anything he doesn't do very well."

Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster On Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck

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