By Arun Morace
After watching Andrew Luck play the seventh-ranked Oregon Ducks, the first real test for Luck and his fourth-ranked Stanford Cardinal this year, I came away incredibly unimpressed by Luck’s performance. This is a player who’s supposed to be a can’t-miss, guaranteed franchise quarterback prospect. He should impress with every performance in college. Yes, he’s got an amazing completion percentage, gobs of touchdown passes and plenty of passing yards….but so did Timmy Chang. And David Klingler. And Graham Harrell….guys who put up gaudy numbers but couldn’t cut it when it mattered most. Against the Ducks, Luck turned the ball over three times in a 53-30 loss, and those three turnovers resulted in 22 points for Oregon. While he completed 27 of his 41 passes, a great 65% completion percentage, those 41 passes went for only 240 yards- a measly 5.9 yards per attempt. Too many check-down passes. Not enough of a vertical attack. Yes, Stanford’s receivers were rarely wide open, but that’s because Oregon never had to cover more than 20 yards downfield, because Luck would never attempt to stretch the field and open up the underneath routes.
It’s one thing for Luck to run up the score and inflate his stats against weak conference opponents like San Jose State, Washington and UCLA, but against a team like Oregon, one that’s top 10 in the nation, Luck needs to do better. He needs to show that there is some bite behind all the barking about his status as the best quarterbacking prospect of the last 15 years. And Luck did not deliver. He soared passes high, and many of his tosses lacked a tight spiral. He made some incredibly poor decisions, resulting in an interception that shouldn’t have happened. Luck has very little velocity on a lot of his throws, hanging his receivers out to dry (ask Chris Owusu about that). He checks it down far too much, and rarely goes downfield more than 10-15 yards.
People like to give him a lot of credit for running the offense from the line of scrimmage, changing the play if he doesn’t like what he sees. Well, yes, on the surface he changes the plays, but not in any way that makes him brilliant. Against the Ducks, if Luck saw a defense he didn’t like, he wouldn’t audible into a new passing play that would allow him to attack the coverage. Instead, he’d take the responsibility off his shoulders, instead changing passing plays into running plays at the line. Yes, he’s mobile, yes, he’s got skill at the quarterback position. But right now, from the way he plays, if Luck has garnered any comparison, it’s not to someone like former Stanford great and two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway. Instead, he looks more like another Stanford signal-caller: Trent Edwards. Yeah, ask Bills fans how well he worked out.
What I saw from Andrew Luck in his game against Oregon was this: an average arm, with marginal velocity and poor spirals on his throws. Too many short throws, and no confidence in himself to throw the ball downfield. Three costly turnovers that essentially cost his team the game. Luck looked like a quarterback who buckled under the pressure of playing a good team on national TV, not a sure-fire franchise quarterback who can confidently lead his team down the field and make every throw. And if that’s what someone can take away from Luck, then he’s not the prospect he’s cracked up to be. Simple as that. And it’s not just one game. Look at the film from other games.
Here against Duke, Luck makes a lot of short throws, and hits easy passes to wide open receivers. Not a whole lot of taking shots downfield, no real “NFL throws,” finding the holes in coverage and attacking them. Nor is this an isolated incident.Look at the game tape versus Arizona:
Early on, Luck is missing an “NFL throw,” a fade route, then forcing the next throw, which gets picked off. Before that, he throws a slow pass to a receiver downfield, letting him get lit up by a defender. Keep watching, and there are a lot more red flags, particularly with the weak throws and far-too numerous checkdowns. This doesn’t fly in the NFL. Passes with no velocity will be easily intercepted by NFL defenders. Receivers will get lit up in the NFL even more if they’re not lead on passes. And from what the tape says, Luck doesn’t have a lot of velocity, doesn’t lead his receivers well, and doesn’t have the confidence to attack defenses deep downfield. Defenses won’t play soft zones, allowing for a 5 yard check down to a wide receiver on every play. Call me crazy, but Andrew Luck has serious bust potential. The game tape speaks for itself. Even Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian voiced his doubts, saying that if he had a choice between Luck and fellow Pac-12 quarterback Matt Barkley (USC), he’d take Barkley. Sarkisian, whose Huskies play in the same conference as Luck’ Cardinal and Barkely’s Trojans, faced each of these quarterbacks three times, so it’s not like his opinion counts for nothing. He’s seen these guys up close and personal in real game situations, and has made his judgment. A few weeks prior to Sarkisian’s statements, former NFL QB Phil Simms said that he felt Luck was over-hyped, and that he really didn’t look ready for the pro game, citing the lack of “big-time NFL throws” he’s made in college.
It’s beginning to show more and more. Luck does have talent, there’s no denying that. But maybe all this hype isn’t so warranted. Experts like Sarkisian and Simms have spoken. Luck’s game tape speaks for itself. His performance against Oregon may be the most damning yet- the weak throws, the check down passes, the game-managing when Luck should be putting the game on his shoulders. This isn’t what a franchise quarterback does, let alone “the best quarterback prospect of the last fifteen years”. If I were a team that has a high pick in the 2012 draft, I wouldn’t be so sure I had a “sure thing” in the overhyped Andrew Luck.