I just got back home a couple hours ago from the Stanford/Wake Forest game. It was my second straight week Flip Camming and chatting for CSN Bay Area, and the second straight game that was won by over 40 points by the home team against squads that were good in conference name only. But something was different. Could it be … quarterbacking?
Andrew Luck wasn’t facing a great defense tonight by any means (Wake Forest gave up 48 points to Duke), but they weren’t as bad as Luck made them look. His accuracy was off the charts against the D-Deacs after only completing 11-of-24 passes against UCLA in a 35-0 road win (the same Bruins squad that waxed No. 23 Houston 31-13 last night at the Rose Bowl).
Then there was the 52-yard TD run. Wow. That was almost Michael Vick-like, only without the arm spandex. (You thought I was going to go with a dog-fighting joke, didn’t you? Got to throw a changeup every now and then.) Luck’s run was the most eye-popping thing I’ve seen in person since that one time Alex Smith…
I know that the 49ers could very well come out and stifle the Saints’ offense, force them into some turnovers late in the game and pull out some sort of strange 18-17 victory on Monday night. I also know, that after watching the Cardinal on offense (and defense) over the first three games of this season, I wouldn’t complain a bit if the 49ers ended up with the Harbaugh/Luck combo next season instead of Singletary/Smith. You know, shake a coach out of the Stanford tree like they did 32 years ago. Only this time, add his quarterback too.
Same goes for the Raiders, who have reportedly flirted with Harbaugh before. And since Harbaugh is one of the only people who’ll admit not being repulsed by the thought of working for Al Davis, and since the Raiders looked just as bad as the 49ers last weekend — only somehow even less interesting — it’s not out of the realm either. And Jason Campbell is Alex Smith is Jason Campbell. Nice interviews, good at paying attention during meetings and stuff, yet in the face of a wicked rush they can’t be trusted to complete a difficult pass.
The guys on ESPN apparently were going strictly on size and passing accuracy, because during the chat someone wrote that their announcers were comparing Luck to Peyton Manning, a guy who’s completed his fair share of passes where the ball had to be thrown into a miniscule window. Luck’s got the size of Manning, and he’s deadly on any pass he throws 12-35 yards in the air, but in actuality Luck’s a right-handed Steve Young. You know, after Young stopped fumbling all the time and started completing over 65% of his passes.
(Side note: I went and looked at Young’s stats for fun; did you realize he led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 1992 with 25? If Jay Cutler throws for 25 TDs this season, Mike Martz is going to get fired again. 12 guys threw more than 25 TD passes last season, and Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan both had 22 while playing only 14 games. It’s a good thing people don’t get all neurotic about comparing numbers in football like they do in baseball, otherwise every quarterback would be accused of taking HGH. You know, because that’s so far-fetched.)
This week I heard Ralph Barbieri talk to Smith about how mobile he supposedly is and how he isn’t able to show it, and Smith agreed and did his little passive-aggressive thing where he acts like he’s being a good soldier and doing exactly what the offense tells him to, while he actually knows the real answers himself but is too damned honorable to force the issue. Really? Smith couldn’t decide for himself to tuck and run the ball up the middle for 8 yards and slide once or twice a game? Jimmy Raye’s intricate timing patterns would be destroyed? It would kill the 49ers if Smith got hurt?
Could you imagine Young on a sinking ship, figuring, “Hey, I could run here and maybe gain 12 yards, but I’m a pocket passer because that’s what they’re telling me to do.” Ah, hell nah! Young would tuck and run, and he’d bitch out the first coach who complained if his team was losing at the time. Or at least he’d get all lawyerly and argue for a while.
Watching Luck, I can’t imagine him being a classy loser like Smith or Campbell. Or staying in the pocket because a coach says so. And Luck has to tread lightly, because Harbaugh isn’t all there. Harbaugh’s a very good coach, but last night he iced Wake Forest’s kicker before halftime with a 34-point lead and challenged a fumble when Stanford was up 68-24 in the fourth quarter.
It’s possible Harbaugh was fine with Luck taking off and running with a 27-7 lead in the second quarter today, but it’s probable that he’d rather Luck took the safe way out to ensure he’s healthy against better teams. But Luck didn’t care, and after he broke a tackle he was so hard to catch that he would have scored even if they were playing two-hand touch.
After seeing the result, Harbaugh probably liked the play. Harbaugh wasn’t exactly Randall Cunningham, but he was a decent runner in his career. And even though Luck has unbelievable physical tools, Harbaugh has helped him get this good incredibly quickly. Watching this, it’s tempting to see how quickly he could turn around one of the local pro squads, especially if either one ended up with the No. 1 pick (because that’s where Luck’s going in the 2011 draft — not Jake Locker).