Jon Embree, the first-year Colorado head football coach, gathered his team around early this week to talk about what was facing the Buffaloes next — Stanford, ranked No. 4 this week in the coaches poll, quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.
“For those of you who aren’t going to get a chance to play professional football,” Embree said to the Buffs, “you’re going to get to play Peyton Manning.”
Embree might not even have known what an apt comparison that is, because Saturday night against UCLA, Luck called his own plays on five series, including two that went for scores. As first-year coach David Shaw explains it, “We’re not trying to get through the entire playbook,” but Luck has a variety of options.
I can’t remember the last time a college quarterback called his own plays, especially in an age of sophisticated offense. As Washington coach Steve Sarkisian notes, “It’s been somewhat of a lost art in our sport. You go back to the ’60s and ’70s, and it was a much more common theme for quarterbacks to call their own plays.
“In one aspect, it makes sense. You’d want a guy to call the plays he’s more comfortable with.”
My colleague, Danny O’Neil, asked Seahawks coach Pete Carroll Wednesday about quarterbacks calling the plays. Carroll said Jim Kelly used to have a lot of leeway during his Buffalo heyday, but that it’s largely something that’s a thing of the past except in hurry-up, two-minute situations.
“For years, that was the way it was; quarterbacks were calling the plays,” Carroll said. “That’s when football was really cool, when the guy (the quarterback) looked in the huddle and said, ‘We’re running over you, and I’m coming to you with the ball.’ We’ve taken that away from the players to some extent.”
Carroll added: “There’s something (beneficial) to that, the connection between the quarterback and the actual play that he calls — why he called it, who he’s looking to, his chance to look at the guy in the huddle and say, ‘Here we go.’ That connection is not familiar to us now.”
Shaw, who has a heavy background in the NFL, says Stanford’s particular package was developed by Jon Gruden early in his Tampa Bay tenure (from 2002-08), and used a bit by Luck under ex-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh two years ago against USC (the Cardinal must have been happy with it; that was the famous 55-21 “What’s your deal?” loss Stanford handed Carroll and the Trojans).
“It’s been on the shelf mostly since then,” said Shaw.
Talking philosophy, Shaw said Tuesday, “I learned a long time ago, when you give a quarterback something he really loves, he tries to do his best at it, because he wants the opportunity to do it again.”
So: Just what Andrew Luck, the hands-down, dead-lock cinch to be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft needed — something to make him even more appealing to the NFL.
As if Luck didn’t showcase enough in that UCLA victory. On a gimmick play, he hauled in a pass one-handed and tapped a foot down just inbounds.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News writes that Luck is the first Bay Area athlete since Jason Kidd at Cal in the early ’90s to have security around him. In Luck’s case, it’s to manage autograph-seekers.
A policeman from Palo Alto travels with the team and stays after games with Luck to minimize the hassles, and at home, says the Merc, security guards escort him from the stadium back to the central campus.
Luck has had a relatively understated start to the 2011 season, but it has more to do with beating outmanned opponents than it does him struggling. Stanford is 4-0, and while he’s only eighth in passing yards in a throwing-mad league, he’s tops in pass efficiency at 178, having tossed 11 touchdown passes with a single interception.
Luck could be the ultimate test of whether there’s truly an East Coast bias, because he seems to fit every possible definition of a Heisman Trophy winner.