Andrew Luck looked weary. Red-faced, beard unkempt, eyes downcast.
“I think we need to improve. We left some plays out there. Some turnovers, some three-and-outs, it’s just not good enough,” he said, wiping his left hand down across his face.
Judging by his reactions, you would have expected him to need some consoling. After all, Luck had just accumulated 370 yards through the air, the second-most in a single game in his career, picked up his 25th career victory to pass Steve Stenstrom for the most all-time wins by a quarterback in Stanford history and steered the Cardinal football team to a 48-7 victory over Colorado.
Just another masterpiece, right?
“Am I ever surprised by what he does? I mean…sometimes,” wide receiver Griff Whalen said after the game. “He makes some pretty unbelievable plays, but at this point we kind of know he can do that.”
Their coach was a little bit more effusive, though.
“I thought he was outstanding. He was phenomenal. There were two catchable balls that were incompletions–one was an interception–but besides that, he was pretty close to flawless,” head coach David Shaw said. “Every game he does something that not many human beings can do.”
Luck’s 26-of-33, 370-yard, three-touchdown, one-interception performance was the highlight of a game that saw the No. 7 Cardinal (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) breeze past the Buffaloes (1-5, 0-2) to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games and give Stanford its first 5-0 start since 1951–but the redshirt junior quarterback didn’t do it all by himself, of course.
Luck ran onto the field with 9:22 remaining in the first quarter with a 7-0 lead thanks to the first special teams touchdown of the year–a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.
After senior running back Jeremy Stewart fumbled the opening kickoff of the game, Colorado took the ball all the way down to the Cardinal’s 12-yard line before stalling out and being forced to kick a field goal.
But when the ball was snapped, the center and guard split, leaving redshirt senior linebacker Max Bergen unimpeded to the backfield, where he blocked the kick, picked up the ball and dashed 75 yards for a touchdown.
“The defense saved our cans early on, thanks to a great play by Max Bergen and a great call by [special teams coordinator] Brian Polian,” said Shaw. “Max did a great job getting all three: the block, the recovery and the touchdown.”
From there on out, it was the Andrew Luck show once again, apart from one tight moment in the second quarter.
After Colorado capitalized on a 76-yard screen pass to running back Rodney Stewart that led to a touchdown, Luck threw just his second interception of the year on the ensuing drive, a pass that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Chris Owusu and into the hands of Terrel Smith, leaving the Buffaloes down just 13-7 and in possession of the football.
“It hit Chris’ hands, and Chris will tell you he’s disappointed by it,” Luck said. “[The] ball bounced up in the air, and [the defensive back] made a nice catch.”
The Cardinal defense stiffened and forced a punt, though, sacking quarterback Tyler Hansen (one of three Stanford sacks on the day) to give the ball back to Luck, who more than made up for the blemish.
After the interception, Luck led the offense to touchdowns on its next five possessions, engineering three drives of more than 70 yards that included a 14-play, 84-yard drive that made the score 41-7 with 8:44 seconds left in the third quarter.
Despite the large margin of victory and good defensive performance (the Cardinal only allowed 60 yards rushing), Shaw was still tough on his team’s overall performance.
“It was a tale of two halves. I thought we played okay in the first half…and offensively we found our rhythm eventually, but we talked about starting fast, and we did not,” he said. “We can’t let the scoreboard dictate our feeling about how we played. If we can play better, then we should know it, and we should play better.”
Luck, despite his outstanding statistical performance, was also unsatisfied, particularly with several penalties that hampered the Cardinal offense for the second week in a row.
“It’s all our fault, there’s nowhere else to point the finger except at ourselves,” he said. “It’s boneheaded by our team; luckily we were able to bounce out of that hole today. You can’t win consistently playing like that.”
Shaw also said he specifically tried to keep his team in a competitive frame of mind by converting on two fourth downs when the score was well out of hand, as he boiled the Cardinal’s present and future success down to just one word.
“Attitude. If it’s close, with the line that we have, with the fullbacks that we have, with the tight ends we have, with the backs that we have, we should pick up anything that’s less than 4th and three. We should pick it up,” he said. “We don’t bat an eyelash, we don’t think about it, we don’t even talk about it on the headset. We just get the next call ready. That’s the kind of mentality we need to have up front in order for us to play the games the way we want to play them.”
The Cardinal will put its win streak on the line once again this weekend when it travels away from the Farm to take on Washington State in Pullman, Wash. on Saturday.