Cougars in awe of Stanford quarterback

PULLMAN – He’s been compared to Peyton Manning, John Elway and Grizzly Adams.

Two great quarterbacks and one guy with a beard.

Stanford’s Andrew Luck probably doesn’t mind the first two comparisons, after all he’s college football’s best quarterback this season, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and the leader of the nation’s seventh-ranked team.

He and his 5-0 Cardinal teammates, winners of 13 consecutive games and 3-0 in Pac-12 play, bring their talents to Martin Stadium on Saturday for Washington State’s homecoming game.

Luck will also bring his beard, which first appeared at the Pac-12 media day in July before disappearing for a while then resurfacing recently. The curly black growth is what draws the comparisons to the old ‘70s TV show.

Heck, growing a beard might be the only thing he hasn’t done well.

“I’m hesitant to call it a beard,” Luck said at the media day. “I don’t think it’s quite there yet.”

That might be true, but his game certainly is.

“I think he’s already there,” said Colorado coach Jon Embree this week. “He has all the tools to be an NFL quarterback.”

Embree should know. He spent the past few years coaching in the league, watching Manning and Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford, all first picks in the NFL draft, show off their abilities.

“There’s a reason why he’ll probably be the first pick,” Embree added. “When you look back at guys who were first picks in the draft at the quarterback position, they all had the arm, the size, all that stuff. He has it all.”

Luck, who broke Elway’s single-season school record for touchdowns passes last year, carved up Embree’s Buffaloes for 370 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday, hitting 26 of 33 passes in the 48-7 rout.

His 78.8 completion percentage in that game compares favorably to his season average (73.1 percent) but pales in comparison to an area that makes pro scouts drool.

“You watch the film and he’s completing about 95 percent of his passes off play action,” WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball said.

In that, and the fact Stanford coach David Shaw is allowing Luck to make play calls in the Cardinal’s hurry-up offense, and the Manning comparisons seem apt.

“He’s a really good decision maker, he doesn’t make bad decisions,” said WSU defensive end Travis Long, who will try to force some this week as the Cougars hope to improve their 3-2 overall and 1-1 Pac-12 records. “I think that’s what makes him so good. And he’s super athletic, fast, and throws well.

“He just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, mentally.”

Part of that is he’s rarely under pressure.

The Cardinal running game (third in the Pac-12), their offensive line (with two All-Pac-10 performers) and offensive scheme (using three tight ends at times) have come together to keep the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Luck upright – Stanford has yielded just two sacks.

All those things combined with Luck’s combination of brains and athleticism.

“He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” Ball said. “He can just do so many things. He can run, he can get away from pressure. He can throw – he’s accurate as hell as his numbers show.

“He understands the offense. He’s the whole package. He’s as good as there’s ever been as an all-around quarterback. You try to find a weakness and there really isn’t any.”

Well, there’s the beard.

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