Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Kevin Riley had big days Saturday against inferior opponents. Their performances when the competition gets stiffer will be the critical element for their respective teams.
Luck was virtually flawless, completing 17-of-23 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in Stanford’s 52-17 romp over Sacramento State.
Riley had two unseemly gaffes, a fumbled snap from center and a delay of game penalty because he forgot the snap count. But statistically, he was only a shade behind Luck, 14-of-20 for 258 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-3 out of UC Davis.
Neither quarterback threw an interception.
Stanford has long had a tradition of great quarterbacks, starting with Frankie Albert, who ushered in the T-formation and won the Rose Bowl. In the ’50s, Bob Garrett and John Brodie were outstanding, though their teams weren’t. Jim Plunkett and Don Bunce won consecutive Rose Bowls, and Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy.
Guy Benjamin and Turk Schonert won NCAA passing titles in the late ’70s with Bill Walsh’s offensive system. John Elway was probably the most gifted athletically and, like Plunkett before him, was the No. 1 overall choice in the draft. Elway is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I believe Plunkett and Brodie should be, too.
Lately, there’s been a falloff — though Trent Edwards might have been a great one if he could have stayed healthy — but Luck is definitely a potential great.
Last year, he got a break because opposing defenses focused on running back Toby Gerhart, but he showed the ability to make any kind of pass. He’s also very intelligent — valedictorian of his high school class — and picks up plays and defensive alignments very quickly.
Luck has looked so good, in fact, that there have been some who have speculated that he might leave for the NFL after his sophomore season. Given his academic background, though, he might not be in such a hurry. And, at this point, there is no contract agreement between players and owners in the NFL, so everything is up in the air.
Riley is in a much different position. Despite his talent, he has been very inconsistent. For him to have any kind of NFL career, he has to show that he can do it on every play in every game.
Part of his problem has been a lack of quality receivers since DeSean Jackson left — and Jackson was no bargain, either, because he only played hard when he felt like it.
This year, Riley has a freshman receiver, Keenan Allen, who may be even better than Jackson. He’s just as fast and is probably four inches taller, the best big receiver the Bears have had in some time. He thrilled the Cal fans on Saturday when he took a short outlet pass on the right side, then reversed his field and dipsy-doodled past several defenders for a 48-yard touchdown.
Having a receiver like that is a huge asset for Riley, and for the Bears.
Cal has a changed defense this year, an emphasis on attacking the quarterback, but the Bears’ chances for success rest primarily on Riley. We’ll know more after Saturday’s game with Colorado — a much tougher opponent.