Luck powers Stanford to Big Game win over Cal

Andrew Luck caught Sean Cattouse out of the corner of his eye,
lowered his shoulder and flattened the California defender.

Luck paused for an instant to stare at Cattouse as he fell to
the turf, then ran about 20 more yards before being forced out of
bounds after a 58-yard gain.

”I didn’t really get a good look at him before we came
together,” Luck said. ”I just hit him and let physics take
over.”

Luck took over the Big Game. He threw two touchdown passes and
drove Stanford to points on every possession he played as the
Cardinal beat the Golden Bears 48-14 Saturday.

But No. 7 Stanford will need a different type of luck for their
best season in decades to end in the Rose Bowl – the goal coach Jim
Harbaugh set when he took over a one-win team almost four years
ago.

The Cardinal (10-1, 7-1) still trail No. 1 Oregon in the Pac-10
standings and need the Ducks to lose their final two games to win
the outright conference title and go to the Rose Bowl.

With that looking extremely unlikely at this point, Stanford’s
path to Pasadena is murky. In a typical season, a top-10 ranking
would be more than enough to make it to the Rose Bowl for a Pac-10
team when the conference champion goes to the BCS title game.

But this year, the Rose Bowl is obligated to take a team from a
non-automatic BCS qualifying conference if one is eligible and not
playing in the title game. So the Cardinal will need No. 3 Boise
State and No. 4 TCU each to lose to likely take those teams out of
BCS contention.

Stanford could also get the bid if No. 2 Auburn lost to No. 9
Alabama in the Iron Bowl or No. 18 South Carolina in the SEC title
game, and either Boise State or TCU moved ahead of the Tigers into
the top two.

”You always feel like you deserve it, but another team can be
just as deserving to tell you the truth,” cornerback Richard
Sherman said. ”We’re capable of playing with some of the top
teams. We can’t control that. All we can control is going out every
Saturday and trying to win.”

Stanford has done that every week this season, with the
exception of a 52-31 loss at Oregon. The victory against California
might have been the most complete with dominating performances on
both sides of the ball.

The victory was the most lopsided in the rivalry in 80 years and
avenged a 34-28 loss at home to Cal a year ago, when Luck threw a
late interception that sealed the game. Stanford won for just the
second time in the past nine Big Games.

”I thought our players put an exclamation point on things by
playing their best football,” Harbaugh said. ”Playing smart,
playing disciplined, playing poised. Just playing.”

The Cardinal scored on their first eight possessions against a
defense that allowed only one offensive score to the high-powered
Ducks just one week ago.

While the Bears were able to contain Oregon’s spread option,
Stanford’s pro-style passing attack and power running game proved
to be too much.

Luck was the center of both, completing 16 of 20 passes for 235
yards and providing the most powerful run in the first quarter to
set the tone for the rest of the game.

”They’ve got a bunch of big boys up front that they can pound
the ball with,” Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. ”Once you start
loading up for that, they have an all-Pro quarterback that can make
every throw and make plays with his legs. They have a pretty
balanced offense.”

The latest offensive outburst came a week after the Cardinal
were held to a season-low 17 points in a victory at Arizona
State.

Stanford now wants to build on this game for the season finale
at home next week against an Oregon State team that also beat the
Cardinal a year ago.

”That’s our thing – to try and get better each day,” Harbaugh
said. ”You feel like you’re either getting better or you’re
getting worse. I feel like this team is getting better. Improvement
leads to success. That’s the formula. Improvement leads to wins,
wins lead to championships.”