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.”