After surviving thriller, Stanford pushes forward
STANFORD, Calif. (AP)
Everybody looked to Andrew Luck after he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter at Southern California, wondering how Stanford would react when finally faced with real pressure.
Luck provided an emphatic answer.
''That place was so loud. For a while I was worried,'' freshman receiver Ty Montgomery said Tuesday. ''But then Andrew was walking down the sideline saying, `We're going to be all right. We're going to be all right.'
''After that, I wasn't worried anymore.''
The quarterback allowed himself 30 seconds to vent, getting as angry as coach David Shaw said he has ever seen him, then paced the sidelines and rallied teammates with four straight touchdown drives and a 56-48 triple-overtime victory for the ages.
The moment might not only come to symbolize Luck's Heisman Trophy run but also Stanford's season.
The calming influence of college football's premier quarterback gave players reason to believe any obstacle could be overcome with No. 12 leading the way. While USC's speed exposed flaws in pass protection and on defense, the fourth-ranked Cardinal (8-0, 6-0 Pac-12) survived it all, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games and clearing their biggest road test in the process.
After 10 straight victories by at least 25 points, Stanford also showed it could win a close one.
The season seemed doomed when Luck misread coverage and threw an interception that was returned 33 yards for a go-ahead score by Nickell Robey with 3:08 left in regulation. Luck came to the sidelines, shocked and angry, so Shaw whispered a question into his ear.
''You all right?''' Shaw said.
''Yup,'' Luck responded.
''OK, let's go,'' Shaw said.
Nothing else needed to be said. The rookie head coach said he never believed Luck would crumble because, as Shaw put it, ''this is a different human being we're dealing with.''
''The fact that he's done it before. He's done it over and over and over again. It just allows you to trust him to do something,'' Montgomery said.
How far Stanford goes will rest largely on Luck's arm.
With four games left in the regular season, a berth in the BCS championship game is within reach. About the toughest challenge now is not looking back - or ahead to next week's matchup against No. 6 Oregon - and concentrating on the year's final road trip at Oregon State (2-6, 2-3) on Saturday.
Not an easy task.
Televisions on the team's plane ride back to the Bay Area over the weekend were tuned to highlights of Stanford's victory. Posters already are plastered on parts of the campus counting down the days until the Ducks - the only team to beat the Cardinal in a two-year run of near-perfection - visit Stanford Stadium on Nov. 12.
The game will likely decide the Pac-12 North's representative in the inaugural league title game and could put the Cardinal in position to take a spot in the BCS title game should No. 3 Oklahoma State slip or the winner of the Alabama-LSU game loses.
For players, pushing that possibility aside is almost impossible.
''We know there's an elephant in the room,'' said linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who recovered the game-ending fumble and intercepted a pass by USC's Matt Barkley. ''You can't just say don't worry about the rest of the games. We know that's a big game if we can win this game. And so we do it like every other week, trying to go 1-0, because the only way that game will mean something next week is if we win this week.''
Forgetting about the win at the Coliseum is not something Shaw wants from his players.
He made it a point when Stanford returned to practice to make sure they felt good about the victory, hoping it would push them to work toward even bigger wins. What he does expect is for them to recognize the game was not perfect.
Luck was sacked twice - as many times as he had been sacked in the previous seven games combined - and sloppy secondary play allowed Barkley and receiver Robert Woods to shred Stanford's defense. While the win is already considered one of the program's shining moments, the opportunity is there for others.
''It was a big game, it was an exciting game, it was one of the best games a lot of people have said they have seen in a while, but then the season is not over,'' Shaw said. ''We've talked all year about building. You're in a big game, you win a big game, it gets even bigger. So you can't win a big game and stop playing.''
NOTES: S Delano Howell is expected to miss his third straight game with a hand injury. ... Shaw said WR Chris Owusu did not suffer another concussion when he took a hit to the head from T.J. McDonald, who was suspended for one half in USC's next game for the collision. Owusu will be limited in practice but is expected to play against Oregon State. ... Shaw said there's a chance TE Zach Ertz (right knee) could be back against Oregon, but it's still unlikely.
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