I have to admit that I'm starting to wonder about the relevance of these grades. After all, if you were to take a high school senior out of calculus and slip her into an algebra class, shouldn't she be expected to get an A? That's kind of like what's going on with the Cardinal.
But even though there hasn't been much competition yet, it's still worth our time to take a closer look at each unit and how things went on last Saturday. So here we go...
Remember on Lost when Sayid deciphered the French distress signal during the first episode and announced that the message had been repeating itself over and over for sixteen years? That's kind of how I feel about this part of the report card. Luck was 26 of 33 for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Ho hum. (Okay, there was an interception, but it wasn't his fault.)
Luck has been an artist this season, and while Saturday's statistics might have leapt off the page more than those of earlier games, the Colorado game wasn't his masterpiece, it was just another painting in the portfolio. Most impressive about Luck, I think, is that he keeps getting better. Normally you'd expect to see improvement in a third-year quarterback, but after he set the bar as high as he did last season, no one would have been disappointed if he had failed to match that level of success. Take a look at his current numbers as compared to his first five games last year:
Kid can play.
Running Backs: B
On the one hand, Stepfan Taylor rushed for just fifty-eight yards and wasn't terribly impressive. On the other, the team ran for a total of 161 yards, which isn't bad. Anthony Wilkerson continues to labor in obscurity, carrying the ball just three times for twenty-one yards, but Tyler Gaffney emerged in Stanford's new Sequoia* formation and made it his own. He took the direct snap twice and totaled thirty-six yards on those two carries, so I'm guessing there's a Post-It on that page in the playbook. We'll be seeing that play again.
Ryan Hewitt also deserves a little love here. At most schools the fourth-string tight end eventually drops off the team and transitions to his dorm's intramural football team and still finds himself fighting for playing time. But when the first three tight ends are NFL-ready, there's a good shot the fourth guy has some skills, too. And so it is with Hewitt, who's been converted to full back. You know the old saying, though. You can take a kid out of the tight end position, but you can't take the tight end out of the kid. Just another target for Mr. Luck.
Tight Ends: B+
Their numbers dropped a bit (8 catches for 156 yards), and they weren't able to get into the end zone, but these are still the best tight ends in America, and we shouldn't ever lose sight of that.
Wide Receivers: B
First, the good news. There might actually be two legitimate wide receivers catching passes from the best quarterack in America. Griff Whalen caught four passes for ninety-two yards, all of them downfield (19, 26, 27, and 30 yards per reception). Now the bad news. Chris Owusu is still waiting for a breakout game. On Saturday he finished with just three catches for thirty-four yards, but the nature of those receptions was more troubling than the number. All three were wide receiver screens, suggesting that the coaching staff is trying anything just to get the ball in Owusu's hands. Luck did look to him once on an inside slant, but the ball bounced off his hands and into the hands of a Colorado defender. Don't worry, though. The receivers will be there when they're needed.
Offensive Line: B
The rushing numbers weren't as impressive as they were last week, but this group is still trending upwards. Andrew Luck threw the ball thirty-three times and only once was he affected by the pressure. Certainly there were times when he had to move within the pocket, but that's to be expected. Luck was getting hit a fair amount during the first few weeks of the season, so it's nice to see that he's getting the Secret Service treatment again. The grade here would be higher if it weren't for two unintelligent personal foul penalites called on Jonathan Martin and Cameron Fleming. As I've been saying since August, I fully expect this unit to play better each week. So far that's what they've been doing.
* The Sequoia formation is simply a wildcat formation with a cooler name. I believe that if I keep calling it Sequoia, eventually the coaching staff and players will follow suit.
[Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma/Associated Press]