BERKELEY (CBS 5 / AP) — Andrew Luck didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season in Stanford’s latest game, but that didn’t matter after the sophomore led his team to a come-from-behind win that kept its Rose Bowl hopes alive.
Only once in Luck’s career has he been held without a TD pass in a loss.
That came last season against California, which would love nothing more than to spoil the seventh-ranked Cardinal’s BCS hopes Saturday at Berkeley, where the Golden Bears seek an eighth win in the past nine installments of the Big Game.
Luck has helped Stanford (9-1, 6-1 Pac-10) become one of the nation’s top offensive teams in his two years on campus, and he’s earning all of the attention from opposing defenses after the graduation of tailback Toby Gerhart. Luck has still thrived, accounting for 25 touchdowns with a completion percentage (69.6) and passer rating (159.7) that are among the top 10 nationally.
He wasn’t at his best at Arizona State on Saturday, fumbling and throwing an interception as the Cardinal trailed 13-10 in the fourth quarter. Luck, though, led Stanford on a 10-play, 85-yard drive that Owen Marecic capped with a one-yard touchdown run, the difference in a 17-13 victory.
“When you have the best quarterback in the nation, a Heisman candidate on the other side of the ball, you just have do your job and keep them out of the end zone,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “No matter how long it takes, he’s going to get it done.”
Stanford still has a chance to make its second Rose Bowl appearance since 1972, but it’s probably going to need help. Unless No. 1 Oregon loses its last two games and the Cardinal win out – a scenario that would put Stanford in Pasadena automatically – Jim Harbaugh’s team needs Boise State or TCU to wind up as the Ducks’ opponent in the BCS championship game.
The Rose Bowl is obligated to take a top-12 non-automatic qualifier – i.e. the Broncos or Horned Frogs – to replace a Big Ten or Pac-10 champion playing for the BCS title. It would be free to select Stanford if Boise State or TCU was picked to play the Ducks in Glendale, Ariz.
Considering Stanford has lost seven of eight to Cal since Jeff Tedford took over and hasn’t won in Berkeley since 2000, it has no reason to overlook the Bears. Harbaugh knows he won’t have trouble getting his team ready to play.
“It’s probably the easiest game to coach,” Harbaugh said. “Nothing more needs to be said about it.”
That’s especially true after Cal nearly ruined Oregon’s perfect season Saturday, containing the nation’s top offense in a 15-13 loss.
“It’s very hurtful that we let it slip away,” said defensive tackle Derrick Hill, who recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter. “There’s no consolation, because you’re left with an L.”
The Bears need to beat Stanford or Washington at home to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
Cal has been a different team at Memorial Stadium, where it’s 4-1 and has outscored opponents 202-49 while forcing 12 turnovers. It has allowed 203.4 yards per game at home – best in the nation and nearly 200 fewer than it gives up on the road.
Luck almost certainly has to be better than he was in his first encounter with the Bears for Stanford to win. He went 10 of 30 for 157 yards and an interception in a 34-28 loss to Cal on Nov. 21, posting a career-low 70.6 passer rating.
That ended Stanford’s Rose Bowl hopes. Tedford isn’t counting on a similarly lackluster performance from Luck this week.
“He gets out of a lot of trouble himself,” Tedford said. “He can do it all. … They’re a very difficult offense to stop.”
Cal’s offense can be tough to stop when junior Shane Vereen – the Pac-10’s second-leading rusher – gets going. Vereen has run for 112 yards in each of the last two games to help take pressure off Brock Mansion, who’s completed just 46.8 percent of his passes since taking over for the injured Kevin Riley on Nov. 6.
Vereen was the star of Cal’s win over Stanford last season, outshining Gerhart by running for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cardinal hold a 55-46-11 edge in a series that dates to 1892.
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)