Luck gaining maturity with extra year

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Andrew Luck has been the face of Stanford football the past couple of years, though his comment Tuesday during his once-a-week meeting with the media probably won’t end up on any Stanford brochures.

“I love not having to be in school,” Luck said.

The comment drew a big laugh from the room -- and Luck, who then quickly put the remark in its proper context. Stanford started classes this week and he was asked about adjusting to life as a student-athlete again. He was simply making the point that he had more time to focus on watching film when he wasn’t in class.

“You didn’t have to come back,” quipped a reporter, drawing an even bigger laugh from the quarterback.

“You’re right,” Luck said with an ear-to-ear smile. “I guess the joke’s on me.”

And we all know what he passed up.

But he did come back. And this quarter he’s studying Archaic Greek Art, Architectural History Since 1900 and Urban Sustainability.

And football.

Later in life, it might come in handy to know the difference between a Doric, Ionic and Corinthian column. But he also wants to read defenses better and make quicker, sharper decisions.

Luck has a freakishly high football IQ; football smarts, as coaches like to say. It’s a big reason he feels like he’s a much more efficient quarterback than the one who walked off the field in January following Stanford’s 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

When asked if he believes he’s a more mature quarterback -- like on the football field -- he didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely. I think I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “I feel like I have a mastery of the offense. I have much more to learn. But I definitely feel like I’ve improved.”

Comparing Luck's first three games from last season to the first three games this season, the numbers are quite similar. Last year, Luck had completed 45 of 70 passes for 674 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. This year, he’s 57-of-85 for 786 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.

All in all, pretty comparable numbers -- except for the completion percentage. Luck is more accurate this time around, and that comes with a greater understanding of the offense.

“He’ll be the first to tell you he hasn’t played a great game yet,” said head coach David Shaw. “He’s played well. He’s gotten better at the things we wanted him to improve on. You see him taking less chances. He forced the ball a few times last year. That was a big thing between he and I.

“I told him there are three plays a game that you always want to take back. We can’t have those anymore. And he’s played well. He’s taken care of the football. He hasn’t forced the ball.”

His lone interception came on a deflection -- that may or may not have been pass interference -- but Shaw doesn’t really consider that an error by his quarterback.

Luck also seems to have more of an edge this season. And his teammates have noticed it, too.

“It really started in the spring and in the summer,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “He’s more vocal this year.”

Luck’s workload has also increased. And not just in the classroom. With tight end Levine Toilolo returning from a knee injury, the Cardinal now have three talented tight ends. That allows for more innovative and creative offensive schemes.

“[The offense] has definitely evolved,” Luck said. “Offenses will evolve from year to year and we had some coaching changes. But I think having been in the same system a few years, the coaches can put a little more into the game plan.”

It’s obvious that he’s been leaning on his tight ends this year. Through three games last season, Ertz and Coby Fleener had one touchdown each. This year, Luck has thrown six of his eight touchdown passes to tight ends; three to Ertz, two to Fleener and another to Toilolo.

When Luck first decided that he would return to school for another season, he expected the questions. And there were lots of them. Questions about the NFL. Questions about the Heisman. So far, Shaw said Luck has done a good job handling all of the external pressures that come with being one of the most touted quarterback prospects in a decade.

“He answers the questions very respectfully and then he forgets about it and moves on,” Shaw said. “He doesn’t carry it with him. It doesn’t bother him. We’ve tried to do a good job minimizing the access to him so he has to answer as few of those questions as possible -- because he answered a whole bunch in the offseason. Now, when he gets one or two of those a week, it doesn’t bother him. He’s got pretty standard answers by now.”

Or as Luck puts it: “To me, it’s so old news.”