A big reason why the Stanford Cardinal and quarterback Andrew Luck were so successful passing the ball against the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night was because of the way they use play-action passing. Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the country at selling the run fake and turning into a big play.
A 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo was a perfect example of how Luck can get an entire defense to bite on play-action.
Starting from the beginning of the 2010 season and heading into last week's game, Luck was completing 71.8 percent of his passes off of play action for 10.4 yards per attempt. And he'd thrown 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
"Seventy-five percent of the plays we call, Andrew can change them at the line of scrimmage," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "He looks at the defense and can audible right there. So a lot of the time, those open receivers are a result of Andrew seeing something in the defense."
Luck completed 20-of-31 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, without the threat of a running game, play action becomes considerably less effective. So it helps that the Cardinal were able to run up 242 yards on the ground -- 153 of them coming courtesy of running back Stepfan Taylor.
"When you have a running game like we had, it can open up the passing game and Andrew did a good job with the play action (Saturday)," Shaw said.
Ironically, Luck's other touchdown came on a sprint out to his right followed by a 16-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz. Statistically, Luck has been a more efficient passer inside of the pocket. Last season he completed 73 percent of his passes inside the pocket -- which was a higher rate than any quarterback taken in the 2011 draft.
Since the start of the 2010 season, when Luck looks down the field for 20 yards or more coming out of play action, he's completing 60 percent of his throws with five touchdowns and no interceptions. When he goes long without play action, the completion percentage drops to 31.4 percent and he has just three touchdowns to four interceptions.