The Challenge

Future No. 1 pick Andrew Luck

Notre Dame faced one of the five best players on its schedule last week in BC linebacker Luke Kuechly. Saturday it will face another, only this one touches the ball on every offensive snap.

Looking for a short list of the most effective and/or explosive quarterbacks that Notre Dame has faced in the 24-game Brian Kelly era? Six immediately come to mind: Denard Robinson, Kirk Cousins, Andrew Luck, Ricky Dobbs, G.J. Kinne, Tim Jefferson, and Matt Barkley.

Robinson has two wins in two tries while MSU's Cousins (1-1), Dobbs (1-0 with Navy), Kinne (1-0 with Tulsa) and Barkley (1-0 with USC) each took home a victory vs. Kelly's Irish. But its Stanford's Luck (1-0 with one on tap this week) that ranks as the hands-down best quarterback Notre Dame has faced, maybe over a five-season span dating back to (at least) Matt Ryan and Boston College in 2007.

"There is nobody in college football that is doing what Andrew Luck is doing," said his head coach David Shaw this week. "Don't forget, I spent nine years in the NFL. I evaluated every single quarterback that came out in the NFL during that time and have seen all of the good ones since then. There is nobody that I've heard of that does as much at the line of scrimmage in college football. There are not that many guys in the NFL that are doing as much as Andrew is at the line of scrimmage.

"The guy is running the game at the line of scrimmage. He's controlling the protections. He's controlling the running game," Shaw continued. "We're calling three, four plays in the huddle, which most guys can't even think about handling and he does that."

Luck's pre-snap prowess has forced the Irish to take notice. But it's the magic in his right arm, coupled with his greatly underrated mobility that has Irish linebackers wary heading into Saturday's contest.

"He's the best guy at his position," said Irish linebacker and Butkus finalist Manti Te'o. "But, yeah, I'm going to try to trick him; get in his head; do what I do and depending on how he'll react I'll adjust too."

Read, React…and find a way

Part of Luck's success has been his symbiotic relationship with the team's tight ends in the short and middle zones, and down the seams – areas that have hurt the Irish on more than a few occasions over the last two seasons.

"It definitely starts out with how big they are. They're tall and they go up and get the ball," Te'o said of Stanford's tight ends, adding, "They're physical at the point of attack. They help their offense move and as a linebacker you have to be aware of that.

"Our eyes have to be in the right place."

Kelly knows it'll take more than eye recognition for his defensive back seven to deter Luck.

"Poise under pressure more than anything else," said Kelly of Luck's greatest attribute. "Some of the throws that he made against us last year: we brought an all out blitz inside the 15-yard line, and we had a free blitzer and he just kept back pedaling and hit a tight end on a choice route in the end zone (Coby Fleener for a touchdown).

"That's poise under pressure. He has the ability to make the throws when he's under duress as well. And to have that, you've got to have the skill, but also the utmost confidence in your ability. He has all this intrinsic things necessary to be a great quarterback."

Luck has fired 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, completing (and here's the catch vs. Notre Dame's sometimes soft zones) 70 percent of his passes this season. Like Notre Dame signal-caller Tommy Rees, Luck is difficult to sack (Stanford has allowed 9 sacks; Notre Dame 8). Unlike Rees, part of that problem for opposing defenses is his ability to beat teams with his feet.

He's a complete quarterback and unquestioned No. 1 NFL Draft Pick in April 2012.

"He's the driver out there," said Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco of Luck. "He gets them in the right plays and makes the right reads. He's going to find your little void area (in zones) and he the receivers are in coordination, they're all on the same page. They know where to sit it down; he knows where they're going to sit it down; the ball comes out quick and it's on them right (away). He has a strong, accurate arm that can make all the throws, so he's a special player."

Luck isn't invincible; he's thrown two pick-6's in the Cardinal's last three contests including a loss to Oregon and overtime escape vs. USC.

Notre Dame picked him off twice last year, held him to the aforementioned touchdown to Fleener, and kept him to respectable completion (19 of 32) and yardage (238) totals. But his ability to move the chains on third down (six passing first downs with a touchdown) ultimately doomed Irish efforts.

"I don't know that he's going to get confused by anything," Kelly said of Luck. "I think it's a matter of us doing a really good job in play action and knowing when he's going to throw it.

"Putting him in those positions when he has to throw the football is the most important thing. First and second down (success) is obviously are very crucial to us."

Said Kelly of the Cardinal balance: "If they can run the football with effectiveness, Andrew Luck will tear you apart."

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