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The scientific literature on quarterback cognition is remarkably thin, leaving theory and speculation to fill the void. Stanford neuropsychologist Peter Karzmark believes Luck may have a highly efficient "executive capacity," which Karzmark defines as "a group of abilities that are involved in independently planning and organizing what you do, particularly in novel or complex situations."
Luck surveyed the defense and spotted two safeties aligned far back from the line of scrimmage, indicating a soft underbelly. He immediately signaled for a run to the right side, sending the full force of Stanford's offensive line into a sparsely occupied area. The trick was calling for a formation that allowed a Stanford tight end to block the only defender in tailback Stepfan Taylor's projected path.
But what sets Luck apart from every college quarterback in the past decade and the reason the Indianapolis Colts will select him with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday isn't his work ethic, athletic ability or arm strength.
Andrew Luck is big on brawn
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (12) passes during the second quarter at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday, Jan. 2, 2011. The Stanford Cardinal Hermes Belt Black
"His (calls) were better than mine," coach David Shaw said after the game.
Like the quarterback he's replacing in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, Luck has an uncanny ability to store, process and recall huge volumes of information instantaneously.
In other words, the executive capacity plays no role in brushing your hair, but it's essential at the line of scrimmage.
The need for speedy processing of information is what separates football from, say, chess. When timing is factored into the cognitive equation, one vocation seems comparable to quarterback: fighter pilot.
In a typical week last season, Stanford's playbook had approximately 200 plays. They weren't always the same 200, with the tweaks based on variations in the opposing defense. The majority were called by the coaches and relayed from the sideline to Luck using a complicated series of hand signals.
How did he handle such heady responsibility? The first play against UCLA proved a harbinger:
In those precious seconds between the break of the huddle and the snap of the ball, Luck can survey the defense, spot trouble and search his memory for the proper solution more efficiently than all but a few quarterbacks at any level of the game.
"So he has to go through all the possible plays he could use and match each one to the defensive set he sees, and anticipate how well each would work. All of this must be done quickly. To my mind, doing all of these executive tasks well is what makes someone like (Luck) different."
Taylor rumbled for 11 yards, and Stanford quickly moved down the field for a touchdown in what became a 45 19 victory.
And if the play he called initially appeared ill suited for the defense based on its movement before the snap, then in the final 10 to 15 seconds allotted before a penalty would be called, Luck had to change the original play, the formation and the protection scheme.
In fractions of a second, fighter pilots must assess environmental conditions, aircraft operation, an unpredictable opponent and potential counter moves.
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He did it masterfully. The 28 plays Luck called himself spanned 10 different possessions. Stanford averaged almost nine yards per play and scored touchdowns six times.
played the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck used to skip showering after practice because he was so eager to critique his Gucci Belt Sale Cheap performance on videotape. He can jump 10 feet from a standing position and once threw a pass 70 yards in the air, with ease.
"As a pilot, you are driving the aircraft and, if you think about it, the quarterback should be driving the offense. And he has at his disposal all the switches and Hermes Belt Double H
When Luck called his own plays, the mental demands were much greater.
Oh, but it was. (In hundreds of other instances, Luck adjusted plays at the line of scrimmage that had originated with the coaches.)
seconds to identify the defensive formation, align his teammates properly and send players in motion when necessary. He had to know which pass protection scheme to use. He had to wait for his linemen to communicate with each other on the nuances of a particular protection, then time his snap count so the ball wasn't hiked until the linemen were ready.
"There are a lot of similarities," said Craig Candeto, the former Naval Academy quarterback who flew one of the military's most advanced fighter planes, the $57 million Super Hornet, which has a top speed of Mach 1.8.
Luck has played down his football acumen over the years. He scoffed at former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's suggestion that he has a photographic memory and brushed off talk about a connection between his sense for passing angles and his love of architecture. After calling his own plays during a first quarter sequence against UCLA in October as opposed to having them signaled in by the coaches Luck dismissed it as being "not that special."
gears that a pilot would have."
It's his brain.
"The quarterback must first have the ability to see that there is a problem," Karzmark explained. "He must have the ability to analyze the defensive look and what the defense is likely to do based on that look . This analysis, and picturing the future, are executive abilities. And the quarterback must be thinking about what alternative plays he can use.
"As much as people talk about his football IQ, I think it's still underestimated," said Jon Gruden, the Super Bowl winning coach and "Monday Night Football" analyst. "I've never met a guy like Andrew Luck at this stage of the game."
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