Commentary

Blackmon, Luck shine in desert

Originally Published: January 2, 2012
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- No. 3 Oklahoma State's 41-38 overtime victory Monday night over No. 4 Stanford provided a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl every bit as exciting as anticipated. Yet the buildup of the game as the season's de facto bronze-medal game missed the point.

With nothing at stake except a big trophy and a lot of pride, someone should have realized this would be the last time college football would see the likes of Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

In their final collegiate recitals, both players illustrated why they won national awards, why they will share the stage with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell come the last Thursday night in April, and why, a few years after their professional careers end, they will be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Blackmon, the game's offensive MVP, caught eight passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior used his speed and physicality to create a force field around him that no Cardinal defensive back appeared able to penetrate.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of Justin Blackmon's eight catches against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl were for touchdowns.

Take your choice of his best plays. There was the 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter that tied the score after Oklahoma State had spotted Stanford a 14-0 lead. Blackmon wriggled out of corner Terrence Brown's upper-body tackle like the 176-pound Brown was a sweater Blackmon was flinging off his shoulders. After Brown went flying, Blackmon turned and sprinted to the end zone.

"I knew we could play better," Blackmon said. "If that takes me getting mad, I guess I get mad and go out there and do it."

Or there was the fourth-and-3 at the Oklahoma State 40 with less than 3:30 to play in regulation and the Cowboys trailing 38-31, Blackmon lined up on the right side opposite fifth-year senior corner Corey Gatewood. Blackmon stabbed instantly toward the middle of the field and by the time Gatewood caught up to him, Blackmon had pivoted and caught the ball. Blackmon swung his right arm to send Gatewood flying past him, and turned upfield for 21 yards.

"If I know it is one-on-one," Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden said, "I'm going to Blackmon 100 percent of the time."

Three plays later, Oklahoma State scored to tie the game.

"The fact that Justin Blackmon did not get Heisman votes is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," Stanford coach David Shaw said in his team's locker room after the game. During the week, Shaw dared to compare him to Terrell Owens, a comparison he repeated even as he acknowledged that Blackmon is not the same size as T.O.

"Yards after catch, physical play, great blocker, plays with an attitude," Shaw said. "Give the kid all the credit in the world. He deserves it. … He's going to do the same thing on the next level that he does on this level. Guys like that play that way in high school, junior high school, college and the NFL. He's special."

Even when Blackmon didn't get the ball, he demanded attention. Receiver Colton Chelf worked between the hashmarks for most of the night. His 24-yard catch to within one foot of the goal line set up Quinn Sharp's game-winning field goal.

"When you got a No. 1 draft pick out there, a two-time Biletnikoff [Award] winner, it's pretty easy to find space when they are double-covering him out there," Chelf said.

Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. More to the point, he ran an offense that gained 590 yards and controlled the ball for nearly 42 minutes. He would have no part of a discussion about how well he played.

"I play to win football games," Luck said. "It's great to have good stats, efficiency, whatever. But at the end of the day, it's about winning. That's what I love about football. At the end of the day, it's not about one person. Win or lose, no one ever gets all the credit or all the blame."

Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson, who missed three of four field goals, may beg to differ with that last idea.

"I thought we did some very good things offensively, obviously not enough to win," Luck said. "The way all the running backs ran the ball, the way the line protected, the way they got push off the ball, I'm very proud. I'll always be proud to be part of a team like this."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Nick Doan/Icon SMIAndrew Luck missed just four passes on the night.

Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young, who has been coaching college football for 36 years, marveled after the game at how Luck conducted the last drive in regulation. With 2:35 to play, Stanford drove from its 20 to the Oklahoma State 25 and had 52 seconds to spare.

"They do such a good job, and they're so patient," Young said. "We had [plays] designed to stop the plays they were running, and they were still making 6 yards. That tells you the kind of power and persistence. I went in thinking that was one of the best offensive lines I've seen since I've been at Oklahoma State, and I came out thinking the same thing."

From the 25, Shaw called only two plays -- rushes that gained 10 yards -- before allowing the clock to run down to :03. That brought to mind the old saying that the only person who ever stopped Michael Jordan at North Carolina was coach Dean Smith. Shaw took the ball out of Luck's hands and put it at Williamson's foot.

In response, Shaw held the final stat sheet up against the wall behind him and pointed at Stanford's final rushing numbers: 50 rushes, 243 yards. Shaw wasn't about to throw into the end zone.

"No," Shaw said. "No way. We're running 4 to 8 yards at a clip. Our offensive line played outstanding. … Our guys up front were bordering on dominant. Just phenomenal. But not good enough to win."

Shaw saved his greatest praise for Luck, for his career and what he has meant to Stanford football. When Luck took off his redshirt in 2009, Stanford hadn't had a winning season in eight years. He leaves with 23 wins over the past two seasons. Asked what he thought of Luck's play, Shaw said, "Typical."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com