Leave it to the NFL to reunite a pair of California college quarterbacks in a battle for early-season survival 3,000 miles away in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
And as it turns out, the Jets' Sam Darnold and the Colts' Andrew Luck aren't beach bum buddies or even friends, yet each has a fan's admiration in the other's work.
"From watching Andrew in the past, first of all, he's such a bright dude in general and you can see how he takes that to the football field," said Darnold, the Southern Cal product. "For me growing up and to see him, I think he was drafted in 2012 when I was freshman in high school, so to see him get drafted and to see what he's been able to do for the Colts and see what he's been able to do for that organization, yeah he's been banged up, but he's a great player."
Luck, the Stanford grad — and yes, he is a graduate, with his degree in architectural design and a minor in voracious reading — and first overall pick in the '12 draft — has a similar view from afar of Darnold.
"Sam's a USC guy, so I've certainly watched him play over the years," Luck said today from Indy. "I've been very impressed with what he's done. And I'm sure the city of New York 'brings its own beast' in the sense of playing there, but I admire him very much and I think he's doing a good job."
In addition to similar views, there are some similarities in their styles. They're both 6'4", with Darnold 20 pounds lighter than Luck's 240-pound program weight. "Yeah, he definitely has more years of experience, but I can see it," Darnold said of comparisons to Luck. "He likes to extend plays, but at the same time he likes to just hang in there and deliver the ball on time and accurately. Yeah, I can see some similarities."
The big differences at the moment are what both are being asked to do with the teams they're guiding through the league's September/October shoals. Darnold's Jets are 2-3 but upwardly trending after Sunday's run-heavy, pass-judiciously home crushing of the Broncos. The Jets might like to replay that tape for the Colts, who, on paper at least, haven't shown as good a defense as Denver did before coming to MetLife Stadium and getting steamrolled.
Luck's Colts, meanwhile, are 1-4 and on a three-game losing skid that includes road losses at Philadelphia and last Thursday at New England. As a result, Luck is flinging the ball all over the place as if to make up for his 2017 season lost to shoulder surgery, leading the NFL in completions (163) and attempts (245). But with three top targets, WR T.Y. Hilton and TEs Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, all not practicing this week, his passing game has been noticeably shorter than those of, say, Jared Goff and Drew Brees. The receiver injuries and a Colts running game 29th in yards/game has led to an offense that is 29th in yards/play.
Darnold may not have gone to Stanford, but he still knows the numbers mean little in his next NFL battle with an experienced QB on the other sidelines.
"We know our defense has their hands full," Darnold said, "but it's also going to be a dogfight for us, too, because they have a great defense. We're really looking forward to the challenge, though, knowing how great of a quarterback Andrew is."