Of all the things we’ve learned about Stanford football through its first three games, one point is particularly revealing: Six might not be 12, but it isn’t half, either.
We’ve said it a hundred times already, but for the sake of thoroughness, let’s do it one more time: Josh Nunes (jersey No. 6) ain’t Andrew Luck (former No. 12). He’s completed just 53.4 percent of his passes so far, with a fair number of underthrows and overthrows sprinkled throughout his first three games as the Cardinal’s starting quarterback. Slow Luck’s tape down and you’ll be treated to hypnotic spirals; do the same with Nunes’ and you’ll be treated to a bit of a headache.
The best part of watching the Cardinal this season, though, is that none of that has really mattered. A 3-0 record is a 3-0 record, and it’s been really fun to take in.
There were usually more points on the board when Luck was at the helm, sure. And there were also gaudier passing stats. But all that came with a lot of stress from the fans’ point of view. As a nation increasingly sick of the Andrew Luck hype looked on, our eyes were also kept trained on scoreboard and smartphone stats. Would a 200-yard game be enough to impress voters? 250? 300? Would a few dropped passes that fell into opponents’ hands cost Luck the Heisman? (Arguably, they did.)
With no-stress Nunes leading Stanford’s offense, we’re free of those woes. Who cares about passing yards anymore? David Shaw sure doesn’t, and with the spotlight on Matt Barkley, De’Anthony Thomas and others, neither does the rest of the country. A win is a win, a loss is a loss, and as onlookers we can no longer claim moral victory (see: Fiesta Bowl) or defeat (see: Washington) on the numbers of our quarterback. We’re back to real football. Just give us the score, no questions asked.
But just for old times’ sake, you should try some stat tracking on Nunes. You’d find that through three games he has completed 47 passes for 615 yards and six touchdowns, which probably doesn’t even compare to Andrew Luck’s numbers in his first three starts, right? Then you would look up Luck’s first three games of 2009–43 completions, 639 yards and four touchdowns–and, considering the fact that Luck went a paltry 2-1 in those three contests, you would start scratching your head a little bit.
It goes without saying that Nunes has less accuracy, less upside and less of a chance to develop those two traits than his predecessor did when he began starting. But is it really that unfair to compare Nunes with Luck when the former has gotten the job done just as well so far and only took three games to pull off a monumental upset?
That win over No. 2 USC has already shifted the focus of the Cardinal’s season to its Nov. 17 date at Oregon, the team that dashed Stanford’s national championship hopes each of the last two seasons. It will be a matchup of two top-10 teams if both squads hold serve, and it could once again decide the Pac-12 North.
Remember, Luck upset No. 7 Oregon in his debut against the Ducks back in 2009, with a whole lot of help from Toby Gerhart. When Nunes plays the Ducks for the first time–albeit in hostile Autzen Stadium–he’ll be aided by Stepfan Taylor, whose senior season could challenge Gerhart’s for the finest rushing campaign in school history. With Nunes surrounded by a stronger supporting cast, especially on defense, than Luck arguably ever benefited from, could this finally be the year to break Oregon’s dominance? Could Nunes accomplish what Luck never did and win a Pac-12 championship?
A lot can happen in the next two months, and Stanford will have a host of other ranked opponents on its schedule: Arizona, Notre Dame, UCLA and Oregon State. We only have three games to work with, and Nunes still has a lot to work on. But this is about as good of a start as any Cardinal fan could have hoped for, and that owes itself in large part to one thing: Even after three years of No. 12, No. 6 hasn’t looked half bad.
Joseph Beyda is eating scrambled eggs all week in hopes that Nunes can continue to scramble for first downs the way he did against USC. Send your best egg recipes to jbeyda”at”stanford.edu.