It would be premature to pass judgment on Josh Nunes until a pass has been thrown. Or 50, or 100 passes for that matter. It would be uneducated to make assumptions before a ball has been handed off or a defense has been read -- at least outside of a scrimmage situation.
For better or worse, he is Stanford's new starting quarterback, announced following practice Tuesday morning by head coach David Shaw. With two career pass attempts to his credit (both coming in 2010) the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder edged Brett Nottingham for the starting role. He'll be under center when the Cardinal open against San Jose State next Friday.
Until we see some live action, we don't know what we're getting with Nunes. We probably won't know too much more about him the first couple of weeks. After San Jose State at home, the Cardinal get a Duke team at Stanford Stadium that is improved, but probably not enough to challenge.
But on Sept. 28, after USC has come to town and the first road game of the year at Washington has been played, we'll have a much better idea about Shaw's decision.
"Andrew [Luck] gave the guy the best example," Shaw said. "Andrew worked extremely hard on all of the little things. That's what we need. We need the little things. We need to make sure we get to the right running play. We have to make sure the footwork is proper. When the fullback is open in the front, we just hit him with the ball. We don't want to make this thing trigonometry. The quarterback's job is to go in and run the offense. And our expectations are on execution. They aren't on stats or what people outside our locker room are going to say or other people's evaluations. Our evaluation is, can Josh Nunes be efficient in this offense and we believe he can be."
Expect Nunes to get a healthy dose of adversity against the Trojans, a team the Cardinal have beat in four of their past five meetings. He'll be tested by a secondary that boasts one of the best safeties and cornerbacks in the country; a team that on paper can score at will; a team with a Heisman front-running quarterback; a team that's looking to extract revenge in the post-Luck era.
For the sake of argument let's say Stanford, which is expected to be a sizable home underdog anyway, drops that game. How will Nunes respond as the team goes on the road against the upstart Washington Huskies? That's when we're going to learn something about Nunes.
No one expects him to be like his predecessor. And if you do, there's a George Strait song about Arizona and oceans you should listen to. But the way he can mimic Luck is how he handles the lows. Luck was fantastic at flushing out the bad -- almost instantaneously -- and bouncing right back into form.
"We've seen Josh do it in practice," Shaw said. "But as we know, practices are not games. That's what every starting quarterback needs when he gets his first start, is to show [mental toughness], not just to the crowd or even the coaches, but to his teammates. I know Josh is eager to do that. He's eager to be in a tough and tight game and make the tough throw, stand there and take a hit and throw a touchdown pass. I know he can't wait to do that."
Shaw's priority pecking order for selecting a quarterback was based on the following criteria:
Protecting the ball
Efficiency in running the offense
"All of these guys can throw the ball," Shaw said. "They are here on scholarship because they can throw the ball. Our game is so multifaceted, our running game, we have kills and audibles and checks and you have to know those and understand those and internalize those. Our quarterback manages protections and he has to be able to get us to the right protection. If he's good there, it means all 10 other guys can perform. And then, lastly, as long as he takes care of the ball and when a guy is open, he gets him the ball and we have a chance to win."
And as far as leashes go, there won't be one for Nunes. Shaw said that Nunes is his guy and he doesn't want to burden him with a pronounced criteria for keeping the job.
"I don't believe in saying things like that," Shaw said. "It's hard to play looking over your shoulder. He's earned this job. We're going to give it to him and let him roll."
Nunes can go a long way toward winning the support of the fans by showing weekly improvement, mental toughness and stability.
A couple of one-handed catches couldn't hurt, either.