suggested that Stanford quarterback
Josh Nunes' struggles should be discounted as he has only started four games on the Farm. But
with other new quarterbacks playing well, so it's imperative to put
his stats in context.
Let's cut to the chase with the facts: Josh Nunes is dead last in
Pac-12 passing efficiency (114.2). His completion rate (52 percent)
is also far and away the league worst. It's over four points lower
than the 2010-2011 marks posted by UCLA's Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince, two recent passers scorned for their lack of accuracy. Over the last three seasons, only one conference
quarterback, the 2010 wreck that was Cal's Brock Mansion, has posted
a worse passing efficiency rating than Nunes here in 2012. Making matters worse, he's struggling against defenses that have been keying on the run, and not the pass.
Efficiency numbers indicate that, since the departure of Andrew Luck, Stanford quarterback play has tumbled from the very top of the
Pac-12 to the conference cellar. Given the fact that the Cardinal
hangs its hat on ground-and-pound, run-first football, passing
efficiency is absolutely critical in setting up manageable down
situations to keep the chains moving. This hasn't been
the case: a year after converting an elite 49.1 percent of its third
downs, Stanford is keeping the markers moving only 29.8 percent of
the time this season, 111th in the nation.
Nunes' inexperience can only explain so much, especially when the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks in
passing efficiency are also first-year starters. Arizona State's
Taylor Kelly, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, and UCLA's Brett Hundley have
all completed more than two-thirds of their passes and combined for
31 touchdowns. Together with Oregon State's Sean Mannion, a true
sophomore, all four have been statistically better than USC senior
Matt Barkley thus far.
Nunes, meanwhile, has struggled to stay afloat. After his
two-interception first half against USC featured a completion rate
that flirted with the 30 percent mark, his respectable late-game
play led the Cardinal to the game's winning touchdown. But since
that performance was buoyed by 33 rushing yards that David Shaw
himself said were "shocking," can that level of play be
consistently attained in the future?
Subsequent struggles at Washington were not a promising sign. To be
fair, Nunes was making his first road start in an ear-shattering
environment. But two factors worked in his favor: his opponent's
defense was porous and over-aggressive against the run. Nunes' final
line was poor anyway, consistent with his previous home game against
a Pac-12 opponent. It's easy to forget most of those USC struggles
because the Cardinal won, but Nunes' completion percentage there (46
percent) was even worse than at CenturyLink Field (48 percent).
Three long drops by Ty Montgomery also hurt the quarterback's
numbers in Seattle, but at least one was canceled out in the box
score by a shorter completed pass that was the
quarterback's mistake (the negative screen toss that left
Stepfan Taylor out to dry in the face of two hard-charging
Nunes must improve his accuracy in the
short-to-medium range passing game. He's thrown a few nice deep balls, but those aren't nearly
as important in the context of Stanford's offense as its
bread-and-butter short throws. A bounce pass to Ryan Hewitt five
yards away in the backfield is not the product of road inexperience.
It's shaky quarterback play that's almost as damaging as the
"negative plays" Shaw hoped Stanford would avoid when he selected
Nunes over Brett Nottingham for the starting quarterback job.
Unstable offensive performance led to seven three-and-outs
against Washington, a number that has only ballooned since the
season's opening game. Against both San Jose State and Duke, the
Cardinal failed to move the chains on three drives. Against USC, it
happened five times. It's added up to 18 three-and-outs through just
four games, just a year after the Luck-led offense had four three-and-outs
through the season's first two months. None of these numbers support the notion that Nunes' command of the
offense has tangibly improved.
No. 6 must display
dramatic improvement against Arizona and at Notre Dame, for last week's
loss at Washington sent a clear message. Even an elite defense will
lose when hindered by poor quarterback play. Shaw seems to have
faith in his chosen man, but the time to elevate performance is now.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal
football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be
heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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