Josh Nunes: More Perspective

Josh Nunes played his best collegiate game in Stanford's 54-48 overtime win over Arizona Saturday. His 21-34, 360-yard effort was peppered with three rushing touchdowns that garnered him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. The Bootleg puts the quarterback's performance to date in perspective.

No, it's not time to bronze Nunes' arm yet. Arizona, statistically the second-worst NCAA passing defense of 2011, is even thinner now defensively after the transition to new head coach Rich Rodriguez. At this time last week, in fact, all talk focused on the fact that Stanford offensive success was expected because of the Cardinal's massive physical advantage. Another offensive failure would have been completely unacceptable, considering just how bad that Wildcats' D is.

Now that success has indeed come, it must be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. Stanford's 48 points in regulation might have exceeded expectations, but more praise should probably heaped on Nunes' counterpart Matt Scott, who carved up a deep, talented Stanford defense for the same amount on 491 yards through the air.

That being said, Nunes did demonstrate marked improvement nine days after his nightmare in Seattle. He improved his already good touch on the deep lob pattern, brought back memories of USC by keeping two drives alive with his feet, and led the Cardinal to a gutsy comeback in crunch time. There were a handful of forced throws into coverage and some confused moments in the pocket, but nothing that came back to significantly hurt Stanford. Plus, that 17-yard fourth down strike to Zach Ertz with a minute remaining sure was on the money.

In short, Nunes passed a test against a poor defense at home with flying colors (his offense even put up more yards - 617 - than any Andrew Luck effort ever did on the Farm). Stanford's running advantage meant that gargantuan tight ends roamed free downfield. Nunes did a fine job connecting with them for big gains, and he settled his lower body adequately to avoid a repeat of his disastrous throws into the turf.

Marked improvement was obvious, but since the Cardinal was in a different physical world than Arizona, it's tough to gauge Nunes' true proficiency: there weren't many tight windows to throw into, and there wasn't much of a pass rush to worry about behind another brilliant performance from the hogs up front.

For what it's worth, Nunes' passer efficiency rating climbed 12 points to 126.1, good for a move out of dead last and up to 10th place in the conference. Following a handful of statistically poor games (including USC), Nunes now has a good one under his belt. That's pushed Washington's Keith Price to the rear instead (111.8), a rather shocking development a year after he was second to only Luck in the Pac-12.

The true test date remains unchanged. It's scheduled for this Saturday, October 13 at Notre Dame Stadium against an Irish defense that hasn't given up a touchdown in over a month and is surrendering only 7.8 points per game. Nunes has had one road start to get acclimated. Now he must prove that he can get the job done in hostile territory against a physically competitive defense, one that's bigger and stronger than Stanford killer Washington.

Fittingly, Notre Dame is in a similar situation entering the match-up behind their quarterback Everett Golson, who has struggled outside of the recent 41-3 Irish flogging of Miami. Like Arizona, the Hurricanes are also defensively porous, so Notre Dame's quarterback is looking at his match-up with the Stanford defense as an opportunity to truly prove himself.

This all sets up a fascinating mirror image midterm exam for two potentially elite teams. A moment of truth for Josh Nunes and Stanford football looms in one of college football's iconic cathedrals.

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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