By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — During his first three years on campus, Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes completed one pass.
It was a 7-yard gain to study pal Sam Knapp against Wake Forest in 2010. Strike up the band.
Otherwise, Nunes watched 2012’s No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck work his way into Heisman contention and a big pro payday. Nunes didn’t transfer, an idea so in vogue now, but instead stayed at Stanford and is now the starter as a red-shirt junior.
“There’s a bunch of reasons,” Nunes said. “I can’t think of any place to, one, sit behind a person than Stanford, if you were going to have to. Two, to be able to learn from Andrew Luck, there’s no better opportunity in college football. He’s such a great guy. A good guy to be around and learn from. It really wasn’t that bad.”
Nunes, who will be managing the eighth-ranked Cardinal (3-0) on Thursday during his first road game as a starter, watched Luck’s manic preparation. Luck would watch hours of tape. Nunes joined him. Luck took what he saw and applied it to practice. Nunes tries to follow suit.
Both are big quarterbacks – Nunes 6-foot-4, 225 pounds; Luck 6-4, 234.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says they move the same.
“You see from him some of the same mannerisms as Andrew Luck had,” Sarkisian said. “The way he handles himself at the line of scrimmage, mechanically, technically how he delivers the football. Something that jumps out at me, if you notice in the (USC) game a couple quarterback scrambles on third down kind of remind me of Andrew Luck.”
Comparisons should end there. Nunes is relied on as a game manager. Luck was a game-changer. After the first three weeks, Nunes has six touchdowns and three interceptions as Stanford slowly unwinds the playbook.
“I think there’s been steady improvement in each game,” Cardinal head coach David Shaw said. “We were very conservative with him at the beginning, the first game of the year. Second game, there were some opportunities to make some big plays down the field passing, he did that very well. Third game, our first hint of trouble and he bounced back great. Showed the fact he doesn’t dwell on good plays or bad plays.”
The hint of trouble against USC was Nunes’ two interceptions. Late in the second quarter, he stepped to the side under pressure and threw the ball toward wide receiver Ty Montgomery for a pick. Nunes was also intercepted on the next Stanford possession when he tried to float a pass to 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo that was knocked into the air before USC came down with it.
“By no means perfect, far from perfect in the first three,” Nunes said. “Definitely things I need to work on.”
But Nunes shelved those errors to play a solid second half, completing 9 of 15 passes without an interception.
“For us right now, we’re getting to get to the point where we want to see if he can play a complete game at that high level, which we know he’s capable of,” Shaw said. “This is only Game 4 for him, but we want to see steady improvement.”
Nunes will be a secondary focus for Washington, which is desperate to stop the run against Stanford. It’s the approach teams most use against the Cardinal, especially following the departure of Luck. Nunes will count on throwing to a bevy of enormous tight ends to exploit overzealous, packed-in defenses.
“It’s a great benefit to have those types of guys out there who are so versatile and provide so many different kinds of looks for the defense,” Nunes said.
Thursday will be Nunes’ first trip to CenturyLink Field. He’s driven by the field before but never set foot in a stadium renowned for its high volume.
His coach predicts Nunes will be calm. Nunes agrees.
“It’s definitely going to be different playing in a road game,” Nunes said. “I’m not the kind of guy who gets nervous or excited about much. There will be a few butterflies, I think there always will be for a new experience like that, but I think they’ll go away pretty quick.”
If he is anything like Luck, that will be the case.
Washington’s Oct. 6 game at Oregon will begin at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. … Sarkisian reiterated Tuesday that linebackers Jamaal Kearse (shin) and Nate Fellner (foot) will be back Thursday, though he wasn’t sure to what extent. … Sarkisian also said both punters could be used, but Travis Coons will be given the first chance, apparently wresting the starting job from Korey Durkee.