Nunes drags Stanford past Arizona

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
9:49
PM ET
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- When Stanford coach David Shaw named Josh Nunes the team's starting quarterback during fall camp, several reasons factored into the decision. Among them, Shaw liked Nunes' ability to keep a level head regardless of the situation.

So when the Cardinal fell behind by 14 points early in the fourth quarter against Arizona on Saturday, Shaw wasn't worried how Nunes would respond.

Intrigued? Sure. Worried? No.

Shaw's faith was rewarded.

Over the final nine minutes of regulation, Nunes led the Cardinal on touchdown drives of 75 and 79 yards. He capped both with option keepers as Stanford forced overtime and escaped with a 54-48 victory on homecoming.

"It's not that we learned," Shaw said. "It's maybe that other people learned he's a tough kid. He bounces back, he doesn't listen to the noise, he's steady."

Neither of the final two drives of regulation was without suspense.

Stanford faced fourth down at the Arizona 20-yard line on both drives, and twice Nunes relied on tight ends -- first Levine Toilolo, then Zach Ertz -- to pick up the necessary yardage.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes, Patrick Onwuasor
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireJosh Nunes outmaneuvers Patrick Onwuasor for the tying touchdown in the final minute.
"When we have man coverage, I like those matchups against anybody out there," Nunes said. "They're so deceptively quick and agile on their routes that we can spread them out and take advantage."

When Ertz heard the play call on fourth-and-9 with 1:21 left and the Cardinal trailing 48-41, he knew he should expect the ball. The play, which is simply referred to as "Special," uses three vertical routes and sends Ertz down the middle of the field. It had been practiced with a lot of success throughout the week, and when they broke the huddle, Ertz and Nunes liked what they saw.

"He ran a great route, and it popped open," Nunes said.

It wound up as Nunes' final pass attempt of the game. He finished 21-for-34 for 360 yards, a pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions.

"People kind of underestimate Josh because they try to compare him to Andrew [Luck]," Ertz said. "We don't really compare him to Andrew, but he's a beast."

Luck finished with more than 360 yards passing in just two games during his three-year Stanford career.

While Nunes excelled with his arm -- particularly on downfield passes -- he was also effective with his feet. He carried seven times for 33 yards with three touchdowns and a long of 16.

That's where Shaw was surprised.

"If you told me a year ago that we'd call multiple run plays for Josh Nunes, I'd laugh at you," Shaw said. "The bottom line is he's a tough kid. He's not afraid of it. He doesn't back down from challenges."

After Nunes struggled and the Cardinal (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) went without an offensive touchdown in last week's 17-13 upset loss at Washington, Shaw adamantly stood by his guy. Changing quarterbacks wasn't an option.

Did Nunes' latest performance quiet his critics?

"Probably not," Shaw said. "And once again, I don't care. He doesn't care. We're a team.

"We're tight in our locker room. We support him through everything, and he understands that. We hold him accountable for what his job is. But at the same time, we know he's more than capable. And I think he showed that."

Toilolo finished with five catches for a career-high 141 yards, and Ertz had six catches for 64 yards. Senior receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson also had a career day with two catches for 71 yards.

Running back Stepfan Taylor, who scored a 21-yard touchdown to end the game, finished with 142 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns. He left the game for one series due to a finger injury, and redshirt freshman Kelsey Young stepped in. Young displayed breakaway speed on a jet sweep that went for a 55-yard touchdown to put Stanford on top 34-33 with 28 seconds left in the third.

If it weren't for the final result, Saturday would have belonged to Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who set Pac-12 records for completions (45) and attempts (69) while throwing for 491 yards -- the third most in school history.

Both teams finished with 617 yards of offense. It was eighth-best total in history for the Stanford offense -- and 10th worst for its defense.

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