STANFORD, Calif. – The competition to be Andrew Luck's long-term replacement is not as settled as it once seemed.
With Josh Nunes struggling to consistently move the offense, Stanford coach David Shaw said Tuesday that he plans to play backup quarterback Kevin Hogan more. Hogan will take about 12 to 20 snaps at Colorado on Saturday, putting pressure on Nunes to improve after several sloppy starts.
Hogan, a redshirt freshman, played only about six downs in each of the last two games. While most of that time has been as a read-option or wildcat-style quarterback, expect more passes and packages soon.
"He's not ready to take it all right now," Shaw said, "and I'm not ready to take it all away from Josh."
Nunes has started all eight games since the Indianapolis Colts selected Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. The redshirt junior completed 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown as Stanford squeezed past lowly Washington State 24-17 last week. He never found his rhythm, and at times looked lost.
The defense, which has carried the Cardinal all season, sacked Jeff Tuel a school-record 10 times, and Ed Reynolds returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to bail out the offense again.
Now the No. 15 Cardinal (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) head to Boulder to face the beleaguered Buffaloes (1-7, 1-4). Future playing time could be at stake with matchups against No. 13 Oregon State and second-ranked Oregon that will decide the Pac-12 North Division up next.
Asked if he'd consider starting Hogan should the trend for both quarterbacks continue, Shaw said: "Anything is possible. Anything is possible, which is always the thing when you're going to give a guy more time at any position.
"We just can't have another half like we had this past game where we had 15 plays the whole first half. We have to be more efficient."
Washington State, the only winless team in Pac-12 play, had 25 first downs to 12 for Stanford. The Cardinal converted five of them, only put together one complete drive all game, and Shaw spelled Nunes for five consecutive plays with Hogan between the third and fourth quarters.
Apparently Shaw has finally seen enough to audible from a formula that so often hasn't worked.
Nunes beat out strong-armed Brett Nottingham, once considered the favorite for the starting job, in fall practice. Hogan emerged late in that competition, and even though the depth chart still lists Nottingham as No. 2, Hogan has since passed the redshirt sophomore for playing time.
While Shaw said in spring practice he disliked a two-quarterback approach because it could disrupt rhythm, circumstances have forced him to consider otherwise.
"It's not so much a change in philosophy as saying, 'This is what is prudent. This is what is the smart thing to do,'" Shaw said.
Nunes has completed 52.6 percent of his passes. Shaw has said all year he wants that figure to be at about 70 percent, especially considering Stanford doesn't throw deep that often.
Nunes has thrown for 1,620 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His struggles have been well documented in losses at Washington and Notre Dame, but so have his highlights. He led Stanford to a 21-14 victory against then-No. 2 Southern California, and rallied the Cardinal from a two-touchdown deficit to stun Arizona 54-48 in overtime.
Nunes has shouldered the blame for any offensive struggles.
"It starts with me," he said Tuesday, adding that he isn't bothered at all by splitting time with Hogan, and praising his budding backup. "I just need to make the throws and be more consistent and get us into the right plays more often."
Shaw also is quick to point out that not all the blame falls on Nunes.
Top wide receiver Ty Montgomery has missed three straight games with a lower leg injury, and he dropped two key passes in the loss at Washington, among others. Stepfan Taylor ran for a career-high 189 yards against Cal two weeks ago, but then the young offense struggled to create lanes against the Cougars. The senior ran for only 58 yards on 21 carries.
Hogan has seven carries for 16 yards in four games and has only thrown the ball once, connecting with tight end Levine Toilolo for a 9-yard touchdown in Stanford's 21-3 win at rival California.
Shaw said Hogan has an "added mobility," earned more playing in practices, and has "done exceptionally well" with the small amount of offense he has run. Shaw said he isn't worried about the potential impact on Nunes' confidence and expects the move to only motivate both quarterbacks more.
"As I said in front of the team, this is big-time college football. There's competition everywhere," Shaw said. "Josh has responded great in practice, and so has Kevin. It's not necessarily to compete to be the starter. It's competing for plays.'"
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP