Stanford nearly dropped out of the rankings after a subpar opener.
Stanford won 20-17 over local rival San Jose State last Friday, as Jordan Williamson’s 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter broke a 17-17 tie. The Cardinal were ranked 21st last week, and it was no guarantee that they would remain in the poll for the 34th straight week.
“We’ve got Duke coming up, it’s going to be a good opponent and we just want to progress,” receiver Drew Terrell said. “This wasn’t the way we wanted to start the season.”
The opener marked the first career start for Josh Nunes, who has big shoes to fill in replacing top overall NFL draft pick Andrew Luck. Nunes completed 16 of 26 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“I was very proud of him,” coach David Shaw said. “He never flinched all game. He played like the senior that he was. I was very pleased with his performance.”
Skov, meanwhile, will play for the first time since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of 2011 after leading the Cardinal with 84 tackles in 2010. He was suspended last week for a DUI arrest in February.
The senior took part in Stanford’s 44-14 victory at Duke last season - a contest in which the Blue Devils did not have an offensive score until the final minute.
“They’re going to get Skov back this game who I think is a great football player,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
While Skov figures to boost the Stanford defense, Nunes will look to generate more offense after posting pedestrian numbers in the opener.
“Nunes the quarterback is a guy we all wanted,” Cutcliffe said. “He has got a tremendous release and arm and he’s got all the talent that you’d want a guy to have and he’s really athletic.”
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor gained 116 yards on 26 carries with one score a week ago behind an offensive line that lost stalwarts David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin in the first two rounds of the draft. The Cardinal were outgained 288-280, finishing with the third-lowest yardage total by a Pac-12 team last week.
“We were close to doing a lot of really good things tonight,” Nunes said. “But close doesn’t always win football games.”
Duke is seeking to win consecutive games to start a season for the first time since 1998 after opening with a 46-26 victory over Sun Belt Conference favorite Florida International last Saturday.
The Blue Devils used a 30-point second quarter to take command. Sean Renfree was 21 of 30 for 290 yards, two scores and one interception, although Duke was outgained 513-420, including 165-119 on the ground.
Renfree was 19 of 27 for 179 yards - an average of just 6.63 yards per attempt - last year against Stanford. The running attack was abysmal against a physical Stanford defense as Duke finished with a season-low 30 yards.
The Cardinal have held their last four opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
“I think it’s going to be on the offensive line to set the tone for that game, make sure that we can still run the ball but really attack the secondary when we get the chance,” Duke center Brian Moore said.
The Cardinal took a 2-1 edge in the all-time series with last year’s victory. Duke’s 9-3 victory at Stanford in 1971 remains its last road win against a ranked opponent, and Cutcliffe is hoping that will help motivate his team.
“Stanford could care less about that and we know it has nothing to do with this game, but again, I like people that have a sense of history,” Cutcliffe said.