Oregon fans don’t want to see the next man up at quarterback until a future spring practice when Justin Herbert is preparing for the NFL draft.
But the Ducks are one injury away from having to play a true freshman in Pac-12 play for the third consecutive season.
Tyler Shough is the No. 2 quarterback for No. 20 Oregon’s critical conference opener against No. 7 Stanford on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (5 p.m., ABC).
“He has not achieved the level Justin has. That’s the honest answer,” coach Mario Cristobal said when asked about Shough’s preparedness if he had to call upon the young signal-caller to take meaningful snaps. “He is a great football player. He takes a ton of pride in what he does.
“He’s more than ready to run our offense. To the level of Justin? I wouldn’t say that. To a winning level? I would confidently say that.”
This will be Herbert's second start against the Cardinal (3-0, 1-0). Two years ago as a true freshman, the former Sheldon High standout passed for 274 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Oregon’s 52-27 home loss.
Braxton Burmeister started for an injured Herbert during last year’s matchup at Stanford. The true freshman was 3-for-8 passing for 23 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions during the 49-7 loss.
This year the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Herbert is looking to lead the Ducks (3-0, 0-0) back into contention in the North Division.
“It’s just different without Justin. I think everyone can see that,” left guard Shane Lemieux said. “I gotta give a lot of credit to Braxton because he did an incredible job as a true freshman. I couldn’t even imagine that. …
“I think the Pac-12 is going to start realizing it’s different with Justin Herbert.”
Herbert is tied for second nationally with 12 touchdown passes this season, which is the most through three games in program history.
Burmeister is out for two weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure on a swollen knee last week. He was 4-for-8 passing for 27 yards coming off the bench during the lopsided wins over Bowling Green and Portland State.
Shough saw limited action during the final two nonconference games but has not attempted a pass at Oregon. The touted 6-5, 204-pound prospect can play in two additional games this season and still redshirt.
“I can visualize it a lot easier now, so I feel a lot more confident than I did before,” Shough said of his development at the position since enrolling in January. “During the spring game, I was just kind of running the offense. But now I feel I can manipulate it and actually look at the defense more.”
Stanford leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 7.7 points per game. The impressive start was highlighted by a 17-3 victory over preseason South Division favorite USC.
The Cardinal ranks 23rd in total defense (301.0 ypg), 25th in rushing defense (104.7 ypg) and 53rd in passing defense (196.3 ypg).
Royce Freeman rushed for 143 of Oregon’s 276 rushing yards in last year’s meeting. Burmeister’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the Ducks’ only score.
“I think we all know he’s a difference maker. It certainly does help,” Cristobal said of having a healthy Herbert this year. “I don’t want to knock our quarterback situation at the time. We did focus on running the football and we did rack up a significant amount of yards. That was the game plan.
“We tried to chew up some clock knowing that our passing game wasn’t quite as in sync. We weren’t performing at the level we were earlier in the season.”
The Ducks are 11-7 and averaging 42.9 points in Herbert’s 18 starts.
Marcus Arroyo can make any call in the playbook with the junior behind center. He will also have Plan B ready for Stanford in case of emergency.
“Anytime you get a rotation at quarterback and you get another true freshman that’s potentially going to have to go in, I think we’re taking the appropriate steps,” Arroyo said. “(Shough) continues to develop every day. I think just like anything else, when you see that come to light and go, ‘Oh, I’m one snap away truly now.’ …
“The reality of it is he’s really done a nice job this week of getting in early and getting in more. So we’ll be ready to get him rolling.”