Coming into Thursday night’s huge showdown between Pac-12 powers Oregon and Stanford, it was Ducks QB Marcus Mariota who was the spotlight star player who everyone was focusing on and talking about. Following a spectacular performance in the first half of the season, Mariota had established himself as the consensus favorite and front-runner to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.
Unfortunately, the dynamic dual-threat signal-caller finally met his match when he squared off with a stingy and stout Stanford defense, led by intimidating inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
Skov and the rest of the Cardinal defense constantly harassed Mariota all night long, forcing the usually explosive playmaking passer to look out-of-sync, uncomfortable and even downright frightened for the entire night. The menacing play of the team’s star senior defender was the main reason that Stanford was able to shut down Oregon’s usually explosive offensive attack and ultimately pull off a standings-shaking 26-20 upset in front of a national audience.
After listening to Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas talk about how the Ducks were going to put up 40 points on the Cardinal this year, Skov was the one who ended up doing all the talking with his play on the field. He then followed up with a little friendly trash talk of his own, following the game.
Ummm I'm havin trouble counting? How many points was that? U know what we'll give ya half— Shayne Skov (@ShayneSkov11) November 8, 2013
Whether the mohawk-adorned, face-paint-smothered defensive warrior was instinctively timing up A-gap blitzes to perfection, forcing momentum-swinging fumbles, turning the Ducks’ speedy playmakers into hapless victims, or just sending pre-snap shivers down Mariota’s spine by staring him down from across the line of scrimmage, it was clear that Skov was making the type of impact that few other defenders in the collegiate ranks are capable of.
Though he wasn’t solely responsible for holding the Ducks’ dangerous rushing attack—which entered the game ranked second in the nation, averaging 331 yards per game—to just 62 total net rushing yards—Skov was the leader of the charge and the centerpiece of the shut down.
His brilliant performance on the big stage against Mariota—the now-former Heisman favorite—is worthy of plenty of praise. In fact, you could even make the argument that Skov, who entered the game averaging 7.8 tackles per game, even deserves some serious Heisman buzz.
You might say, “but wait, defensive players can’t win the Heisman,” which would be a fair point. Considering the current times we live in, if you aren’t a quarterback—a position that has produced 11 of the last 13 award winners—you don’t have a realistic shot at building the momentum needed to make the national publicity push to win the stiff-armed trophy.
Still, as former Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o—a player who Skov tops in terms of natural talent—proved last year, defensive players can indeed actually make a considerable candidacy for college football’s most prestigious award. Te’o was obviously aided by the Notre Dame hype machine, and a rather weak field of candidates, but he still was able to finish No. 2 in the voting behind winner Johnny Manziel.
Can Skov do the same? Only time will tell. But putting together a dominant showing in a nationally-televised prime time game against a Top Five team obviously can only be a helpful boost.
With Mariota now seemingly out of the race, other high-profile quarterbacks such as defending-winner Manziel, Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Baylor’s Bryce Petty will now be the ones who garner most of the attention in the final month of the season. But Skov’s name should at the very least be thrown into the discussion right along with them. Stanford’s success is predicated on its strong defense, and Skov is clearly the most valuable player and the definitive leader of the unit. He’s the quarterback of the defense so to speak.
Even if a one-loss Cardinal team doesn’t find a way to sneak into the BCS championship game, and instead has to settle for another Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth, it still shouldn’t diminish all that the 6’3’’, 245-pound wrecking ball has accomplished during his senior year.
After suffering a severe season-ending knee injury just four games into the 2011 season, Skov returned to the field last year and put together a solid campaign, leading the team with 80 tackles, including 42 solo stops. However, it was clear that he wasn’t 100 percent recovered and wasn’t ready to dominate in the fashion that we had become accustomed to seeing from him.
This year, however, there’s been a notable difference in his play, as he’s taken his game back to an elite level. Recently, ESPN's Kevin Weidl called Skov's range "night and day" from last season, and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah quoted an unnamed NFL executive who said Skov is an explosive blitzer, who possesses top-notch playmaking instincts.
When all is said and done, Skov will likely garner plenty of recognition, awards and accolades for his 2013 performance. He’s already a shoe-in to earn a spot on numerous All-American teams, and you’ll likely see him down in Orlando as one of the finalists for the prestigious Bednarik Award.
The question is: will Skov be able to add a trip to New York City to his postseason itinerary?
Since 2009, three defensive players—Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te’o—have been invited to the Heisman ceremony. Obviously, the thought of a primarily defensive player winning college football’s most talked-about honor is no longer as taboo as it once was.
Only time will tell whether Skov can follow in the footsteps of Suh, Mathieu and Te’o, but as of now, Stanford’s star defender has certainly proven that he belongs in the Heisman discussion.