STANFORD, Calif. — Hard to imagine a tougher day on The Farm this season than Monday.
In a major blow to No. 5 Stanford's bid for a Pac-12 title and national championship, the school announced that linebacker and leading tackler Shayne Skov is out for the season with a left knee injury. Outside of Heisman Trophy hopeful Andrew Luck, there might not have been a more important Cardinal player than Skov, the unquestioned leader of the defense and a projected NFL draft pick.
Now he's gone.
"It's a big loss for our football team, but we have great leadership on defense from players such as Michael Thomas, Delano Howell and Chase Thomas," coach David Shaw said. "We've also recruited very well recently and now it is time for guys to step up."
Skov injured his knee in the second quarter of the Cardinal's 37-10 victory at Arizona on Saturday night. Wildcats receiver Juron Criner was tackled and knocked into Skov's leg on the play.
Skov spread out on the field for about a minute, then had to be helped to the sideline. He laid on a training table behind Stanford's bench with his knee heavily wrapped before he left for the locker room on a cart just before halftime.
Skov led Stanford with 84 tackles last season to go with 7½ sacks. Even though he didn't play in the second half Saturday, Skov still leads the Cardinal with 19 tackles this year.
"He's the emotional leader of the defense. You can't replace that," safety Michael Thomas, the defensive captain, said after the game in Arizona.
About the only good news for Stanford is they have time to figure out how to manage without Skov.
The Cardinal have a bye this week and host UCLA on Oct. 1. They still will be heavily favored for the next four games — UCLA, Colorado, at Washington State and back home against Washington — before traveling to Southern California on Oct. 29. The only other major test will be the biggest, hosting Oregon at Stanford Stadium one Nov. 12.
Skov's contributions go well beyond tackles and sacks.
The middle linebacker relays most of the calls to teammates and oversees audibles at the line of scrimmage. The signature eye black that Skov spreads liberally around his face and his mini-mohawk cut also had become staples on the Stanford defense, giving an academics-first university a bit of an edge.
The injury could have significance beyond this season.
The 6-foot-3, 251-pound junior was expected to enter the NFL draft in April, although now he could delay the jump to return to Stanford next year. His brother, Patrick, is also a freshman fullback on the team.
Jarek Lancaster played in Skov's place for most of the second half Saturday. Sophomore Blake Lueders and redshirt freshman AJ Tarpley also are options.
The injury creates an obstacle Stanford never really had to face a year ago.
The Cardinal kept injuries at a minimum on their way to a 12-1 season capped with a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season, a game in which Skov recorded a team-high 12 tackles. Chris Owusu missed six games and tight end Levine Toilolo — who had a breakout game against Arizona, catching four passes for 104 yards — was injured in the opener and missed the rest of the year.
Players were off Monday. Stanford was scheduled to return to practice Tuesday.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP