San Francisco Chronicle
Stanford’s rotation ends: McKee set to start at QB
Stanford’s rotating quarterback experiment lasted all of one week.
After the merry-go-round of Tanner McKee and Jack West got derailed by Kansas State in the season opener last Saturday, the Cardinal are planning to go with McKee from start to finish on Saturday at USC.
“I just want him to play,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said of McKee, a sophomore. “He doesn’t have to take the world on his shoulders. He doesn’t have to do anything other than play quarterback.”
At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, McKee looks like a player who can continue Stanford’s proud tradition at quarterback. But it has been a while since he’s played consistently.
According to 247sports.com, McKee was the third-best pro-style quarterback in the 2018 class when he graduated from Centennial High-Corona
(Riverside County), ranking behind only Trevor Lawrence and JT Daniels.
Lawrence went 34-2 at Clemson before being the No. 1 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Daniels was the second-ever true freshman quarterback to start at USC before he transferred to Georgia and led a season-opening victory over Clemson that propelled the Bulldogs to No. 2 in the nation.
Meanwhile, McKee spent two years on a mission in Brazil with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before enrolling at Stanford last year.
With all of the time away, it’s easy to forget that McKee threw for 5,905 yards and 62 touchdowns with a recordsetting 73% completion rate in his final two prep seasons. Just for fun, he rushed for another 28 touchdowns during the dominating two-year run at Centennial.
“I’m going to stay away from comparisons until the guy plays at least half a season, let alone before he makes his first start. But he has a lot of the traits that you’re looking for,” said Shaw, who was the head coach of Andrew Luck and Davis Mills at Stanford and the quarterback coach of Rich Gannon for the Raiders. “The reasons he was so highly rated coming out of high school: quick release, very accurate, very competitive, great leader. For a tall guy, he’s pretty athletic, too. He can move. He’s got a strong arm. He doesn’t need a lot of space. He doesn’t really need to step into it. He can get the ball down the field.”
McKee showed all of that in training camp, but he hadn’t separated from West in a competition for the starting job until the season opener.
West made his third career start and went 8-for-12 for 76 yards and two interceptions against Kansas State. McKee came off the bench in the pre-planned rotation and went 15-for-18 for 118 yards and led the team’s only touchdown drive.
“I wouldn’t say there are a ton of differences,” right guard Branson Bragg said. “The real difference is just whose voice is saying the cadence, which doesn’t really change a lot. They’re both great guys, and whoever is back there, I’ve just got to block for him.”
USC’s defense returns eight starters from a unit that nudged forward last season. The Trojans allowed 369.7 yards and 26 points per game in 2020, bettering the previous year’s 408.5 and 29.4 numbers under new coordinator Todd Orlando.
They also had 16 takeaways in the six-game, coronavirus-shortened season.
That equaled the total turnovers USC caused in 13 games in 2019.
It their 30-7 season-opening win over San Jose State, the Trojans limited the Spartans to 68 rushing yards and intercepted two passes.
Stanford ran for just 39 yards on 1.8 yards per carry in its season-opening loss.
“Being able to run the ball should take some pressure off of (McKee) in his first start,” Shaw said. “That’s going to be a big factor, getting our running game started in order to be as balanced an offense as we want to be.”