The Cardinal’s next star? McKee shines in first start

Sept. 12, 2021, 3:58 p.m.

Tanner McKee was at home in the LA Memorial Coliseum — quite literally. The sophomore quarterback had the chance to make his first career start just 50 miles from his hometown of Corona. But he was also metaphorically at home, as McKee found his stride early, looking at home while on the field. 

Despite playing before tens of thousands of rowdy Trojan fans, the 6-foot-6 sophomore rarely (if ever) showed his inexperience at the helm. McKee finished the night 16-of-23 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and added seven rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Those three touchdowns put McKee in good company. He and Kevin Hogan ’15 are the only quarterbacks to tally at least three TDs in their first career start. McKee is also one of only three Cardinal (along with Hogan and current offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard) to ever beat a ranked opponent in his first career start, which certainly speaks to the returned missionary’s ability to lead the Stanford team.

“It felt great,” McKee said postgame. “Coach [David] Shaw prepared us well. Pregame you’re thinking of nerves — so many things can happen. But once you get out there, you realize you’ve seen this front a million times in practice, you’ve run through it in walk-throughs so many times … I felt really comfortable out there.” 

And he certainly looked comfortable. Simply put, McKee was very near perfect in the 42-28 win over the Trojans. He threw no interceptions. He was never sacked. He was 1-of-1 on fourth down conversions (which was a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins).

“Coach Shaw called the play, and I got really excited because that’s one of my favorite plays to run,” McKee said of that fourth-and-goal play call, breaking a smile for the first time during the postgame press conference.

Level-headed and calm throughout the game, hesitant to outwardly celebrate even postgame, McKee seems like Shaw’s type of quarterback — think Davis Mills ’21, never too high or too low, yet able to deliver when it’s needed most.

But there’s another notoriously calm quarterback who McKee also drew comparison with last night: Andrew Luck ’12, the “anti-celebrity.” At one point in the fourth quarter, the Fox broadcast even cut to a side-by-side comparison of the two. But in reality, if we’re just looking at the quarterbacks’ respective first starts, McKee outplayed the Stanford legend. Back in 2009, in the two-time Heisman runner-up’s first start, the eventual No. 1 overall draft pick had only one touchdown, passing 11-of 23 for 193 yards.

I’m not saying that McKee will eclipse Luck’s success at the collegiate and NFL levels. We’re getting ahead of ourselves. But I am saying that McKee has the potential to do it all. And next weekend’s matchup against Vanderbilt will give him another opportunity to prove himself.

Cybele Zhang '22 J.D. '26 is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, she double majored in English Literature with Honors and German Studies and served as Sports Editor — Vol. 255, 257 and 258.

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