True freshman Ari Patu will start at quarterback for Stanford (3-6, 2-5 Pac-12) against Oregon State (5-2, 3-3 Pac-12) on Saturday if starter Tanner McKee cannot play, head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday.
McKee remains questionable this week, reportedly for a knee injury, according to Stanford Rivals. Shaw said that he will determine if McKee can play later in the week. If the sophomore can’t participate in full speed practices on Friday, Patu will get the call.
Patu would be the fourth quarterback to start for the Cardinal this season, and the first true freshman to lead the Stanford offense under Shaw.
“Hopefully we get our starting quarterback back,” Shaw said. “If not, we feel great about Ari going in there and playing.”
Sixth-year quarterback Isaiah Sanders, who started last Friday and scored the only points for Stanford in its blowout loss to Utah, will also likely be featured against Oregon State if McKee cannot play, Shaw said.
But without McKee, the task of running Stanford’s regular offense will fall to Patu. If the Cardinal’s performance against Utah was any indication, they’ll need him to push the ball downfield. Sanders showed his versatility last Friday, completing his first career passes as a Cardinal, but his increased involvement wasn’t enough to sustain Stanford’s offense, which struggled without a capable, pro-style passer under center.
Against the Utes, Shaw attempted to piece together a game plan using a platoon of his backup signal callers, leading off with option plays run by Sanders on early downs before rotating in senior Jack West for passing downs. Neither package found much success, and Stanford didn’t cross midfield for an entire half until a Sanders pass to sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek finally brought the Cardinal into the red zone in the third quarter.
Shaw said on Tuesday that the team has made significant adjustments ahead of the matchup against the Beavers.
“Talking to a couple of guys on our team, talking to multiple staff members, we feel like we’ve made some positive changes,” Shaw said. “Some things we feel really good about.”
Patu, a three star recruit from Folsom, Calif., was not as highly recruited out of high school as other quarterbacks in the 2021 class but earned Stanford’s only offer at the position. He was also one of Stanford’s first ever early-enrollees in the football program, foregoing the end of his senior year of high school to join the Cardinal in the spring of 2021. Patu made his first career appearance for Stanford in garbage time against Utah and, in his first pass attempt, heaved a well-placed deep ball to sophomore wide receiver Bryce Farrell that was only narrowly broken up by a Utah defender.
“Quick release, strong arm, great leader,” Shaw said of Patu. “We saw all of that early on in his career, and I’m excited to get him here. And now he’s got a great opportunity… if Tanner can’t go.”
Starting wide receivers junior Elijah Higgins and sophomore John Humphreys, sophomore running back EJ Smith and senior safety Kendall Williamson are also questionable, Shaw said. Junior cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly, junior outside linebacker Stephon Herron and sophomore running back Casey Filkins are out.
But all eyes will be on who leads the Cardinal under center on Saturday.
“We always believed that Ari’s got the chance to be a pretty special football player,” Shaw said. “This week may be his opportunity.”