It took a while for Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee to make his first collegiate start, but it was worth the wait.

McKee led the Cardinal to a stunning 42-28 thumping of then-No. 14 USC on Saturday night at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, not far from his hometown of Corona, California.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore completed 16 of 23 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He wasn’t sacked. 

A different path

It came a week after Kansas State defeated Stanford 24-7. During that game, McKee replaced Jack West and acquitted himself well, throwing a touchdown pass in the waning moments to prevent a shutout. 

During the week, coach David Shaw announced that McKee would make his first start.

And McKee didn’t disappoint.

“Pregame you’re thinking of nerves and so many things can happen,” McKee told reporters after the game. “Once you get out there you realize you’ve seen this front a million times in practice, you’ve run it through in walkthroughs. I felt very comfortable out there.”

After starring at Corona High, McKee left for a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Curitiba, Brazil. McKee returned home in spring 2020 during the pandemic. 

He played sparingly during the truncated season in 2020, completing 3 of 7 passes for 62 yards, and he battled for the starting job with West during the spring.

“People would say we should have done it earlier,” Shaw said of naming McKee the starter. “But I’m a firm believer that two of the worst things you can do to a young student-athlete is No. 1, not give them something they earned, and No. 2, give them something they didn’t earn. And up until this game, he hadn’t earned the job. And now once you earn it, you really take advantage of it and you really appreciate it. He came out and played extremely well.”

Late in the first half against USC, McKee led a 66-yard touchdown drive. He completed a 49-yard pass to running back Austin Jones and capped the drive with a 6-yard TD pass to Brycen Tremayne.

At that point, the Cardinal seized a 21-10 halftime lead. In the second half, Stanford continued to roll. 

On Monday, USC fired head coach Clay Helton.

This week, Stanford visits Vanderbilt.