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BYU-Stanford game will feature historic clash of returned missionary QBs

When BYU’s Jaren Hall meets Stanford’s Tanner McKee late Saturday night, it will be a matchup unlike any other

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Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee throws against Utah during tSaturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee throws against Utah during tSaturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

There is a first time for everything and as far as anyone can tell, Saturday night will be a clash that BYU football fans have never seen before — two former Latter-day Saint missionaries who both spent two years away from football facing each other on national television, as opposing quarterbacks.

In missionary lore, this is must-see Thanksgiving weekend TV when BYU (6-5) wraps up the regular season at Stanford (3-8).

The Cougars’ Jaren Hall served a mission to Roseville, California, while Stanford’s Tanner McKee served in Curitiba, Brazil. BYU has come across a number of returned missionary opponents over the years, but not like this. Saturday will be a showdown of two Power Five-level quarterbacks with a lot in common.

Hall and McKee are both juniors, both married, and both considering whether to return for a senior season or leave to chase their dreams in the NFL draft. 

Each was a highly touted quarterback out of high school. Hall signed with BYU in 2016. McKee, who was also recruited by the Cougars, signed with Stanford in 2018.

Their respective careers have had moments of bliss, heartbreak and injury.

Hall was knocked out of his first start in 2019 with a concussion at South Florida. He took a medical redshirt year in 2020 before going 8-2 as a starter in 2021 — including a 5-0 record against the Pac-12.

The highs delivered wins against No. 9 Baylor, No. 17 Utah, No. 18 Arizona State. The lows humbled him in defeats against South Florida, East Carolina and Boise State (2021). As a starter at BYU, Hall enters the weekend with a 15-8 record.

McKee burst onto the scene at Stanford in 2021 by stunning No. 14 USC in his first collegiate start. His peak performances also included a victory against No. 3 Oregon (2021) and a stunning win last month at Notre Dame one week after the Irish beat BYU in Las Vegas.

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Elder Tanner McKee, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, works out in his home in Paranaguá, Brazil, on Monday, June 3, 2019. McKee has had to be creative to keep up his workout regimen while on his mission. Here, he uses a makeshift barbell with blocks of concrete on each end, plus a resistance band under his feet.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

However, the lows have been more frequent. With McKee at the helm, the Cardinal are just 5-16 over the last two seasons, with seven straight defeats in the month of November.

Both quarterbacks understand the pressures of the job and the rich history left by their predecessors. Hall is following in the footsteps of Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer. McKee can look back and see the Stanford legacy of Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck.

Comparisons to the past are never fair, but the pressure to produce is a byproduct of former glories and the opportunity to stand and deliver, where legends once stood, only adds to the uniqueness of Saturday’s showdown.

While Hall and McKee share similar backgrounds, on the field, they are very different quarterbacks. Both have strong and accurate arms, but when healthy, the 6-foot-1 Hall is swift with his feet. McKee is 6-foot-6 and is at his best while firmly anchored in the pocket.

A detailed look at the career statistics reveals a glaring separation that favors Hall on Saturday.

McKee has attempted 708 passes to Hall’s 707, but the BYU quarterback has 19 more completions, 1,058 more passing yards and 23 more touchdown passes. In addition, Hall has rushed 179 times for 729 yards and eight touchdowns. McKee has rushed 130 for minus 83 yards and six touchdowns.

Hall has also won more Pac-12 games than McKee (5-3) and will enter the weekend feeling healthy and on a roll. In BYU’s two recent wins against Boise State (8-3) and Utah Tech (4-7), Hall combined for 833 yards passing, eight touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.

In back-to-back losses to Cal and Utah, McKee produced 426 passing yards, a touchdown pass and a touchdown run as Stanford slipped into the cellar of the Pac-12.

I suppose, in mission lingo, that would make Hall the “senior companion.”

There is no question, the BYU-Stanford game is taking a backseat to Saturday’s mega matchups of Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama and Notre Dame-USC, with the latest kickoff time (9 p.m., FS1) of the day.   

The pessimist might scream, “That’s what both teams deserve and no one cares!” but the optimist may look at it differently. When the dust settles, there will still be one more game on television — a battle that pits two P5 level Latter-day Saint missionary quarterbacks against each other for the very first time.

It might just be like finding an extra piece of pumpkin pie tucked away in the fridge after you thought the kids ate it all. But even if the kids do eat all the pie, an Elder Hall vs. Elder McKee matchup will be pretty cool to watch and certainly worth staying up for.

Faith, family and football. Thanksgiving weekend, 2022, will be one these two combatants never forget. They are both on a mission to beat the other before meeting at midfield in a postgame embrace that will surely be unlike all the others.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

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BYU quarterback Jaren Hall passes during the game against Utah Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News