Monday Rewind: Tanner McKee at Stanford, Oregon's recruiting win, and spring drop-ins
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. With spring football and The Masters going on, it was a good weekend. Let’s dive in.
The QB no one talks about
Stanford feels like it has a special quarterback.
“We want him to take that next step,” head coach David Shaw said of Tanner McKee during Saturday’s spring game. “He’s had an outstanding spring.”
And that was without some of his top receiving targets, guys like Elijah Higgins (team-best 45 catches in 2021) and Ben Yurosek (team-best 658 yards in 2021) who were limited during the session.
Still, Stanford’s passing game was clicking (contextually) during its spring showcase, with freshmen pass-catchers Mudia Reuben and Sam Roush each catching a pair of touchdowns. Running back EJ Smith, expected to take over as the team’s starting back after offseason transfers, was a threat in the pass game as well. The junior opened the scoring by catching the ball on a crossing route and beating the defense to the edge for a 40-yard score. (The son of legendary back Emmitt Smith, EJ looks impressive in his own right.)
There were 37 plays run during Stanford’s brief showing. The format was more situational than game-like, with drives beginning from designated spots on the field—Stanford’s own 42-yard-line, the defense’s 25, 18, and 14. The offense scored on seven of its 11 possessions. Before the game shifted to younger players behind him, McKee showed off a bit, completing eight of his 10 pass attempts for 93 yards and three scores.
A subdued showing for McKee, who remains one of the better kept secrets at quarterback across college football. 247Sports’ Bud Elliott recently put the Cardinal win total in 2022 at just four games. McKee feels like a quarterback who, with improvement, could help Stanford blow past that total.
He has promising tools.
The 6-foot-6 signal-caller is entering his third season in one of the tougher schemes in college football. He should have an advanced understanding by now of what Stanford wants to get done on Saturdays and how to direct the offense. The mental piece, as is the case with most quarterbacks, is the area to watch because McKee can make every throw.
He plays with nice timing in the short game, throwing his backs and receivers into YAC yardage and putting the ball where it’s supposed to be. He can escape and evade pressure to get balls off. Intermediate action allows him to show off some really nice touch.
McKee can drive the ball deep from one hash to the opposite sideline, can thread the needle between crossing defenders, and has shown a remarkable ability to drop a ball in the bucket to a guy down the sideline on medium-to-deep stuff.
He made a throw to the back of the end zone on second-and-goal against USC that was next level. Earlier in the same game, he threw a touchdown on fourth-and-goal while facing pressure almost immediately off the snap and falling back and to his right; put the ball on the money and got it there from an awkward base.
Look at this filth:
Tanner McKee with *chef’s kiss* touch pic.twitter.com/rCGvtjNnlO
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) October 9, 2021
That’s the piece for McKee going forward. He’s got the arm talent to make any throw. He probably shouldn’t have triedto make that throw. There are three defenders there. A little more help from the supporting cast should go a ways in making McKee feel more comfortable.
According to PFF, McKee had 15 turnover-worthy throws last season. Among qualified Power Five quarterbacks, that was the fifth-most. He had one of the better completion rates in the country (a touch over 65%) but wasn’t really asked to go deep. The average depth of his targets was around 8 yards. He went deep just about 10% of the time; only Colorado’s Brendon Lewis did it less often among Pac-12 starters.
The work between McKee, Shaw, and this offense during the offseason is potentially important to the larger Pac-12 football ecosystem. Shaw’s track record as a coach suggests the down years they’ve experienced in 2019 and 2021 are simply that, and not discouraging signs of some impending collapse. In McKee, Shaw has a guy some call the West’s top pro QB prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft.
They gotta win some games.
More for McKee should help that.
And that would in turn help with something Shaw hopes to see.
“I want him to jump on the national stage,” he said. “We think he’s that talented and we think he’s that good. We think he’s got that kind of group around him. And I think we’ve crafted a lot of what we do around his ability. So I’m expecting him to take the ball and run with it.”
All eight guys who saw snaps along the offensive line last season are back to try to rebuild after a poor showing in o-line coach Terry Heffernan’s first year on the job. Continuity there should lead to better play. Every pass-catcher who saw a target last season is also back.
“Our expectation is to put up 40-50 points per game,” McKee told The Draft Network’s Crissy Froyd recently. We’re not going to settle for anything less. We feel like we have that capability and we should be able to do that.”
Stanford should be interesting in 2022.
Get the bag
On Saturday, USC head coach Lincoln Riley was asked about the impact name, image, and likeness changes have had on the world of college football recruiting. Riley went on to talk about how drastically it has changed things.
(And the fact Riley’s deep-pocketed home school benefits from a little bit of NIL-recruiting overlap doesn’t make any of the points he raises less valid.)
“There was no doubt it was going to seep into recruiting at some point,” he said. “I think anybody that cares about college football is not real pleased with that because that wasn’t the intention.” Riley went on to say the two should be kept separate in a perfect world.
Where’d your mind immediately go?
I think I can guess.
Was it to Seattle, Washington, where 5-star offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. just recently made the declaration that he’ll be playing his college ball at Oregon and not at USC.
Mine did, too.
The Trojans were viewed as the favorites to land Conerly’s services. Many in the L.A. market seemed to be operating under the assumption he was coming. He told 247Sports the tide didn’t start to shift until the week of his decision.
Conerly announced his commitment Friday night. Riley offered his thoughts—at a regularly-scheduled media availability, to be clear—the next day. Around the same time, John Canzano, one of the Pac-12’s most plugged-in reporters, opined that his industry sources were curious if Conerly was swayed by a potentially large NIL package.
It’s not hard to connect the dots. It’s also not wrong to go where the money is. Every rational person picks every job either based entirely on or influenced heavily by financial factors. Because the NCAA twiddled its thumbs and buried its head in the sand in the run-up to NIL legislation taking effect across some states but not all states in July 2021, it was in no position to provide any guidance or assistance to the proverbial town it opened the floodgates on.
Coaches like Riley might not like that NIL has seeped into recruiting, but until the NCAA produces something resembling a spine on the subject, there’s not really anything untoward happening in a broad-strokes sense.
Get that bag. If someone or someones want to give a high school player a large sum of money before proving on a college football field they deserve that money, then by all means. I’d take the money if it was offered. So would many.
I saw a tweet from The Athletic’s Andy Staples that pretty perfectly represented the thing that’ll slow all this down:
If future Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava is the $8 million recruit, he’s built for it. He’s a walking brand and a churning content machine. He also has a hell of an arm.
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) April 11, 2022
Player X is “built for it” but “none of that matters if he doesn’t eventually win the job…” is the perfect statement. No one knows. Who gets what tends more often than not to be based on who has the most hype. The NFL is littered with unranked guys who didn’t have a star to their name coming out of high school. Five-star status doesn’t guarantee a successful career.
Conerly could become a consensus All-American and help anchor a College Football Playoff team. Conerly could be a so-so offensive lineman for a group that wins nine games. Conerly could spend a year in a rotation, get a better offer elsewhere, and be gone before doing anything that would justify big bucks.
Would the NIL proprietors feel the investment was paid off by simply giving the Ducks the chance to find out which he is? Is anything after the signature just a sunk cost? Or are they expecting robust ROI? Bryce Young is one thing. Boosters start tossing around seven figure sums for players who haven’t even signed up for a college class yet and you’re playing with fire.
Coaches could feel that heat. What happens if some NIL collective bankrolls a high-profile prospect who turns out to not actually be all that great? If the coach plays the guy, what does he tell others on the depth chart who know what’s really going on? If he sits the player on the bench, what gets said about the coach?
Riley has every right to be leery about where we’re headed.
But, then again, if the situation is reversed and Conerly signs for the cardinal and gold instead of the green and yellow, does the USC coach have the same message the next day? Maybe. Riley’s willingness to confront things he feels are potential bugaboos in the game while simultaneously benefitting from those same things is admirable. But maybe not.
Coaches don’t like to lose. And Riley lost a big one to Oregon and Dan Lanning.
If Lanning is going to beat USC for blue-chip players at or near the line of scrimmage, the conference isn’t going to just be handed to Riley in a year when the Trojan foundation is built like so many seem to expect.
Regardless of how he got it, that was a significant win for Lanning and Oregon. Bags all around.
- Arizona feels like it has something. There are quite a few talented players on that offense, more than what you’d expect to find from a team that just went 1-11. There’s also more than one promising quarterback on the roster, which could make things… fun.
- On the topic of quarterbacks, the situation in Tempe, Arizona, feels a little different. I wonder if the ASU coaching staff thinks it has its guy on the roster right now as spring ball came to a close Saturday night. Juniors Trenton Bourguet and Paul Tyson appear to be the top two guys. Freshman Bennett Meredith had a nice throw for a touchdown on the last play from scrimmage Saturday night. But no one guyjumps out as a clear-cut No. 1. That looks like a team with a good stable of running backs and a strong front seven on defense, but a team that is incomplete at QB.
- The more I hear Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer talk, the more I like his fit in Seattle.
- “It needs to happen organically,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said when asked if there was any urgency to name a starting quarterback. Purdue transfer Jack Plummer and redshirt freshman Kai Millner seem to be the top two guys at the position, but it sounds like nothing is imminent with regards to definitive calls at the quarterback spot. Wilcox says its not obvious right now.
- Georgia Tech transfer running back Jamious Griffin is slated to arrive in Corvallis this summer where he’ll compete to win the lead running back job for the Oregon State Beavers. In a more expanded role in 2020, Griffin had 229 yards and two scores on 47 carries. It sounds like he’ll be entering into a stuff competition, though. Freshman tailback Damien Martinez is turning heads this spring, according to The Oregonian’s Nick Daschel. “He’s in the mix. He is. He’s still learning, but I’ve been impressed with the short amount of time he’s been here,” Beaver coach Jonathan Smith said, per Daschel. “It’s not just his physical skill set, but his ability to understand the playbook and be in the right spot.” As the Beavers look to replace the Pac-12’s leading rusher from a season ago, it sounds like they’ll have more than a few options to work with.
Shoutout of the Week
On Saturday, Stanford softball snapped what was a 25-game winning streak for UCLA with a 1-0 win courtesy of a walk-off, two-out RBI double from the bat of Taylor Gindlesperger. The second-ranked Bruins hadn’t been shut out all season. Then, on Sunday, the Cardinal pulled out another 1-0 win over UCLA to capture the first series win over the Bruins since 2013. Stanford is now 26-10 on the year.