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Opponent Preview: Stanford Offense

Washington v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Stanford currently sits in last place in the PAC-12 North but has wins over the then 14th ranked USC Trojans, and an overtime stunner over the currently 4th ranked Oregon Ducks. More recently, they hung tight against both Washington schools, losing both games by a score, and are riding a three-game losing streak since upsetting the Ducks. To say this team has the potential to beat Utah wouldn’t be an overstatement by any measure, but a lot of that will come down to quarterback health.

To call sophomore QB Tanner McKee (6’6”, 228 lbs) the heart and soul of the Cardinal offense would be insultingly modest. McKee has accounted for 71.58% of all offensive yards gained in 2021. Even better, 78.2% of Stanford touchdowns are credited to the talented sophomore. With the 4th best QBR in the PAC-12, McKee is the primary reason Stanford isn’t completely floundering the way Arizona or Colorado are this season, and as fate would have it, his status for Friday night’s game is up in the air due to an undisclosed injury.

During his weekly press conference, head coach David Shaw elaborated “We will see over the next day or so if he is ready to go. If he’s not, Jack West (senior, 6’4”, 215 lbs) and Isaiah Sanders (sixth-year senior grad transfer, 6’2”, 226 lbs), honestly both have to play.” As of now, no further clarification has been made to suggest McKee is ready to play come Friday night. If he’s not, Utah should be able to coast to their sixth win and clinch bowl eligibility.

West was named the starter for the Cardinal at the start of the season, though McKee was going to be employed frequently, essentially running a two-quarterback system, however after taking the majority of snaps in the first half of the season opener and coming up with two interceptions and no touchdowns, West was benched McKee has been in control since with West coming out one more time in the victory over Oregon when McKee went down with a minor injury that sidelined him for one play. Having started just three games throughout his Stanford career, West hasn’t seen much action, but with zero career touchdowns, two interceptions, and ten sacks, the pro-style quarterback’s stat line doesn’t inspire much hope that he’s capable of moving the ball against a stingy Utah defense.

If McKee is held out and Shaw’s comment holds true, the Utes will need to prepare for dual-threat QB Isaiah Sanders to enter the fray as well, who in his sixth year of NCAA play, could see his first meaningful action on the field with Stanford, who he joined in 2019 as a grad transfer by way of Air Force. While with the Falcons, Sanders started in five games, all throughout the 2018 season, where he compiled a 61.5% completion rating on 78 attempts for 844 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs. Where Sanders shines is on his feet, gaining 466 yards on 120 carries and six touchdowns. Since joining Stanford, the super senior has played almost exclusively out of the wildcat in goal-line situations. One would assume that without McKee, West will be utilized strictly as a passer, while Sanders is employed to bolster their horrendous ground game.

Ranking 125th out of 130 teams, Stanford’s rush offense is truly abysmal. Through nine weeks, the Cardinal offense is gaining an average of 3.32 yards per run and 90.9 yards per game. Headlined by juniors Nathaniel Peat (5’10”, 197 lbs) and Austin Jones, (5’10”, 201 lbs), the duo has combined for 592 yards on the season while nearly equally splitting 132 carries down the middle. By comparison, Utah’s Tavion Thomas has 565 yards on just 102 carries, even after gaining one total yard in two carries between matchups against San Diego State and Washington State.

To make matter worse for Stanford, their top two receivers in Elijah Higgins (junior, 6’3”, 235 lbs) and John Humphreys (sophomore, 6’5”, 216 lbs) are both questionable as well with undisclosed injuries. The duo have caught nine of Stanford’s 14 passing TDs this season, with no other receiver recording more than one TD through the air. Sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek (6’5”, 232 lbs) could end up being the top receiving option in their absence, gaining an average of 16.7 yards per catch on 26 receptions in 2021.

If these injuries all hold through kickoff Friday night, the Utes will have the advantage of playing against a Stanford offense that has been gutted of its most important pieces. The betting line has moved from -7 to -9 in Utah’s favor, indicating bettors either don’t have enough faith in Stanford to pull another dramatic upset or the injuries are too significant to overcome.