|Left Outside||Left Middle||Right Middle||Right Outside||Total|
|20+||1/1||1/2 (1 INT)||0/2 (1 INT)||2/5 (2 INT)|
|11-15||0/1||0/1 (1 INT)||0/2 (1 INT)|
|Total||1/4||4/6||11/14 (1 INT)||2/5 (2 INT)||17/29 (3 INT)|
Outside the Pocket: 2/6 (1 INT, 1 throwaway)
Under Pressure: 4/7 (1 INT)
Red Zone: 1 throwaway
3rd/4th Down: 2/6 (1 INT, 1 conversion)
Forced Adjustments: 1
The Mountain West Conference does not present any easy schedule for its members, but no team within the conference is capable of giving Utah State QB Jordan Love the test he faced on Saturday. Utah State traveled to Baton Rouge to take on an LSU team that looks deserving of a playoff spot. The Tigers defense has not been quite as fierce as in years past, but compared to every other defense Love will see for the rest of the season, they are a Goliath. Love didn’t do well to fulfill the role of David.
It’s been a rough year for Love. LSU only made things worse. Through five games, Love now has six passing touchdowns to eight interceptions while averaging just 7.0 yards per attempt. Love threw six interceptions in 13 games last year (though, he probably got away with a few that the defense just couldn’t hang onto for whatever reason). The redshirt junior quarterback still has at least seven games to turn the season around, but Love has failed to make good on the overwhelming hype he received coming into the year and even early on through this season.
LSU didn’t do anything to expose Love, but they confirmed his priors and shed light on some of the factors that hold Love back from being a legitimate top prospect.
For one, LSU’s approach up front was like that of many teams who faced Love previously. Over the summer, I charted four games apiece for ten quarterbacks from the upcoming 2020 class, one of which was Love. Of those ten quarterbacks, Love had the lowest average pass-rusher count (3.97) and was the only player to mark below the standard four pass-rushers. Likewise, Love saw the fewest amount snaps against five-or-more pass-rushers at just 15.57% — no other player was below 27%. Those numbers were inflated in part by a San Jose State defense that regularly rushed three, but many other defenses also took the soft approach up front versus Love.
It’s impossible to confirm exactly why defenses seem to play this way against Love without specifically asking each defensive coordinator, but if one were to speculate based on the film and data, it’s because Love is a high-volume quick game passer. Since he is going to get the ball out of his hands quickly anyway, many defensive coordinators must figure that rushing extra bodies is going to prove futile. In addition to having a hair trigger on short passes, Love's throwing motion is swift and smooth.
Love’s initial draw of the ball followed by him pulling it down may look like indecision, but it’s a preemptive technique many of the best quick game passers use. As soon as Love hits the top of his drop and looks to his initial read, he opens his body to throw no matter what. Doing so requires the ability to pull the ball back down and reset in an instant, as well as have the sharp processing to make a decision while already drawing the ball back, but it can save a sliver of time both for making the initial throw or moving on to the next one. In this instance, Love chooses not to make the first throw and instead moves to the backside of the play, finding a receiver in smooth transition from one read to the next. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Sam Darnold (Jets) are the first two passers to come to mind who also do this often, but plenty of other quarterbacks do it as well.
Many other quarterbacks struggle in the quick game because their process and/or throwing motion take too long. Jared Goff (Rams) and DeShone Kizer (Raiders) are good examples of quarterbacks who can work the intermediate and deep game fine despite elongated motions, but struggle to consistently win underneath because the split-seconds they lose in their motion often hurt them. Love will not have that issue.
Where Love’s game sort of falls apart is that he has to be good in the quick game — more so than other passers. Since he is a high-volume quick game passer, a large portion of Love’s value has to come through being perfect in his execution and enabling as many yards after the catch as possible. While Love did not get help from his teammates in a handful of instances, the Utah State passer also failed in his own right on a couple of occasions.
Take this third-and-short situation, for example. Utah State deploy a 'spot' concept on the right side — a 'snag' combo with the spot route and flat route, with another receiver getting vertical to run a corner route. It’s a spread and West Coast staple play. The read is supposed to be the play side backer and, in short, the quarterback throws away from said linebacker. That’s not what Love does here.
Upon receiving the snap, Love eyes the linebacker and should notice that he is closing on the line of scrimmage while moving toward the boundary. The linebacker wants to get to the running back here. As such, the spot route moving behind the linebacker will come open once the linebacker follows to the running back for an extra couple of steps. The window for the spot route is going to be tight, yes, but on third-and-short with the game still within reach, Love has to be thinking about throwing past the sticks here. Love instead rushes the ball out to the running back, who is promptly brought down behind the line of scrimmage by the very linebacker Love was supposed to be throwing away from. Mistakes like that just can not happen, especially against a team that is not going to give much margin for error as is.
Love’s necessity for winning within ten yards of the line of scrimmage is exacerbated by the fact that he typically struggles beyond that threshold. The longer Love holds the ball, the worse his decision making gets; the further down the field Love throws the ball, the worse his accuracy becomes. Sure, every passer completes fewer passes down the field than up close, but even in relativity, Love is not often accurate from the pocket when throwing down field.
The first interception Love threw versus LSU highlights his issues down the field. Love leaves this ball a good five yards short of where it needs to be, giving the cornerback a chance to catch up and make a play on the ball. This interception is slightly unfortunate for Love in that most cornerbacks do not have the ball skills Derek Stingley Jr. showed off here, but that does not excuse Love for making an underwhelming throw. This ball needed to be somewhere in the end zone to give the receiver a chance to run under, not turn around and fight for it while the cornerback has inside leverage.
Furthermore, of the three accurate passes Love threw beyond 10 yards against the Tigers, one of them was on a “free” play in which Utah State caught LSU’s defense subbing players out. Love had nothing to lose, so he let it rip and found a receiver down the left sideline with LSU’s defense trying to sort itself out. He made just one other accurate pass beyond 10 yards from the pocket, which was dropped.
Love’s decision making also deteriorates the longer he holds the ball. Even in Love’s breakout game last season — an early matchup against Michigan State — Love nearly threw a few interceptions to tack onto the two interceptions he actually threw that day. That same miscalculation reared its head against LSU.
Below is Love’s second interception on the day. While the first interception was simply a bad throw, this turnover is a poor decision that sheds light on Love’s tendency to misread or forget about defenders in the intermediate area.
Throwing a crosser into the boundary is tough. With less room to work with, the receiver can not just sprint across the field to separate or else they may run into the sideline too quickly. In turn, defensive backs get a decent chance to catch up from behind to play the ball if it is left over the middle of the field. Love ought to know this ball can only go toward the boundary, but instead, he keeps the heat of his throw and tries to stick it where the receiver is, not where he is going. Perhaps Love was scared of the deep cornerback peeling off to play a ball on the sideline, but forcing that cornerback to make a tough play and letting the chips fall where they may would have been better than gift wrapping an interception to the slot cornerback. By this point in the game, Love was also pressing trying to get back in the game. That doesn’t excuse the throw, but it does add some understanding as to why Love tried to fit that ball in.
It’s not all bad with Love. Love is an immensely talented player whose blemishes are only as frustrating as they are because of how beautiful the high end of his skill set looks. When Love is “on,” he looks like a first-round quarterback.
Throws like this keep people interested in Love despite how disappointing he has been on the whole this season. The comparisons to Patrick Mahomes are obviously far too lofty, but it’s not a mystery that people come to that conclusion after he threads touch throws on the move. Love did this all of last season, too, and it’s been one of the few consistent parts of his game this season. He is good for two or three stunning throws per game, at least one of which tends to come on the move.
Part of why Love gets away with this is how he controls his throwing motion. Love isn’t consistent at a whole lot of things, but he does well to maintain a fluid, consistent release point regardless of his platform. Doing so helps maintain accuracy from all platforms, not just standard unpressured throws from the pocket. Other top on-the-move passers such as Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Kyler Murray all thrive in that regard in part because they know how to maintain a controlled release point while on the run. They also all have varying degrees of impressive arm strength — a threshold Love can also cross when he wants to.
Through five games in 2019, however, there is no good faith argument to suggest Love has made good on his potential. Love entered the year as high as QB2 for a handful of analysts, while the average ranking had him between QB3 and QB5 alongside Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Stanford’s K.J. Costello. He was sold as a high-ceiling player who had a few kinks to work out, but could ultimately move past them due to his enticing physical tools and flashes of magnificent accuracy. So far, the flashes have come fewer and further between, while the already weak glue that held the rest of his game together has continued to deteriorate.
Love, right now, is a good quarterback prospect in theory, not in actuality. He may turn things around over the back half of 2019 and prove himself deserving of the hype he received early on, but he is on pace to need a return to school for his senior season.
With respect to where Love projects as a prospect right now, he is not a whole lot different than Mitchell Trubisky was at North Carolina. Trubisky was a highly athletic, strong-armed passer whose understanding of the game and consistency in execution were underwhelming, but often overshadowed by how intriguing his potential was. Trubisky, like Love, did best in the short area of the field and on the move, whereas his work over the intermediate area was shoddy and he never seemed to be able to hit the deep ball despite otherwise impressive arm talent. He did not show an advanced understanding of how to work the pocket or manage pressure from the pocket, either. Granted, Trubisky was much more inclined to use his legs than Love is, but the overall comparisons remains.
Not much has changed for Trubisky since entering the league. While a few things going his way in 2018 resulted in a fine season, Trubisky has regressed back to the median of his skill set and has left the Chicago Bears wondering if they need to draft a quarterback again. What makes Trubisky’s situation worse is that the Bears traded up to second-overall to select him. Thankfully, if Love were to come out after this season, it’s unlikely his stock would somehow remain high enough for something similar to happen.
Love is on pace to be a Day 2 pick, assuming he declares. His physical tools and flashes of potential are too enticing to let slip to Day 3, but the alarming lack of consistency and clear flaws with respect to processing and intermediate/deep accuracy should bar him from the first round conversation right now. Any team who takes him on has to understand that Love is not an immediate fix.