NCAA Football: Washington State ...
© Jennifer Buchanan | 2019 Nov 29
NCAA Football: Washington State ... © Jennifer Buchanan | 2019 Nov 29

While some have moved on to the idea of making Mitchell Trubisky earn another season as the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback, don’t tell young Mr. Trubisky that things are set in stone. As many were setting in for a Thanksgiving filled with food and family, the Bears’ quarterback was turning in one of his best performances of the season, carving up the Detroit Lions defense en route to a victory on Thanksgiving Day. Will this portend a late-season surge from the QB, or just delay the inevitable? Only time will tell.

Speaking of the future, a number of collegiate passers put the finishing touches on their regular seasons. Here is a look at some of the draft-eligible quarterbacks and what they did over the previous week, as well as a deep dive into a quarterback some Bears fans are considering as potential competition for Trubisky next summer.

Joe Burrow 

The senior’s magical final collegiate regular season drew to a close this weekend, as the LSU Tigers handily dispatched Texas A&M on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. It might not have been possible, but Burrow endeared himself even more to the LSU faithful by coming out for Senior Night with a jersey that read “Burreaux” on the back, which was apparently his idea. 

The Heisman Trophy candidate completed 23-of-32 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns, and in the 50-7 victory, set school records for passing yards (4,366) and TD passes (44) in a season. The passing yardage number also eclipsed Tim Couch’s SEC record of 4,275, set back in 1998 with the University of Kentucky. In addition, the 44 TD passes ties Drew Lock for the most in SEC conference history, and Burrow likely has a few games left to play.

All of this points to Burrow being one of the first players off the board come draft time, which likely puts him out of reach for the Bears. 

Justin Herbert

The Oregon Ducks rebounded after an upset loss last week against Arizona State with a victory over in-state rivals Oregon State. In Herbert’s final home game, the senior passer posted pedestrian numbers, completing 18-of-30 passes for 174 yards and a scoring strike. That touchdown pass, covering 28 yards from Herbert (#10) to wide receiver Johnny Johnson III (#3), exemplifies what will make Herbert attractive to NFL scouts — his arm strength:

Herbert executes a play-action fake (turning his back to the defense) and comes out of the fake to read a two-receiver concept. First, he checks his tight end on a deep curl route, and then spots Johnson working against man coverage on a deeper crossing route from right to left. The QB delivers a strike against tight coverage for the score.

Herbert will have a few more chances to show off his arm talent this season, beginning with the Pac-12 Championship Game against the University of Utah on Friday night. Speaking of the Utes…

Tyler Huntley

Could you make the case that the best college quarterback in the Pac-12 Championship Game is not Herbert, but rather Utah senior signal caller Tyler Huntley? You certainly could. Huntley has been one of the most efficient passers in the college game this season, completing 75.5 percent of his passes for 2,773 yards and 16 touchdowns, against only 2 interceptions. Furthermore, the Utes enter Friday night’s contest as the No. 6 team in the country, with an outside shot at getting into the college football playoff.

As far as Huntley’s performance this year, his completion percentage of 75.5 is second in the nation, behind only Burrow. His quarterback rating of 180.4 is fifth in the nation, behind Tua Tagovailoa, Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields. His yards per attempt of 11.1 is third in the nation, behind only Hurts and Tagovailoa. Pro Football Focus named him to the All-Pac-12 Team (over Herbert), pointing out that his passer rating of 129.4 from a clean pocket this season was best in the conference, and he threw nine touchdowns against zero interceptions when kept clean. 

Huntley’s mobility and athleticism make him a dangerous offensive weapon, as he chipped in an additional 311 yards rushing and five touchdowns as a ball carrier. When this game kicks off on Friday night, make sure to watch #1 on Utah.

Jalen Hurts

Hurts pulled off quite the trifecta on Saturday in Oklahoma’s 34-16 victory over Oklahoma State. The senior passer threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and even caught a pass for a score. Hurts completed 13-of-16 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, hauled in by fullback Brayden Willis. 

While the passing numbers were largely efficient, it was Hurts' touchdown run that will keep people returning to him as a potential draft prospect. Hurts opened the scoring with this 28-yard scoring scamper, flashing impressive burst, agility and change-of-direction skills:

Hurts gets a chance on the big stage this weekend against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. With a victory (and perhaps a little bit of help), the Sooners might just get a crack at the playoffs. 

Jake Fromm

The Georgia Bulldogs were dominant Saturday against Georgia Tech, scoring 17 points in the first quarter en route to a 52-7 thrashing of their in-state rivals. Fromm posted impressive numbers as well, completing 14-of-29 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns.

And yet…

I understand why some NFL scouts and coaches will like Fromm. He does look the part, he runs a pro-style offense and you see him doing some of the little things that matter at the position — things that usually endear me to a prospect. You can see him work through full-field progression reads. Fromm is willing to take what the defense gives him at times, and he's more than willing to check the football down when the situation dictates such a decision. But as I wrote a week ago, I often feel underwhelmed watching Fromm — and his last game was no exception to this rule. He was shaky early, made a number of throws that were ill-advised and should have been intercepted, and did not demonstrate to me that he is a sure-fire NFL prospect. With another year of eligibility remaining, one more campaign of seasoning might be a wise decision for him. 

Jordan Love

The Utah State Aggies secured bowl eligibility with a 38-25 victory over New Mexico on Saturday, ensuring that QB Jordan Love will get at least one more collegiate game. That is, provided he decides to enter the NFL draft.

Love posted solid numbers for the Aggies, completing 18-of-35 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns, against one interception. Though his pure arm strength and raw physical tools might be the most attractive aspects of his play, I was excited to see one of his touchdown throws, which highlighted an area of his play that he will need to develop as he looks to the next level:

On this play, the Aggies run a three receiver concept to the left side of the formation, consisting of a dig route, a post route and a wheel route out of the backfield. The Lobos show man coverage here, and Love (#10) wants to hit the post route. Rather than drilling this throw in on a line - which might have been risky given the defender in trail coverage - he uses a bit of touch, feathering it over the underneath defender and into his receiver’s hands for the score. Touch and feel are tough aspects to develop, but this touchdown from Love shows a great deal of promise. 

Anthony Gordon

Gordon will be the featured prospect in this week’s deep dive, but after I talked him up a week ago, those who tuned into the Apple Cup might have walked away disappointed. Gordon struggled against Washington on Friday afternoon, throwing a pair of interceptions in Washington State’s 31-13 loss to the Huskies. The Washington defense played smart coverage in the secondary and took away many of Gordon’s vertical opportunities, forcing him to rely on underneath throws.

The two interceptions were uncharacteristically poor decisions from Gordon, who has been a rather efficient passer and smart with the football. The first seemed to result from a miscommunication between him and the receiver, as his intended target broke short but the quarterback lofted a throw deeper downfield and into coverage. The second was a pure misfire, as Gordon was rolling to his right and his throw came out too high for his receiver and was picked off. 

More on Gordon in a moment.

Jacob Eason

On the other side of the Apple Cup was Eason. He had the much cleaner game of the two quarterbacks, completing 15-of-22 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown, and he did not throw an interception in the victory over the Cougars. 

As highlighted last week, Eason does show the ability to read the middle of the field and make good decisions when attacking that area of the defense. He also has impressive arm talent. I remain very curious to see what Eason decides regarding his future, as he has one year of eligibility remaining. If given another year - and if the coaching staff lets him cut it loose a bit more in the next season - he could be in a good position for the 2021 draft. But given his traits and athleticism, he'll likely receive a grade good enough from the draft advisory board to entice him down that path.

Transfer News

It would seem that the college version of free agency is upon us, perhaps earlier than usual. The first big name to announce that he will be transferring is South Carolina QB Jake Bentley. The senior passer was lost for the season in the Gamecocks’ first game of the year, and rather than return to campus (where his father is on the offensive staff), he is looking to complete his college career elsewhere. 

What are some options for Bentley, who was a highly-recruited prospect coming out of high school? Washington State might make some sense. Mike Leach turned Gardner Minshew into an intriguing draft prospect after he transferred to campus, and Leach could be working similar magic with Gordon. Another school to keep in mind is Duke University, with head coach David Cutcliffe’s reputation for developing quarterbacks. 

Deep Dive - Anthony Gordon and Feel

Let’s close this out by taking a bit of a deeper dive into Gordon. In each of these pieces we will put a quarterback under the microscope and examine some of the traits that either are promising for his potential, or point to areas of concern.

This week we can take a look at Gordon and his combination of touch, feel and ability to attack leveraged defenders in the underneath passing game. In Leach’s system, Gordon has more than enough opportunities to display for scouts his prowess as a passer. After all, the quarterback averages 54 attempts per game. But what you see on those passes is a quarterback with great feel for defenders, and an ability to exploit leverage to his advantage.

Take, for example, this corner route he throws against the University of Houston:

The Cougars run a divide concept, with one receiver breaking inside on a post route while the other - his target - breaks toward the boundary. Gordon (#18) has to drop this throw in over the underneath defenders, in front of the rotating cornerback and before the receiver gets to the boundary. He does so perfectly. When you see this play from the end zone angle, you will see another brilliant aspect to the placement of this pass:

The QB knows that the biggest threat to his receiver is the cornerback, who is playing with outside leverage. If Gordon leads his receiver on this play, he will bring him right into a collision course with the cornerback. Instead, Gordon leaves this throw to the inside, which enables the receiver to throttle down and avoid a huge hit.

Now take this little throw on a spot concept:

Gordon knows before the play that Houston is in zone coverage, as no defender trails the motion man. So he knows that the spot route will come open underneath, and seeing this, he immediately goes there with the football. This is a simple design and route concept, but the decisiveness from the quarterback is a necessity at the next level. Gordon displays it on this short completion.

Now for my favorite throw from him that I have come across so far:

When I first watched this throw, I was convinced it would be an interception on this slant route. I saw the underneath defender breaking to the outside, fully recognizing the route, and I was fully convinced that he would step in front of this throw. However, Gordon also saw the linebacker breaking under the slant route, and used that to his advantage. He places the slant route behind the back of the vacating linebacker, right into the open area left as the 'backer crashes outside on his fruitless quest. 

That is a snap decision with the QB identifying the coverage, the leverage and making the best choice with the football possible. That will work on Sundays. 

I really hope we get to see him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl this January.