Quarterback Jordan Love spent four years at Utah State, three seasons as the full-time starter. He redshirted as a freshman and got his first starting nod in 2017. The opening day of the 2018 season, Jordan Love broke out into the spotlight as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect by leading Utah State to a near-upset of the 11th ranked Michigan State Spartans. His performance in the game was extremely noteworthy. He passed for 319 yards and made a plethora of extremely impressive throws that appeared to be NFL level.
Love would go on through the 2018 season with an extremely impressive line. Utah State went 11-2, losing only to Michigan State in the opener, and Boise State in the final game of the season. The Aggies torched North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl and head coach Matt Wells left to take the Texas Tech job. People speculated whether the redshirt-sophomore quarterback would declare for the NFL Draft. He didn’t, electing to stay for one more season and finish acquiring his degree.
The Aggies hired former Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen, who had actually come up the ranks as the head man at Utah State previously. After landing the job at Wisconsin and doing a remarkable job, he inexplicably bolted for Oregon State and ran his career into the ground. He was fired after a 1-5 start in 2017 and took a defensive assistant job at Utah in 2018.
Speculation was that Andersen would get the very best out of Jordan Love. Obviously, it didn’t happen that way.
The Collapse of Jordan Love
The fall of Rome didn’t happen overnight. It had issues from the beginning that ended up rooting out the goodness of the empire before the entirety of the city collapsed. Just as Rome didn’t fall in a day, nor did Jordan Love fall from grace in a day.
2019 was a very rough year for the decision-maker. His completion percentage dipped and the number of turnovers skyrocketed. He led the nation with 17 interceptions and was only responsible for 20 touchdowns (0 rushing scores, down from the 9 in his career). So what exactly caused the regression?
The lack of quality playmakers
I’m going to paint a scenario for you. Let’s pretend that Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid retires after the Super Bowl. Kansas City is forced to replace him. It’s late in the process, so they hire former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Then, they lose Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce to injuries/free agency. Would you expect Patrick Mahomes to have an MVP caliber season?
You all know the answer. It would be NO.
This is the situation that Jordan Love was placed into last season. His head coach, Matt Wells, left for Texas Tech. He lost his running back, Darroll Thompson to the Kansas City Chiefs. He lost his four top receivers (Ron’Quavion Tarver, Aaren Vaughns, Jordan Nathan, and Jalen Greene). On top of all of this, he lost his tight end, Dax Raymond.
Love had to learn an entirely new offensive system, one that switched from being an aggressive, vertical offense to a power-based scheme. The gameplan within Gary Andersen’s offense was to run the ball. When they would get behind, Love started forcing the ball down the field. That wasn’t the gameplan.
Look at the three games that Love threw three interceptions last season: The loss to Wake Forest, the loss to LSU, and the loss to BYU. In all of these games, Utah State was forced out of the game plan and had to attack down the field.
Love’s weaknesses with reading coverage
This brings to attention the biggest weakness that Jordan Love has shown us. I’m going to do a little shout out here. Walker Kelly (@walkerkelly13) was my inspiration to do this piece. We spoke briefly on Twitter about the need (or disregard) to look at Love’s 2019 season. He pointed out that Jordan Love struggles to read underneath coverage, something that becomes very obvious when watching his 2019 tape.
This is an excellent point. Why wasn’t this a bigger deal in his 2018 film?
First of all, the weapons that I mentioned earlier that didn’t return for Jordan Love were just about the entirety of the team’s offense from last season. These were the guys that stretched the field.
Dax Raymond was a vertical threat tight end, much like Travis Kelce is used in the Chiefs offense. When you have a couple of deep threat receivers, and a vertical threat tight end, it forces teams to play more people in deep coverage and fewer people underneath. It’s hard to play a vertical tight end in cover three because that coverage opens the seams for a brief moment and quarterbacks can torch secondaries all-day with that type of an opening by sending the tight end into the seams.
Without that vertical threat, teams can play fewer people deep and more people in underneath coverage and force the quarterback to make better reads and throws. This is why Jordan Love struggled so much in 2019. He was forced to make good decisions all of the time and good throws, leaving the margin for error significantly smaller.
So why throw out the 2019 tape?
This weakness was evident in the 2018 tape. In those two games that Utah State lost, the Aggies were unable to stretch the field. Michigan State showed us just how many great throws Jordan Love could make. It also showed us how he could make bad decisions, as he threw two picks in that game. Against Boise State, again, showed us how many great throws he could make and just how bad they could be.
In 2019, he was worried about more things than throws and the receivers. He was still trying to grasp new concepts and schemes. Love was trying to understand what his scheme was asking him to do. The chemistry was being built between him and the players on this team. You can’t expect a guy to adjust to all of those issues and still come out fine.
I’m certainly not saying that he is a perfect prospect. He looked good in the Senior Bowl, certainly the best quarterback on the North roster. However, Love has the flaws that he will need to be coached through. Please, as evaluators, just don’t hold 2019 against him. Don’t overthink the natural talent that he has. He will be a good quarterback somewhere. He just needs a little bit of time.