So, what can Love do?
If you’re building a prototypical quarterback, accuracy and strength are a good place to start. They also might be the qualities most difficult to coach into a player, making Love’s combination of both even more intriguing. Of the top four quarterbacks taken in last year’s NFL draft, Love’s 2018 completion percentage (64%) would’ve ranked above Wyoming’s Josh Allen (54.2%, pick No. 7) and Josh Rosen (60.9%, pick No. 10) and below Baker Mayfield (68.9%, pick No. 1) and Sam Darnold (64.9%, pick No. 3).
“[Love] and that whole team were better than they had shown on tape the year before,” Michigan State linebacker JoeBachie told Yahoo Sports at Big Ten Media Day. “He had a strong arm, was very composed in the pocket, and if we wouldn’t have made that play at the end of the game, he could have led the team down the field to score a touchdown to win the game easily.
“That dude is a really good quarterback. Another year or two and he’s going to be drafted [high].”
High-level accuracy led to respectable numbers (3,567 yards, 32 TD, 6 INT), though Love’s bulk passing stats certainly would’ve turned more heads if nearly every game’s final period hadn’t been relegated to garbage time exhibitions between third-stringers while fans retrieved soft pretzels from the concession stand and chatted about Creed II.
It was typical to see Love roaming the sideline in fourth quarters while the Aggies ate away at the clock, in what can only be described as an act of mercy.
In more competitive quarters, Love’s completion percentage saw an undeniable trend upward from his half-season of freshman starts (55% to 64%) mirrored by a similar trend in his passer rating (119.3 to 158.3).
The redshirt junior’s arm strength is also undeniable. Ever since introducing himself as a MW starter back in mid-2017 with a cloud-scraping mile-long bomb to Savon Scarver in Las Vegas, Love’s been torching sleepy secondaries with the deep accuracy of a much more seasoned veteran. His release allows him to flick a ball 40 yards or drill it into tight coverage at fastball speeds, as seen below in the red zone against BYU.
A penchant for explosive plays made the 2018 Aggie offense a juggernaut, allowing Love to amass seven 300-yard games, a pair of 400-yard games and two 5-TD outings. Now thin at receiver and replacing four starting offensive linemen, Utah State will likely lean on Love to produce chunk yardage plays even more frequently — and in higher-pressure scenarios.
In addition to arm strength and improved ball placement, Love ran in seven touchdowns last year and is a proven threat on the ground when the situation calls for it. This element of Love’s game wasn’t overly-emphasized, but added a wrinkle to opposing gameplans and played at least a small role in Utah State’s 2018 red zone dominance.
Love was only sacked nine times last year, and while a new coaching staff might prefer Love to toss the ball away and live to play another series, scrambling is still an option if he ever finds his back to the wall.
What can’t Love do (yet)?
Two elements of Love’s game need work to garner first-round attention.
The first is to improve his reads. Disciplined defenses can effectively disguise coverage against Love and take advantage when it matters most — the near-upset over Michigan State to kick off last season stands as a prime example.
Michigan State and Wyoming were the only Aggie foes fortunate enough to prevent a touchdown pass from Love last season. While Michigan’s ranked defense was expected to make life difficult, the road outing at Wyoming sticks out as last season’s outlier. Love was held to 53 yards on 12-28 passing in a game that included a sack and an INT by a Cowboys team that seemed to know just how to mix up coverages to mess with Love and throttle long drives.
For Love to take the next step, he’ll have to show a command over his offense even when coverage gets tricky, and against even stiffer competition — Boise at home, SDSU and Wake Forest on the road, and a must-see matchup against perhaps the nation’s fiercest defense Week 5 at LSU.
The second quality he must improve is vocal leadership. It may seem inconsequential for a guy who can do just about everything you ask of him, but even a tough, accurate, composed QB has to be a leader and rally his team in tough moments.
Last year, didn’t provide many opportunities for such characteristics to shine through — this season will be different. In fact, the difference between a tough 6-6 season and truly competing for the Mountain West title that so rudely eludes Utah State will probably be Love’s aptitude for becoming a field general. That’s what the Aggies will need, and what will have scouts searching for a new face of their franchise moving Love up into the first round.
As intriguing as it would’ve been to see last year’s No. 10-ranked Aggie offense take on this year’s tough schedule, it should prove even more interesting to see how Love operates with virtually nothing familiar around him. There’s a lot of risk involved with USU Athletics’ recent push for Heisman buzz, but Love dropping another volume of promising performances could lead to a significant uptick in NFL interest — and let’s face it, if you’ve got a player like Love leading your program, you better flaunt it.