College football quarterback film study: Stars shine bright on rivalry weekend

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 09: Jake Fromm #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs looks to pass during a game against the Missouri Tigers at Sanford Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 09: Jake Fromm #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs looks to pass during a game against the Missouri Tigers at Sanford Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Breaking down the top college football quarterbacks from rivalry weekend, including Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and more.

College football’s rivalry weekend is usually one of the best in sports due to the pageantry and heightened emotions surrounding already intriguing matchups. The Game between Ohio State and Michigan started off a fun slate for the day, with the Iron Bowl and Apple Cup also giving us entertainment to chew on. Within these battles were critical performances from some of the nation’s top passers.

Most of the biggest names were able to propel their team as we saw every quarterback that we’ve tracked in this weekly piece help pull out a win and avoid an upset. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Oregon’s Justin Herbert had quiet but decent games, so they weren’t featured this week since there wasn’t much to glean in small samples. There was plenty to learn elsewhere, though.

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, LSU’s Joe Burrow and Washington’s Jacob Eason were all winners this week. We’ll also take a look at Washington State’s Anthony Gordon for the first time as he received a Senior Bowl invite.

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

It’s hard to be more dominant in a single game than what Trevor Lawrence did against South Carolina. The same defense that suffocated Georgia’s passing attack had no chance against the cerebral and gifted Lawrence. He threw a catchable pass on 18-of-24 passes beyond the line of scrimmage, compiling three touchdowns.

The touch on some of his passes this season has left room for improvement, but his teardrop attempts were on the money as he had two of the best throws of his season this game. There’s little a defender can do with a perfectly place touch pass over the shoulder, and multiple times he split the window between the sideline in front of the receiver and defender behind him.

Lawrence’s knack for creating chunk plays outside of structure has been a constant in the second half of the season and continued this week. Six of his eight attempts outside of the pocket were accurate, including his deep bomb as he rolled out to his left for a touchdown.

He’s beating tight windows with excellent velocity and timing, and his precision is as good as anyone in the country right now. I can’t wait to see how he performs in the playoff against the best competition possible, because he’s truly a special passer.

Joe Burrow, LSU

LSU handily took care of Texas A&M in one of the more dominating outcomes of the week. Likely Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow took care of business with efficiency as usual as he peppered a talented Aggies defense with a barrage of chain-moving throws. He was nearly perfect on short throws, with only one miss on 16 attempts from 0-10 yards.

His play under pressure was the most important part of his success this week. Going 10-of-11 with one touchdown under pressure is certainly a rare feat that comes from excellent pre- and post-snap recognition as well as poise in the pocket. Five of those and the touchdown were beyond 10 yards as well.

It’s hard to criticize much in Burrow’s game. He had a beautiful, looping deep ball to Ja’Marr Chase that went for a 78-yard score, helping put to bed some arm strength concerns that others have. While he left an intermediate pass short when he didn’t fully step into his throw, this only highlighted what we already knew: he has enough arm even if it’s not strong enough to overcome poor mechanics.

His upcoming showdown against Georgia will be fascinating since it’s the best defense he’ll have faced all season. It’ll set the stage for one final push for the Heisman and the No. 1 draft pick.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

The Game turned into another blowout as the Buckeyes simply had too much speed and offensive playmaking for Michigan to overcome as mistakes piled up. The main storylines around the outcome will revolve around J.K. Dobbins‘ greatness, but Fields is our focus. Despite some early nerves and uncharacteristic misses on easy throws, Fields recovered with brilliant impact plays.

The play of the game, and possibly the season, came as the decisive score in the third quarter. After suffering what looked like a potentially season-ending knee injury, Fields returned to the game and instantly verified his five-star ranking in one play. He scrambled away from pressure to his right and delivered a strike to the back of the end zone to Garrett Wilson, leaving Michigan stunned and evaluators drooling from his playmaking ability.

He wasn’t perfect, especially leaving three third-down passes as missed opportunities for the offense to pile on more. He also had three poor attempts under pressure as he rolled out to his right, which isn’t in line with his season-long numbers. He must stay calm and true to his mechanics early in games for this team to win it all, but he has the talent to self-correct with the playoff looming.

Jake Fromm, Georgia

I’ve been critical of Jake Fromm this season, even declaring I don’t see an NFL starter in terms of physical talent or polish, despite the billing he often gets. His start against lowly Georgia Tech seemed to confirm this again, with two dropped interceptions and poorly placed, but catchable, pass on second down that led to a drop. But he quickly recovered and turned in a solid performance with actual impactful plays.

He had two notable back-shoulder throws again this week, with one going for a score and another converting a first down. His touch on these attempts are so clearly better than anything else in his repertoire, I’m hopeful more are integrated into this offense against LSU and potentially moving forward. His placement on extreme touch passes varies but for some reason, he’s consistent with this approach.

The deep ball finally looked better from him, though there are still issues with driving the ball past 10 yards into certain windows. Missing on six of 12 attempts beyond often counts as a poor week to me, and he’s not out of the woods with his lack of arm strength or sloppy feet.

At least there was playmaking this week, though, and efficiency in the end zone. Those are newer facets of his game. While I hope he returns to school in 2020, teams may sell themselves on those highlights as reasons to believe improvement is possible despite limitations.

Jacob Eason, Washington

Though Chris Petersen‘s resignation rang loudly across the college football nation after Washington defeated Washington State, we can’t overlook Eason’s play against their rival. It was the first notably good outing for him in several weeks as the unit grew stale.

Eason came out firing in the quickly, showing terrific ball placement and confidence as he heaved a deep pass over the middle of the field in the first quarter. He then proceeded to pick apart Washington State’s zone defense throughout the half until the final drive, where pressure affected him. His arm strength repeatedly stood out as it usually does, but he was as reliable as ever this week.

The question with Eason is whether he comes out or not. Losing Petersen is a major blow that could sway him if he was on the fence. I don’t think he’s ready for the NFL yet and would like to see him in a more modernized offense before declaring, but he’d be a fifth-year senior next year and could be drafted in the top two rounds this year.

Anthony Gordon, Washington State

This is the first time Anthony Gordon is being featured in our weekly breakdown, but it’s the second time I’ve watched the Senior Bowl participant. I was interested to see his progression since the Houston game and came away with mixed feelings. The first-year starter is a difficult evaluation.

Some of this is due to the system. Mike Leach’s scheme has few NFL-caliber throws in it, and the mental reps are often the most valuable experience for his quarterbacks. Though Gordon is physically gifted enough to project as a draftable player, the mixture of scheme and his mechanical deficiencies have him as a late-rounder.

The good is that he’s a quick decision-maker and is willing to test tight windows. He was solid on underneath throws despite having an ankle injury occur, and is able to escape the pocket if need be. There’s more to work on, though.

He held on to the ball forever too often and was reckless with a schoolyard style outside of the pocket. His footwork was all over the place, including an ugly sweeping motion that compromises his placement. This is something that can be improved, but not ideal for someone with few opportunities to get reps moving forward.

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