The college football season is now over. Georgia did some things to TCU that Zach*, if I asked him, would likely tell me are “too gory for the written word”, but that’s how the season ended.
Before that, LSU had a bowl game that was.....likely also too gory for the written word. In that game, the QB controversy that had been brewing since the SEC Title game blossomed into full view as the dominant story of the upcoming offseason. Unlike in the past, this is the GOOD kind of QB controversy, where both quarterbacks are exciting options, and it comes down to your personal flavor. Do you want a QB who takes care of the ball, facilitates a very effective run game, and is good at reading out the dropback concepts in the offense/finding the open guy while being limited a bit in what is “open” due to just okay accuracy? Or do you want a gunslinger, who has almost everything open to him due to the combination of incredible arm strength, All-Pro accuracy, and a YOLO mindset, and is more volatile, but likely gives you a higher volume/more explosive, higher EPA/Play offense on the whole?
As I’ll likely write about in more detail later this offseason, there is a serious case to be made in favor of either of those realities. We got to see that contrast put on display a little bit in a microcosm in a scrimmage setting in the Citrus Bowl.
As a passer, this is the kind of stuff that Jayden Daniels does well. He does a good job reading out this shallow-cross concept. Once he sees the Mike widen on the shallow, he resets his feet to the over-the-ball route and hits it on time. As the year has gone on, 5 has done a nice job growing into the decision-making and timing of the quick and intermediate dropback concepts in this offense.
Again, Daniels is pretty sharp mentally, he reacts well to things and plays with good timing. Purdue brings an inside linebacker on a creeper and drops out the boundary EDGE to replace him in the coverage. Daniels picks it up, truncates his drop for timing, and replaces the ILB with the ball in space before the edge can get there.
Of course, Daniels’ real trump card is his athletic ability. In addition to being LSU’s most explosive ballcarrier, his athleticism at the QB position can help you change the math up front in your favor with different option concepts, which allow you to leave players unblocked and read them, giving you an extra blocker. It’s a major boost for your running game, on the whole, helping you stay efficient.
With Nussmeier, you have a QB whose strengths are Daniels’ weaknesses. The biggest issue with Jayden Daniels is that he isn’t particularly accurate. Now, he throws a CATCHABLE ball, but not an accurate one. There’s nuance there, but generally, an accurate ball is one that a receiver doesn’t have to significantly adjust his path for; slowing down, reaching down, diving, and stuff like that. This starts to hurt you, especially, when throwing downfield, and when windows get tight more broadly. When LSU gets man coverage, they like to target go balls on the sideline, and they like to target slot fades. They have the receivers for it, Malik Nabers cooked guys vertically on those routes all year (probably had like 5 touchdowns and 500 yards left on the field), but LSU had trouble punishing teams for playing man because Daniels had issues placing those balls. A lot of plays that should have been long TDs fell incomplete this season because the receiver had to adjust too much, allowing the defender back in the play. Nussmeier throws an ACCURATE ball, especially vertically. With Daniels, there’s a good chance this ball is a touch underthrown, and the slowed momentum of the receiver’s adjustment would allow the DB to break it up. Or it’d simply be overthrown, off to the side, etc. This ball, on the favorite shot play of 2019 LSU and the Cincinnati Bengals, 989 (2 go routes and a middle-read route), is dropped perfectly in the bucket. With Nussmeier, teams playing tight coverage on LSU would be opening themselves to kill shots in ways they aren’t with 5, which would be HUGE for the offense on the whole in both overall output and in changing how they are defended.
Additionally, arm talent (a function of strength, accuracy, touch, and off-platform ability) like this changes the calculus of what is “open.” The high-end accuracy here, rolling to the off-side, away from pressure, and hitting a 7 route on the move against tight man coverage, is awfully hard to account for as a defense. When you can place the ball like this, especially off-platform, there’s not a lot that isn’t “open” to you. Daniels doesn’t have the accuracy or arm-talent to do things like this reliably.
By adjusting, in your favor, what is and is not “open,” arm talent can even bail you out of a misread from time to time, which Nussmeier is...prone to. With the underneath defender undercutting this route on the sideline and the deep-half player squeezing it vertically, this isn’t particularly open. Not caring about things like that, Nussmeier rips it right over and past the underneath defender and keeps it to the outside, away from the defender over the top. Nobody’s particularly “open,” but LSU converts anyway because Nussmeier can will people open. When you need to find a more open receiver, you’ll have to work deeper into the progression more often, which places more pressure on the play-caller to get into the perfect call to get the primary wide open so he won’t have to do that.
I’ll certainly have more to say and write about this topic in the offseason, but we exit the season with a really good problem. I won’t begrudge you for favoring Daniels, I won’t begrudge you for favoring Nussmeier, it’s all about what you value in a good QB. My only real frustration is that you can’t combine the two and create Josh Allen.