Love out to show he’s got what it takes

- Jori Epstein

MOBILE, Ala. – Jordan Love doesn’t want to pick a favorite.

But if the Utah State quarterbac­k draft prospect has to narrow it down, he supposes his favorite career play – or at least one memorable enough to suffice inquiring minds at Senior Bowl week – dates to a 62-7 win over Stonybrook in September.

His Aggies were coming off a close 38-35 loss to Wake Forest in their season opener. Against Stonybrook, they jumped to an early 10-0 lead. Then with 3:27 left in the first quarter, Love faked a handoff to his running back and rolled to his left. A Stonybrook pass rusher charged toward him. Love flung the ball across his body 29 yards to the backside post as a defensive back closed in.

No sweat. Utah State receiver Siaosi Mariner rolled over into the catch. Touchdown.

“Honestly, just a crazy play,” said the Senior Bowl North quarterbac­k, who has made plenty of them.

In Mobile last week, talent evaluators from 32 NFL teams aimed to decipher how many he’ll make as a pro. How much risk his play-making ability will accompany. And for whom.

Love turned heads in 2019 as a junior at Utah State, when he threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns to just six intercepti­ons. But coaching turnover, scheme change and a new crop of offensive teammates contribute­d to a far less resounding 2019 stat line. Love still threw for 3,402 yards, but his touchdown-to-intercepti­on ratio slipped to 20-to-17. Behind a raw offensive line, he rushed for three times as many yards in 2019 (175) as in 2018 (63) but dropped from seven rushing touchdowns to none.

Ahead of the draft, the quarterbac­k often found scrambling from the pocket to extend a play isn’t running from the reality of his 17-intercepti­on season.

“17 learning moments,” Love describes them, without downplayin­g any of the picks’ gravity. He watched film on each afterward and reviewed his coach’s grade sheet, asking himself: Why did this pass go awry? What can I learn?

He knows others now want to learn whether they’d be drafting the quarterbac­k who can throw 52 touchdowns in two seasons or the quarterbac­k who marred those points with a near-even pick count this past year.

“They’re both Jordan Love, obviously,” the 6-4, 225-pound prospect said. “Learning moments this year. We were hitting on all cylinders last year, in terms of the offense and different things. But they’re both me.”

In Mobile on Thursday, that was the case.

Love drilled Liberty receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden in stride in one-on-one drills. He launched a perfect backshould­er fade in the left corner of the end zone to Baylor receiver Denzel Mims during practice at University of South Alabama. On another, Mims extended just past what seemed to be his reach to haul in a one-handed score. The production followed a Wednesday performanc­e that earned Love the highest PFF rating – 91.3 – of any player on offense that day.

So a risky throw in traffic Thursday, picked off by Ohio State inside linebacker Malik Harrison, didn’t keep Love from recognitio­n as his team’s quarterbac­k of the week. He beat out Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon for the nod.

To Love, the week was about more than showcasing arm strength that has drawn comparison to Chiefs quarterbac­k Patrick Mahomes’. Love wanted to show coaches and scouts that he could learn and thrive in an unfamiliar offense quickly. Learn the rules so well, in fact, he could break them.

“You’ve got to find the middle of it – being able to still push the ball downfield and make big throws but also being smart with it at the same time,” Love said. “You don’t have to force every throw and try to do too much sometimes.”

Rules aren’t anything new for the son of a police sergeant and California Highway Patrol officer. The Love parents were so strict, Jordan says, that he could not visit a friend’s house without giving his dad the household parents’ email address.

He learned to abide by each guideline.

He learned still more when he lost his father, Orbin, to suicide in 2013.

Love credits perspectiv­e from his mom, and from his dad’s life and death, to the resilience he applies after a turnover, the work ethic with which he chases improvemen­t and his sense of purpose in pursuing an NFL career for himself and his family.

Sure, football can challenge a player, be it the close loss to Wake Forest or 2019’s 17 learning moments or the never-ending days of the Senior Bowl schedule.

But those pale in comparison to the grief of losing his father at 14.

“In my life, I’ve faced some pretty hard adversity off the field without football,” Love said. “Things like that in my life just really let me see the big picture that, I mean, this stuff ’s easy.

“It’s football. It’s fun. There are some tough days. But at the end of the day, it’s fun.”

 ?? VASHA HUNT/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Jordan Love threw 60 TD passes and 29 intercepti­ons in three seasons at Utah State, but just 20 TDs and 17 picks in 2019.
VASHA HUNT/USA TODAY SPORTS Jordan Love threw 60 TD passes and 29 intercepti­ons in three seasons at Utah State, but just 20 TDs and 17 picks in 2019.

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