Mark Schofield’s RSP Quarterback Tales of Love and Loss, Starring Anthony Gordon and Cole McDonald

Matt Waldman’s RSP contributor Mark Schofield interviewed the quarterbacks at the NFL Combine and profiles two football tales of love and loss for Washington State’s Anthony Gordon and Hawaii’s Cole McDonald. 

A wise man once said that if you deny emotion in football, you deny a critical part of the game.

Football is an emotional sport, and there are perhaps no stronger human emotions than love, and loss.

Ask anyone about “the one that got away,” for example, and watch what happens in their eyes. Before they even begin to speak. Their eyes will begin to tell the story – or stories – for them. Stories of awkward high school dances, with all the boys aligned on one side of the gym while the girls lined up on the other side. Stories of stolen glances during classes, or awkward first dates during happy hour.

The same goes for quarterbacks.

Every quarterback has that throw that got away. The one that you obsess over for months, even years, on end. When I say every quarterback, I mean every quarterback. I’ve written about some of mine, and unfortunately, there are even more that I could cover. But this is not my story.

This is Anthony Gordon’s story.

The Washington State quarterback put up impressive numbers playing for Mike Leach a season ago, but his season was not without mistakes. When I asked him on Tuesday what throws he’d like to have back —and why—his eyes also told the story first. But he quickly filled in the details:

“I’d say probably the interception against Washington, the second one. We were down 28-13 if we score we’re down by one possession. I was scrambling and just trying to throw it, it sailed a little bit high and you know Washington, they’re gonna feast on those mistakes. They’re a great defense and they’ve got some great players, and I’ve definitely got to be a little more careful with the football.”

While Gordon’s story ends with a lesson for himself, it also fits with his nature. Trying to take care of the football and not make mistakes, and not putting his team in a position to fail.

Then there was Cole McDonald’s answer.

Known for his aggression as a passer, when I asked McDonald this question I got a very different answer. While I was impressed with both stories told by these two quarterbacks, McDonald’s stands out not because it was an interception, but rather it was just an incompletion. A throw that he missed:

“There’s a couple. There’s definitely a couple. I’d say Air Force game, Cedric Byrd, we had a streak concept. So he was reading the safety, it’s a Cover 2 look…he runs an amazing route flying down the field and hits the post [route]. I miss him by, like, two yards. It was just one of those plays where you just get your hopes up, throw a dime and it’s just out of reach. If we got that back it would have been a different story in that game. We ended up losing that game sadly.”

But this story, a story of a missed vertical shot, fits so well with McDonald’s style of play at the position. He is an aggressive quarterback who ran an aggressive offense, and he makes no apologies for that fact. Later I asked him about his bowl game against BYU, a game which he led a game-winning drive late in the contest that included a conversion on a 3rd and 1 when he passed up a shallow route for a sure first down for a deep shot:

“You know, especially in our offense. Even on third down, fourth down, we’re gonna let it rip. We’re gonna throw where the defense tells us to throw. Like I said we’re a big counter-based offense so if they’re going to play that little out-route that we were running, I’m going to take advantage of that holeshot over the top. It doesn’t matter if it’s third and one or fourth and long. We’re gonna run our offense to the best of our ability.”

Now speaking of running offenses, both have loves of their own. When it comes to the playbook. For Gordon, it is a staple of Air Raid offenses and Leach’s system. His favorite concept? Y-Cross:

“I love that Y-Cross. That signature Y-Cross, it’s probably my favorite play. I think that translates to the next level. Every team pretty much has some form of Y-Cross and we read ours left to right. We start at that vertical to the sail-route to the cross to the dig. So, it’s one of my favorite plays, it was on every third-down script and it was something that we would always run. Teams knew it would be coming and we would still execute it.”

For McDonald, his favorite design was also a staple of his system. In the run and shoot system, where all the routes have conversions based on the defensive coverage, their streak package has a vertical answer for almost anything the defense can throw at it. For an aggressive QB like McDonald, it is a perfect fit:

“We call it a streak read. Out of a 2×2 formation. In the run and shoot, we’re a counter-based offense so what that allows our receivers to do is to read the defense pre- and post-snap. So off of one route we have five different options depending on the coverage, whether it’s zone or man. So basically you can’t be wrong. As long as the receiver and myself are on the same page, and we’re executing at a high level and being efficient and getting the ball out quick…there’s a lot that will be going on.”

With the way NFL offenses are evolving, both quarterbacks might get a chance to run their favorite designs as they embark upon their NFL careers.

One of the difficulties in the draft evaluation process, especially when it comes to the quarterback position, is the inability to get into the minds of these players. To uncover what they were thinking on a given moment or play. For just a few moments on a Tuesday morning, I was able to do that with two different passers. I learned about their own tales of love and loss, and what those moments taught them.

I liked what I heard.

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