2/7 (TD, INT)
21/29 (TD, 2 INT)
Outside the Pocket: 2/3 (INT)
Under Pressure: 3/5 (INT)
Red Zone: 1/2
3rd/4th Down: 5/9 (5 conversions)
Forced Adjustments: 0
Explosive Plays (25+ yards and/or touchdown): 2
Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders entered the season as one of the biggest “maybes” at quarterback in college football. By strictly CFB standards, he is an above-average to good starting quarterback, but the “maybe” sentiment had more to do with what he could become as a potential NFL prospect. Sanders proved last year as a redshirt freshman that he had the size, mobility, arm strength, and daring nature to be an intriguing prospect, but the down-to-down consistency was not there. For a redshirt freshman, though, you could excuse some of that away due to inexperience. That excuse should not hold in 2020.
From an NFL lens, Sanders was less than impressive on Saturday against Iowa State. That Cyclones defense is a bit different than most of what he will see in the NFL and has given many recent Big 12 QB prospects issues, but it’s a bit disappointing how little Sanders showed in terms of being a legit prospect. Sure, sure, Oklahoma State got the win and Sanders was somewhat productive, but the performance showed he still has a long time before becoming a good NFL prospect.
Accuracy was an issue for Sanders all afternoon. That may feel like an odd statement for someone who was accurate on roughly 70% of their passes overall. Beyond 10 yards, though, Sanders was a disaster. He was accurate on just five of his 12 passes that traveled at least ten yards. Some of those mistakes were mental, some purely related to accuracy, but either way, missing out on that many chances down the field puts a clear ceiling on an offense. Sanders has been better down the field in the past, too, so it’s plausible his struggles on Saturday were related to the ankle sprain he just returned from.
In any event, that kind of accuracy can not stand if Sanders wants to propel himself into being a legit NFL QB. He has to be better than he was on Saturday.
Here is Sanders’ first critical miss of the day. Oklahoma State are in wide 2x2 stacks and want to get into a switch verticals concept. Doing so from these wide splits theoretically gives the two seam players a ton of space to work with when they move to that area. The seam player to the left does his job and cooks the defensive back, freeing himself down the hash. The wide receiver looks as though he straightens out his route down the hash, as he should if he clearly beats the DB like this, but Sanders tries to loft it towards the middle of the hashes as if the DB was playing good outside leverage and the WR needed to sink under it. With the DB’s trailing position and no middle-of-field safety, Sanders should have felt comfortable letting this rip over the top.
Sanders also had some issues pushing the ball to the sideline in this game. Arguably his most egregious miss of the day was on a 3rd-and-14 from the middle of the hashes — a tough, but simulated NFL situation.
Sanders has the right idea here. The outside cornerback is playing inside leverage and Sanders tries to fit this ball as close to the sideline as he can to let the WR squeeze in past the sticks. However, Sanders does a poor job driving on this ball. The throw sails on him and ends up somewhere near the benches rather than his wide receiver’s catch radius. This is a tough throw, make no mistake, but it is a bit concerning that Sanders did not even put this one in the right stratosphere.
In other instances, Sanders’ incompletions down the field were a result of him playing a tick late. Sanders has far too many moments where he may be generally looking for the right thing, but is a tick late in triggering on it, therefore he ends up being wrong.
Take this interception, for example. Iowa State get into a three-deep coverage with their safeties while the cornerbacks play flat techniques underneath. This coverage effectively works like Cloud coverage to both sides. In theory, Sanders could try to fit this ball down the sideline underneath the safety as soon as the WR clears the CB jamming him from the flat technique. Sanders waits an extra tick, though, which is just enough time for the safety to fly over and snag an interception.
Sanders has never been a QB expected to win by playing perfectly on time, though. Sanders is a good athlete with a play style that leans toward playmaking and being aggressive. He wants to attack down the field (even if he couldn’t on Saturday) and from outside the pocket.
In this clip, Sanders is forced to be a football player right away. The snap is botched and Sanders does not get to have a good look at the defense early in the down. He is forced to bail the pocket and hope to find something while moving around. With four defenders boxing him in on the right sideline, Sanders does just that. He finds one of his receivers crossing over from the other side of the field and puts a strike right below his numbers, giving Oklahoma State a fresh set of downs on a daunting 3rd-and-10.
Of course, playmaking and aggression is often a double-edged sword. The best players of that archetype simply find more of the highlights than lowlights in such a way that swings the balance in their favor. Sanders, at least in this game, did not exactly do that.
Sanders actually had one of the lowlights early in the contest. In this instance, also rolling to his right, Sanders tries to fit a ball in over the top of one of the defenders sitting below the outside comeback route. This interception is almost identical to the one Kirk Cousins threw against the Seattle Seahawks, at least in terms of where the quarterback was trying to force the ball relative to the defenders. One of Iowa State’s defenders gets a hand in to tip it up, leaving it for a teammate behind him to snatch it from the air for an interception and set up Iowa State with excellent field position.
The good news for Sanders is that he does not need to rush to the NFL right now. Though he is eligible for the 2021 class, he is just a redshirt sophomore and has at least two more years after this one to develop his game. Saturday’s performance does not mark him a doomed prospect by any means, it just showed that he may not have yet taken the steps necessary to become a legitimate prospect.
Perhaps Sanders can course correct throughout the season. As mentioned earlier, this was Sanders’ first game back following an ankle sprain and this is a very tricky Iowa State defense. A couple more weeks back into the groove of things could tremendously help him out, both in terms of distancing himself from the injury and getting back into the flow of the offense.