North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance entered the week as a consensus top-three quarterback and a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He exited it with his draft stock in question and his first collegiate interception in the stat books.
28 NFL teams showed up to the Fargodome to watch Lance and the Bison take on Central Arkansas on Saturday, with the Bears being one of them. Despite Central Arkansas playing well in three games heading into the week and North Dakota State not having played a single game, the latter team entered the matchup as the heavy favorites.
Yes, North Dakota State ended up winning 39-28. And yes, Lance ended up scoring four touchdowns from scrimmage. However, one couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed with how the redshirt sophomore threw the ball.
Lance finished the game 15-for-30 with 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception through the air, as well as 143 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 15 carries. While his rushing totals were certainly impressive, his 50 percent completion percentage was lower than all but one of his games from the 2019 season. He also threw an interception: he went through all of 16 games last year without throwing a single pick.
To start with the positives, Lance’s rushing ability showcased what his 2019 tape indicated: the man is an electric athlete. He brings well above-average breakaway speed to the quarterback position, and that combined with his 6-foot-4, 226-pound frame, makes him a tough runner to stop.
Great run from Trey Lance to start the second half. He reads in between the tackles like a RB and is tough to bring down with his size and speed.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
His throws have been suspect, but he’s looked the part as a runner today. pic.twitter.com/0CCwWWuUCh
His pocket presence started off a bit stiff, but he found his groove in the second half. His second rushing touchdown saw him pick up a defensive back blitz effectively off the edge, climb the pocket and fight through contact to make his way into the end zone.
Very nice touchdown run by Trey Lance: his third total TD of the game.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
He sensed the blitz off the edge and climbed the pocket, then he finished off the run by leaping into the end zone. He’s looked great on the ground. pic.twitter.com/PEDorRlxli
Lance also showed some promise in regards to his ability to anticipate a receiver’s movements and throw with solid timing. Though this deep ball fell incomplete, he delivered a deep ball and made it look effortless, easily slinging the ball and showing off ideal weight distribution to his front foot. The ball hit his target right in the hands, but the receiver was unable to come down with the grab.
This pass went incomplete, but this was a really nice deep ball by Trey Lance.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
He threw the ball 55 yards in the air with ease and hit the deep ball with very nice touch. He hit his receiver right in the hands. pic.twitter.com/MwfexmaA3u
However, those great throws came sprinkled in amidst a game riddled with questionable decisions.
Among those errant passes was Lance’s interception. While watching the All-22 tape will provide a better understanding of Central Arkansas’ coverage than simply watching the live broadcast, it’s still apparent the throw wasn’t a very good one.
He had his back turned to the defense as he ran the play action, and he opted to just stare down one target throughout his progressions. That one target wasn’t open, and that decision to force the throw cost Lance his spotless interception total.
There’s Trey Lance’s first career INT. Took him 307 passing attempts, but he finally tallied one in the picks column.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
Stared down his target and forced a throw into tight coverage. Another error through the air for him. pic.twitter.com/j5wwn9FnXX
The Bears have seen their fair share of forced throws with Mitchell Trubisky under center, and watching Lance on Saturday came with watching some plays similar to that of the recently-benched signal-caller.
His arm strength was on display throughout the game, but his accuracy and decision-making proved to be inconsistent. When the Bison opted to stretch the field, Lance didn’t necessarily see the best of results. Much like most of the games on his 2019 tape, he threw a couple of questionable throws that realistically could have ended up as interceptions.
Deep ball from Trey Lance. Good job of climbing the pocket and keeping his eyes up when scrambling.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
However, he had a target wide open on the drag route and instead threw to a tightly-covered receiver on an underthrown deep ball. Questionable play there. pic.twitter.com/pFx5tDy6yF
Lance was able to evade pressure from time to time, but he struggled early on under pressure. His footwork fell apart a few times when his pocket started to collapse, and he sometimes struggled to pick up on incoming defenders. He was sacked twice, with his first sack of the game resulting in a strip sack. Despite having an open lane to scramble past the left tackle, he failed to sense the incoming pressure from the blitzing linebacker.
Rough start for Trey Lance so far. First drive was a three-and-out, second drive results in a strip sack.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 3, 2020
Especially for a quarterback as athletic as Lance is, he’s got to be able to be able to sense the pressure and move outside of the pocket here. pic.twitter.com/jWY4fXXICT
It’s important to keep in mind that this was just one game. Fans and analysts alike will try to use this game as a way to completely condemn Lance as a first-round prospect destined for a major freefall. A prospect’s overall body of work is much more important than any one regular season game, all-star game or Combine performance.
Granted, this one game was probably more important than any individual quarterback performance for 2021 draft prospects of the college football season. This game was certainly worrisome, and it is likely to be a major talking point for months on end if Lance decides to declare for the draft and opt out of North Dakota State’s spring season. With the quarterback only being a one-year starter, this disappointing game serving as his only 2020 tape on a limited sample size is sure to be a concern to some teams.
In the grand scheme of things, Lance will still probably be a first-round pick if he enters the draft. There’s no denying his physical tools, his undefeated record as a starter and the potential he brings to the table. However, this game was not a performance of that of a top-10 pick. It could end up knocking him a few spots down a couple teams’ boards.