Pac-10 Quarterback Analysis, Part III: The Situation Room

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, August 11th, 2008

(Read Part I on Longshore and Part II on Pac-10 QBs here)

Seems people demand it, but it looks like it’s time to figure out what Nate Longshore and his Pac-10 bretheren are truly capable of situationally. You’ve probably read about the situational practices Tedford is placing his quarterbacks through and how each of them fared (and some board posters have gone quickly into armchair mode: “ho ho, I was right, Nate can’t even do it in the imaginary 4th! HO HO!”).

Far more of interest to me than the passer rating is not the interceptions but percentages, particularly completion and first down conversion. Interceptions suck, but they are a small percentage of the throws a quarterback commits. Touchdowns are great, but they are on average only slightly larger in number for a quarterback than interceptions. Conversions though? There are plenty more of those for a quarterback to convert.

How many more times does Longshore succeed in converting for the Bears, keeping the offense? Let’s take a look at how often each Pac-10 team converted first downs in every regular down situation (4th downs will not be counted for this particular measurement, the sample size is way too small; I might add it into 3rd down stats later on, but for now we’ll stick with the first three down format). Click the image below for a larger view.

For people who’ve been wanting some statistical evidence that Kevin Riley is a superior quarterback, this is the best example so far. In a limited sample size (only 15 attempts on 2nd down and 16 attempts on 3rd down) Riley not only completed close to two-thirds of his 2nd down and 3rd down throws, he turned over half of them into first downs, a trend that clearly places him above the other Pac-10 QBs. But again, this sample size is limited, so you’d figure of all the quarterbacks it’d buck the trend more so than quarterbacks who played every week. Nevertheless, very impressive numbers.

Riley had a terribly small 3rd down set, so it would have been silly to break it down stat by stat (just for the record, he was close to perfect on the 8 short passes they throw, but only had one completion above a 3rd and 7+ situation). Not so Longshore. You can see that the 2006 stats are just off the charts–of the quarterbacks who were starters the majority of the season, only Dennis Dixon last year (that season is just nutty to look at for Dennis) had a better season converting 1st downs on 1st and 2nd down situations. The numbers were near the top on 3rd down, and even though he had a strange dip on mid-range 3rd down conversions, he was near the top in every other category (and was the best on 3rd and long passes).

2007 was a much different story for Nate. Although his conversion rate only dipped slightly on 1st down situations, they were sharply down on 2nd down and a little below the mean on 3rd down. He only converted 4 first downs and 1 TD on 14 attempts on 3rd and short yardage situations, the worst conversion rate in the Pac-10. His numbers were down across the board, except an amazing sharp increase on 3rd down and 4-6, his worst area in 2006.

Now if you add in touchdowns to the equation, you get a more interesting depiction of how strong Cal’s quarterback seasons are with respect to the rest of the Pac-10.

Riley’s numbers go way up for 2nd and 3rd downs because of the five TDs he threw in that short period of a game and three quarters. Touchdowns wouldn’t have as much of a factor on quarterbacks with a wider set of starts. Longshore’s 2006 numbers remain fairly steady, but his 2007 numbers are in the bottom tier now. Again, there are certainly many factors for why the 1st down conversion rates are down, but there’s no doubt Nate was not performing up to his 2006 form in terms of keeping his offense on the field.

Dennis Dixon had a wild ride with the Oregon Ducks; his season was pretty much like Longshore’s 06 campaign, except it even looked more like a sugar rush. There was no correlation at all between yardage and distance for Dixon, as his numbers were sky-high in 3rd and short range (67%), stifled in the midrange 4 to 6 yard area (31%, last among every Pac-10 quarterback), unearthly on 3rd and long (61%, 14 points higher than second place Longshore’s impressive 47%), and dipping back to about average on 3rd and long. It’s hard to determine if Dixon has the consistency with his arm to be a surefire quarterback with his arm, especially the way he seems to struggle converting the midrange throw, but in the longer situations he appears to thrive.

Rudy Carpenter’s numbers defy logic and reason; his numbers go up from 2nd down, to 3rd down overall, to 3rd down short, to 3rd down middle, to 3rd down LONG. It’s a slow and steady progression, but among all the Pac-10 quarterbacks last year Carpenter seemed to perform the most admirably, completing over 60 percent of his passes on 3rd down and converting close to sixty percent of those passes into first downs. I might be coming around on Carpenter, who just seems to need adequate protection around him to get his team in the Rose Bowl direction (47 attempts from 3rd and 10+ was just too much for Carpenter to overcome when his team fell behind against better teams).

John David Booty is unsurprisingly the most surehanded of these quarterbacks–it’s almost depressing how boring and steady his statline is. He doesn’t finish first in any category outright, but he’s in the upper tier in every category, especially in the 3rd down and under 10 yards range for 2007 QBs (3rd, 2nd, 4th respectively). Not a great quarterback, but consistent enough to close the door. The steady pace kept him from throwing many 3rd down balls too–only 84 pass attempts on 3rd down, second to Dixon’s abnormal 63 (for perspective, Longshore threw 110 times, Carpenter 114 times, Tuitama 139 times).

Mark Sanchez is a strange quarterback to figure out. On the one hand he was awful on 2nd down, throwing 4 picks and around 54 percent of his passes; on the other hand he converted over 51 percent of his throws on 3rd down into first downs, a number only breached by Kevin Riley. Again, you have to think the limited experience and the varying nature of his opponents (Arizona, Notre Dame, Oregon) contributed to these numbers, so we’ll have to call them “inconclusive”. He definitely converted better on the limited opportunities he had on 3rd and long than Riley (67% completion rate on 3rd and 7-9 yards, 13 completions on 18 attempts and 1 TD on 3rd and 7+ yard situations overall for Sanchez, compared to Riley’s 3 completions on 9 attempts and 1 INT on 3rd and 7+ situations)

Oregon State Beaver fans seemed to be pretty happy with what they see out of Lyle Moveao, and the stats seem to confirm this. In the four games he played he actually was stronger on 1st and 2nd down than Booty, and he was around the mean on 3rd down. Compare this to Sean Canfield, who was next to last, third to last, and last on 1st, 2nd and 3rd down conversion rates. Not a surprise that Moveao will be taking the helm in Stanford Stadium opening night.

Willie Tuitama pretty much is the mean in this graph. He’s not great in anything, but he’s not bad either. His numbers are indicative of a typical Sonny Lubbick crazy-go-pass offense designed to destroy all lateral arm movement. I still don’t know what to make of Tuitama, who seems to do just enough to get by. Even Alex Brink performs better than him on 3rd downs, which I didn’t even know was possible. Brink was actually an impressive 3rd down passer, and sat right near the top in every category, making his NFL draft exclusion a little surprising–wouldn’t you want a guy who could convert over 50 percent of his typical 3rd down situations? His Washington State team was white bread last year and he still managed to chug along on the ever-so-crucial down.

Which finally brings us to Jake Locker, who sits near the bottom right along with his last place Huskies. It’s strange that I feel threatened by a guy who can’t throw deep (last on 1st down conversion rate), can’t really throw short (next to last on 3rd and short conversion rate, and really can’t convert at all. He’s like a crappier version of Dixon. Will he manage to improve his arm strength in spite of his early injuries? It remains to be seen.

In the next post in the series, we’ll get to the crucial question of clutch. How well does Nate Longshore fare against the rest of his compatriots in the 4th quarter, and how well do all Pac-10 quarterbacks fare in come-from-behind situations? And perhaps we’ll analyze how much Longshore’s crucial 2007 INTs can be blamed on Nate alone and how much of the onus falls on his teammates as well.

Any parting thoughts on these situational stats, leave them in the comments as usual.

(To view the spreadsheet with all the Pac-10 quarterback data, click here)

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