Know Thy Enemy: Matthew Stafford

May 29, 2008

One of the most critical players for Georgia in 2008 is QB Matthew Stafford.

Georgia’s running game will should be excellent thanks to Knowshon Moreno’s brilliance and the emergence of redshirt freshman Caleb King. At some point though, teams will stack the box to stop the running game and dare Stafford to beat them through the air.

Stafford has basically been a starter since he walked in the door at Georgia. He has finished 86th and 56th in the country in passing efficiency in his two years. Those aren’t terrible results for true freshman and sophomore years, but he finished behind and tied with UCF quarterbacks Steven Moffett and Kyle Israel. If you’ve watched any UCF football the past two seasons, you know that’s not a good sign.

I now present Stafford’s production in 2007. I’ve ignored the Western Carolina game, since you don’t learn anything about good I-A teams when they play bad I-AA teams, and the “expected” production is based off of the stats of each of his opponents. Values are rounded off to two decimal places, so they may not always add up, but I promise that Excel’s not lying.

Stafford in 2007
Actual Expected
Completions 180 230
Attempts 328 396
Comp. Pct 54.88% 58.08%
Yards 2349 2597
Yards/Game 195.75 216.42
Yards/Comp. 13.05 11.31
Yards/Att. 7.16 6.56
TDs 17 17
TD Pct 5.18% 4.29%
INT 10 13
INT Pct 3.05% 3.28%

Stafford was a little better at throwing touchdowns, avoiding interceptions, and gaining yards than the average quarterback given his schedule. He was not quite as accurate though, with a completion percentage about 3.20% below the expected figure. These stats also show that Georgia generally ran the ball more than the average offense that played against Stafford’s slate of opposing defenses as he had 68 fewer pass attempts than would be expected.

Georgia in the second half of the season was a lot better than Georgia in the first half of the season. The defense and Moreno appeared to be the main drivers of the change, but a rising tide lifts all boats, right? Maybe Stafford played a bigger role in the turnaround than he got credit for.

Here are the same stats for the first and second halves of the season. The first half again leaves out Western Carolina. The second half begins with the Florida game and includes the bowl game.

Stafford in First 6 Games of ’07
Actual Expected
Completions 101 118
Attempts 188 199
Comp. Pct 53.72% 59.30%
Yards 1190 1345
Yards/Game 198.33 224.13
Yards/Comp. 11.78 11.36
Yards/Att. 6.33 6.76
TDs 8 9
TD Pct 4.26% 4.52%
INT 4 7
INT Pct 2.13% 3.52%

For the first half, Stafford was average across the board. He was better at avoiding interceptions than would be expected, but he was a lot worse in accuracy. His completion percentage lagged the expected level of production by 5.58%. You’ll also notice that his attempts were nearly even with the projected amount.

Stafford in Last 6 Games of ’07
Actual Expected
Completions 79 111
Attempts 140 196
Comp. Pct 56.43% 56.63%
Yards 1159 1253
Yards/Game 193.17 208.81
Yards/Comp. 14.67 11.36
Yards/Att. 8.28 6.39
TDs 9 8
TD Pct 6.43% 4.08%
INT 6 6
INT Pct 4.29% 3.06%

Georgia, as you would expect, ran the ball a lot more in the second half. Stafford’s attempts dropped by 48 from the first half, and his total was way below the expected amount. His accuracy was better, basically even with the projected figure. His yardage and touchdown rates went up, but his interception rate more than doubled.

Stafford clearly benefited from the emergence of Moreno. As teams had to focus on the run game more, his production improved. His accuracy wasn’t great, but it was better than it had been. He was at his best when he wasn’t asked to carry the offense, but sophomores aren’t generally asked to do so.

A natural comparison point for him is David Greene. Stafford is on track to start all four years (should he stay all four), and Greene did that for the Bulldogs earlier this decade. Through their first two years, Greene has a definite edge having put up better numbers in nearly every statistical category in his freshman year than Stafford did in his sophomore year. Greene’s passing efficiency actually was lower his sophomore year, but his 137.3 mark was still better than Stafford’s 128.9 mark a year ago.

So, Matthew Stafford isn’t quite David Greene, but he doesn’t have to be to lead Georgia to a conference title and more. He must improve significantly this offseason though, since I doubt that completing 56% of his passes will be enough against Georgia’s tough schedule. Opponents will be keying on the run and daring him to beat them.

The good news for Georgia fans is that good quarterbacks traditionally make the jump from average to great as a junior. Plus, Mark Richt has had a good track record with grooming quarterbacks throughout his career. Those two elements will need to work in concert in order for Georgia to live up to its national title aspirations and the expectations of some like those at Scout.com and Rivals.com who believe that Stafford will be a top ten pick in 2009’s NFL draft.

If you’ve spent any time at FoxSports.com, you’ve probably seen Peter Schrager’s article on whether Stafford or Tim Tebow is the better quarterback. The main argument in Stafford’s favor is that he won more games as a starter last year, ignoring the disparity in Florida and Georgia’s running games and defenses. He also conveniently ignores Tebow’s shoulder injury when discussing their performances against each other. He finally mentions that draft guru Rob Rang believes Stafford will be a better NFL QB because of coming from a pro-style offense and his “better accuracy.”

I’m not exactly sure of what Rang means by better accuracy, considering the stats above and Tebow’s 66.37% completion rate. Tebow showed all year that he is a better passer than Stafford, as his performance in both raw and relative numbers beat Stafford’s in every category:

Tebow in 2007
Actual Expected
Completions 221 226
Attempts 333 395
Comp. Pct 66.37% 57.22%
Yards 2986 2457
Yards/Game 248.83 204.73
Yards/Comp. 13.51 10.88
Yards/Att. 8.97 6.22
TDs 29 17
TD Pct 8.71% 4.30%
INT 6 15
INT Pct 1.80% 3.80%

These are just Tebow’s passing stats; they don’t even account for his performance running the ball. You may also notice that his number of attempts was about the same as Stafford’s, so you can’t argue that the difference had to do with Florida having a more pass-friendly offense. Tebow’s year-long performance also beats Stafford’s second half in all of the rates and ratios except yards per completion.

Will Stafford blossom into an elite quarterback in 2008? History says the conditions are right, though it’s not clear how much of the offensive burden he’ll be asked to shoulder. The real measuring stick in 2008 will be the rates and ratios since he won’t have as many attempts as other top QBs. He basically was slightly above average in 2007, but how much of that was him and how much of that was the team’s rising tide lifting him is unclear.

Now that opposing defensive coordinators have had a whole offseason to work on the Knowshon Moreno problem, it will be up to Stafford to play well enough to keep defenses from stacking the line. His play will determine whether the 2008 Bulldogs will be merely great or one of the elite teams in the NCAA.


Paterno: Anti-Playoff Arguments are “Bogus”

May 28, 2008

Joe Paterno has come out in favor of a college football playoff, calling the reasons why one does not exist “bogus.” He rejects the academics-based arguments against a playoff, like players missing class and that having a two semester sport is bad thing, by noting the length of the basketball season. That carries some weight coming from perhaps the only active major college football coach who has endowed a library at his university. He also says the champion “should be decided on the field.”

Knows what’s going on.

This is not really breaking news, considering that Paterno has apparently been in favor of a playoff for some time. It is relevant right now though, since this off season the playoff debate has raged on more so than in past years as more and more people speak out.

The BCS has been criticized since its inception for not providing a satisfying finish to the season. Then last year, we had UF President Bernie Machen’s short-lived playoff proposal that got shot down at conference meetings. This year, we’ve had university presidents, congressmen, and the SEC and ACC commissioners come out in favor of a playoff. FSU President T.K. Wetherell has gone so far as to call a playoff inevitable and has further debunked some anti-playoff arguments himself.

The Big Ten, Pac 10, and Rose Bowl are generally targeted as the villains who are obstructing progress towards a playoff, though Big 12 President Dan Beebe has been just as consistent in his opposition too.

Paterno reminding the world that he is in favor of a playoff is a crack in the unified façade that the Big Ten has tried to project. It’s not likely to change much though, since Paterno has held the belief for a long time without it making a difference, and Penn State is the newcomer to the conference anyway. Plus, Paterno will not be coaching the 10-15 years more that he joked he would.

Paterno’s belief also does something else: it proves that “old guys” aren’t all in favor of the bowl system. That idea is something that has been an unspoken undercurrent to many of the pro-playoff arguments I’ve seen: old guys clinging to old ways are blocking the flow of Progress*.

Paterno is older than every bowl except the Rose, and only 8 bowls that are currently still playing existed when he took over as head coach at Penn State: the Rose (first game in 1902), Orange (1935), Sugar (1935), Sun (1935), Cotton (1937), Gator (1947), Tangerine/Florida Citrus/Capital One (1947), and Liberty (1959). JoePa coaching in State College, PA is more of a tradition than the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or any other bowl you can name are.

Paterno is also not in favor of the rule requiring coaches voting in the Coaches’ Poll to select the winner of the BCS championship game as #1. His frustration with that rule stems from 2004 when he wanted to vote for Auburn as national champion. I’ll let JoePa himself sum it all up:

“They said, ‘Well, you’ve got to vote or else you can’t participate.’ So I will not participate in the voting. Not that I’m against what other people want to do, it’s just that philosophically I think you ought to win it on the field. If I have to vote for somebody only because people have said these are the two teams that ought to be in the BCS championship game and I think they left somebody out that probably ought to be in it, that’s when I’ll feel a playoff ought to be appropriate. I’ve always been for a playoff.”

*Decidedly old guy Beano Cook is in favor of a plus one system, so it’s not just Paterno.


Happy Memorial Day!

May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day everyone! More content will return tomorrow or the day after. I’m traveling this weekend, so I don’t know when I’ll have something new available.

In the meantime, enjoy your day off and don’t forget why you have it off.


Chicago Bulls Hit the Jackpot

May 21, 2008

A bizarre season for the Chicago Bulls that was filled with more losing than anyone expected has been capped off by an improbable win.

Despite a 1.7% chance of gaining the first overall pick, the Bulls hit the jackpot and won the draft lottery. Chicago’s season began with talks about a potential Kobe Bryant trade involving a number of its young players, and most observers cite that as the cause of the Bulls’ unexpected slide.

It would be in Chicago’s best interest to choose a coach before the draft because of the fork in the road the team now faces: Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose? What style of play the coach wants to have will make that choice a lot clearer. A half court-oriented guy would probably favor Beasley; a more uptempo guy would probably favor Rose.

Beasley is a great talent, but he plays a position the Bulls are stocked at. They have Drew Gooden, who is inconsistent but talented, and Tyrus Thomas, who still at just 21 years of age could develop into a great player. They also have Joakim Noah, who despite being listed at center is really a power forward who can run. If they draft Beasley, you have to figure Gooden or Thomas will be moved.

Rose would make an easier transition into the team. Chicago signed Kirk Hinrich to an extension that paid him over $11 million last year, but his scoring and shooting dropped off. Chris Duhon is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so they could just let him go if they draft Rose. Hinrich would be awfully expensive as a backup if Rose beats him out, but thanks to Rose making rookie money it could work financially in the short term.

With the attention that Chris Paul and Deron Williams have been generating, along with the recent MVPs for Steve Nash, I have a hard time seeing the Bulls going with Beasley right now. Top-notch point guards are nearly as rare as dominant centers are, and the evolution in the NBA’s style of play combined with recent rule changes favor great point guards.

Beasley or Rose? Rose or Beasley? Whatever the outcome, you can be sure it’s a choice that Chicago is glad it has to make.


Fulmer versus Brown: The First Decade

May 20, 2008

Mack Brown has completed his first decade at Texas, and some Texas fans are wondering if he is on the hot seat. Brown has won a national title, but the perception of some is that he can’t win The Big One without Vince Young. He also has struggled against his rival Oklahoma, something that has never made Longhorns happy. To make matters worse, he has lost his last two against Texas A&M.

The situation reminded me most of Tennessee in the 1990s under Phillip Fulmer. He had a national title but ended up getting overshadowed by division rival Florida in the decade. I decided to go back and compare Fulmer’s first ten seasons with Brown’s ten years at Texas.

For the purpose of evening things out, I included Fulmer’s four games as coach in 1992 after Johnny Majors got fired to make up for the extra games Brown got thanks to 12-game seasons. The AP Top 10 refers to teams that finished the year in the top 10. For Fulmer, “Rival” means Florida; for Brown, “Rival” means Oklahoma.

Fulmer vs. Brown, First Decade
Fulmer Brown
Record 103-25 103-25
National Titles 1 1
Conference Titles 2 1
Division Titles 3 2
vs. AP Top 10 7-14 (.333) 4-15 (.211)
vs. Rival 2-8 (.200) 4-6 (.400)
Heisman Finalists 1 (Manning) 1 (V. Young)

Those two slates are remarkably close. Fulmer did better against the top 10, but Brown did better against his rival school. Brown’s first win against OU did come before Bob Stoops got there, so Mack has gone 3-6 (.333) against his foil.

There have been some key differences: Brown so far has mostly avoided the rash of off-the-field incidents that have plagued Fulmer, while Fulmer won his national title without his Heisman runner up. Brown had more 10-win seasons, but three of them were 10-3 seasons that would have been 9-3 years without the 12th game against a cupcake.

It’s impossible to say where Texas will go in Brown’s second decade. Fulmer has won two more division titles so far in his second decade, but he did have an inexplicable 5-6 record in 2005. The Longhorn faithful point to 2009 as their next best chance to contend for a title, so we shall see.

I just find it funny that the best analogue for Brown’s tenure at UT just so happens to be the other UT: Tennessee.


The Proliferation of Non-Saturday Games

May 19, 2008

Football used to be organized neatly into three days: Friday for high school, Saturday for college, and Sunday for the professionals. Sure, sometimes the pros played on Thursdays or on Saturdays after the college season was over, but they’re money-grubbing professionals. Maximizing profit is what they do.

Then, the past few seasons drove a huge semi truck of disorganization through the scheme as colleges figured out that by playing games on days other than Saturday, they could get more exposure. Drum up some more interest in the program, as it were. ESPN, being run by money-grubbing professionals, has been more than happy to accommodate the trend.

Of course Thursday night college football has been going on since at least 1997, but in the rush to saturate life with as much football as possible, we’ve been getting football on nearly every night of the week. This fall, it continues as we will have college football on every day of the week at some point.

I’ve been going through schedules and though I haven’t finished yet, I have found some Sunday games. Louisville and Kentucky play on the Sunday before Labor Day, which makes sense seeing as how that’s before the NFL begins. UCF appears undeterred by the pros though, as it has two Sunday games in a row: at Tulsa on October 26 and against East Carolina on November 2. As far as I can tell, Labor Day is the only Monday to have a college game.

Tuesday games are rare, and a bad idea in general, but that’s not deterring Houston from meeting Marshall on Tuesday, October 28. Wednesday games also are a bad idea, but Kansas State is still traveling to Louisville on Wednesday, September 17.

There are more Thursday contests than ever it seems, as schools demonstrate a lack of understanding of the law of diminishing returns, and there’s a smattering of Friday games as well. So much for letting the high schools have their day.

The astute observer will note that Louisville’s name came up twice. There is a good reason for that – the Cardinals play only 6 Saturday games all season. Half of their games are elsewhere in the week, with three Thursday games, and one each on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I suppose there must be some sort of bonus for this, more TV revenue perhaps, but if I was a Louisville fan I’d be upset. I mean, playing that many games on non-Saturdays is like begging for attention. Louisville has won a BCS game and just put a quarterback in the NFL. It shouldn’t feel the need to get so much extra attention. Plus, after what happened last year, Louisville might want to shore up the defense some before putting it on proud display.

If nothing else, the proliferation of weekday games shows that university presidents are just blowing smoke when they say that academics are part of why they oppose a playoff. We knew that already, but West Virginia sending its team all the way to Colorado for a Thursday game or Navy of all schools visiting Northern Illinois on a Tuesday proves once and for all what a sack of lies that excuse is.

Just ask Louisville.


Charity Bowl Update: Over $20,000 Raised

May 16, 2008

If you recall, earlier this week I implored you to give for the EDSBS/Fanblogs.com Charity Bowl. It was a donation drive for cyclone, tornado, and earthquake relief.

I am pleased to report that between Monday morning and 8 pm EDT Wednesday night that the donation total was $20,176. That’s phenomenal, considering it was mainly spearheaded by college football blogs and we are now in the depths of the off season.

The winning school was Michigan, coming through with $7,260. It was by far the most and more than the next 6 schools combined. Thanks to the Wolverines for stepping up. Ohio State finished second (natch), with $2,550. Florida finished a respectable third with $1,820.

This really makes me hope that we try this again during the season when readership is at its highest. If we can raised $20,000 in three days while over 100 days from the start of the season, there’s no telling what we could do in the Fall.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.