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 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.
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.
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:
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.