Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gophers Preview: BIG SLINGERS

So did you make it through all of the defensive previews?  You did?  No way! Color me impressed.  To the hundreds (dozens?) of you that are still here we have a special treat.  And to our repeated Ukrainian visitors that keep making their way here, let me say:

Привіт і спасибі за відвідування. Нехай усі ваші вороги вмирають у вогні

Allow those of us at SGH to introduce a new bit we're calling Gopher Numerology!!!  Watch as we confuse and bend numbers to our will in order to receive the outcomes we desire!  Be amazed at the mystic powers of Frothy and TRE as they accurately predict* the future!  Seriously, this is totally happening and you are not on purple drank stumbling around Block E.

In 2014 the quarterback position is as clear as hill people moonshine.  Mitch Leidner is the quarterback and the only way he loses the job is if he suffers from spontaneous combustion, or you know, another injury.  He will not fall on this face as other somewhat-hyped Gopher QBs have.  How do we know?  Freaking Numerology, son.

While we saw some moments from Leidner in 2013, especially on the run, we were left wanting more.  As I was consulting star charts and contemplating the color green I thought to myself:

How many quarterbacks started as a freshman or sophomore and had similar numbers to Leidner?  And self, how did those quarterbacks fare in their second year and how did their last season at quarterback go?
To the googles and I went.  They have this neat CFB search engine where I looked up 2000-2013 Quarterbacks with similar stats to Leidner.  I used the following thresholds: from 2000 to 2013, requiring Pass Attempts <= 150 and Passing Yards >= 400 and Rushing Yards >= 300 and Rush Attempts <= 150, sorted by descending Passing Efficiency Rating.

I threw out the military schools where they never pass as well as recent QBs that haven't finished their career yet.  I threw out position changes (except Colter) and players that lost their job (the mystics say Leidner will play the next three years). 

Using that list and those assumptions, we're left with a pretty small and interesting list. 

Looking at Leidner's peers here, only Colter and Lovecchio were not drafted by the NFL.  We have a Heisman winner and a finalist in Smith and Young.  Now granted, Leidner is last in passing yards and 3rd to last in rushing yards out of this group, but these are the thresholds that I randomly chose and he didn't play full time in 2013 with Phillip Nelson appearing in 11 games.

Some of these players are elite runners at the quarterback position, and I don't think we'll ever say that about Leidner.

Let's look at how these players performed in their second year:

Lovecchio lost his job to Carlyle Holiday and we'll see him in the final table as a member of the Indiana Hoosiers.  Counting numbers are up across the board with amazing rushing totals and touchdowns.  Smith and Harris clear the 2000 passing yard mark, but passer rating on average goes down as more INTs are thrown. Completion percentage is slightly up despite throwing nearly twice as often. 

Let's skip ahead to each QB's final year:

First, Kain Colter was kind of crazy productive, no?  I mean, this doesn't even count his 63 receptions at Northwestern.  Other than Lovecchio, this group ended up being very, very good.  Tyrod Taylor goes from 2:7 TD:INT ratio as a sophomore to 24:5 as a senior.  VY and Smith are insanely good obviously, with Smith going almost all pocket passing.  White and Harris were monster dual thread guys that really improved their passing numbers as well.  Look at the average, nearly 3000 combined rushing and passing yards and 28 touchdowns.  Sign me up for some of that!  The last Gopher QB to get 2800 combined yards and 25 combined TDs was Adam Weber in 2007... but he also threw 19 interceptions.  Prior to that it was Billy Cockerham in 1999.

I don't think we're sitting on the next Vince Young (but they are the same size!), or Troy Smith,  However, I do think there's evidence that quarterbacks have had a less than overwhelming start to their career and have really progressed, especially as a passer.  Can Leidner become an even better runner and do more damage through the air this year?

TRE's Grade

Rubric: Marc Trestman - F

I'm using Marc Trestman because when I was delving into I found myself checking out and being somewhat underwhelmed by Tony Dungy's stats as a Gopher QB.  It was a different era and stuff though, I get that.  In doing so, however, I came across the glory that is Marc Trestman's college football career.  Trestman of course has coached at a number of stops including some assistant work with the Vikings and is the current head coach of the Chicago Bears.  He's known as an offensive minded head coach and last year with the Bears he led them to break several offensive records including total yards.

At Minnesota, Trestman backed up Dungy for a couple of years and then Wendell Avery (who also ended up in coaching for awhile).

Trestman's career stats passing:  10-40, 151 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
That's good for a 47.1 passer rating.  He did score a TD on the ground (32 carries for 31 yards career!).

It must have taken some amazing perseverance to stay in football after a career like that.  Oh wait, he WROTE A BOOK ON PERSEVERENCE!

:blowsout:  So anyway, we're certainly in better shape than that at quarterback with Leidner.  I'm cautiously optimistic about his growth as a passer and we already know he can do some damage with his legs.  Until I see more, hopefully a lot more, I'm giving the QB position a C grade.  If Leidner goes down by the way, hide yo wife and hide yo kids and go to the triple option.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Billy Cockerham - B-

Billy was the quarterback during my most formative years as a Gopher fan. And by that I mean I became booze legal during the Cockerham era. The realization that likker effectively numbed the pain of Gopher fandom was a critical finding and one I've wholeheartedly embraced in the subsequent years. Oh, Billy, thank you for being on the field while I walked the path to Robitussin-induced numbness for the first time.

Cockerham had a nice little career with the Gophers. He got some very limited run in his freshmen and sophomore years, split time with Andy Persby during his junior year and was the big man on campus for his senior year. Regarded as one of the better running quarterbacks in Gopher history, he had a decent passing season in the 1999 season, where the Gophers finished with a winning record in the B1G for the first time since Noah built that big boat.

I chose Billy because I think his senior year campaign is what we can expect to see from Leidner this year. Since this is our first run at GOPHER NUMEROLOGY, I figured I'd better include some stats:

My gut feeling is that Leidner 2014 and Cockerham 1999 are fairly comparable: both are oriented in a run-first offense (Thomas Hamner had 1,426 rushing yards in 1999), both are effectively entering their second seasons as contributors and first as full-time starters and both will rely on an opportunistic defense led by a strong secondary. I think Cockerham was a better pure runner than Leidner, but Mitch probably has better passing credentials than Cockerham did.

People have been speculating that, given our lack of experienced depth at QB (we won't be doing a depth chart in this post because the abyss, it is dark) Leidner won't be running very much. I'm not so sure that's the case. The offense is kind of the offense at this point, and I doubt the coaches are going to radically modify their philosophy to accommodate depth concerns at quarterback. In terms of percentage of total plays from scrimmage, I'd expect Leidner to rush less; but that's more of a function of him only passing on 29.7% of the plays. He won't be running on 70% the time, but he's still going to get a healthy share of carries. Begin purchase of Pepto Bismol now.

With regard to passing, I think Cockerham's numbers are at the high end of what we can hope for from Leidner. The completion percentage isn't where we'd like to see it, but I'd be happy with 2,000 yards passing and a 1.5-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Who knows, maybe there's some upside and I just need to believe in the dream? Grade: B-.

(Frothy's starting word count: 12,442; Finishing word count: 12,899)

*Predictions not guaranteed to be accurate.

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