“Time is a Flat Football” is a series of posts which will explore players from Michigan football history members of the 2015 team resembles the most. Tackled in these posts will be the offensive “skill” position groups: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Receivers/Tight Ends. My apologies go out to the offensive line, but it’s very difficult to get o-line statistics, and more difficult to compare the groups. I used Python and Pandas almost exclusively for this quick, unscientific trip to the past, which is intended mostly to be a “Diary” post on the MGoBlog website.
Disclaimer: Obviously caveats do apply here. These are namely the effects of other position groups, coaching, and style of offense on the players being analyzed. I plan to deal with these issues by completely ignoring them. It’s the off season, people.
This year’s QB race appears to be between RS Sr transfer Jake Rudock and true Jr Shane Morris. We’ve watched Morris for the last few years and have become acquainted with Rudock’s work thanks to a number of front page and board posts on the newly minted Wolverine. Let’s take a look at their stats, gathered from sports-reference.com.
Before we get going here, I’ll explain a few of the statistics shown above (and a few that are included later).
- Cls – Class (1 – Freshman, 2 – Sophomore, etc)
- Pct – Completion Percentage (Cmp/Att)
- Y/A – Passing Yards per Attempt
- AY/A – Adjusted Yards per Attempt ( [Yds + 20 * TD – 45 * Int] / Att)
- Rate – QB Rating ( [8.4 * Yds + 330 * TD – 200 * Int + 100 * Cmp] / Att)
- TD/Int – (TD – Int)
Rudock is the more experienced of the two, with a full season’s worth of starter snaps to look at. Let’s fire up the time machine and see who looks similar statistically.
Like Rudock, each of these players completed their RS Jr season and stuck around for their RS Sr year. As has been covered by others, an apt comparison for RS Junior Rudock is RS Junior Gardner from the 2013 season. Attempts, completion percentages, and TD/Int ratio are very similar. The major difference between 2013 Gardner and 2014 Rudock is in the yardage, where Gardner averaged about 1.5 more Yds/Att and 1.1 more Adjusted Yds/Att. This can be interpreted in two ways. Either Gardner threw downfield more often or Rudock’s receivers were unable to pick up as many yards after the catch.
Beyond the Gardner comparisons, Rudock appears to be a less turnover prone version of 1998 RS Junior Tom Brady, which is nice. Rudock had 22 more attempts than Brady and 5 less INTs with a TD/Int ratio of +11 to Brady’s +4. The Y/Att and Adjusted Y/Att are very similar, and the QB Ratings are damn near identical. Let’s see how these RS Junior QBs (and more specifically Brady) progressed between their final years.
The overwhelming evidence here suggests that Michigan quarterbacks have already reached their full potential by the 4 year mark. There are a few major outliers here, with guys like Jim Harbaugh and Devin Gardner taking a major step back in their TD/Int ratio. Generally fifth year senior QBs have higher completion percentages compared to their RS junior years, while also throwing a few more interceptions.
As far as what we can expect from Rudock based on this data, we should see him remain largely the same. If he is Tom Brady 2.0 he might see a bump in his TD/Int ratio, but given that Tom Brady was operating at a much less efficient pace than Rudock, I wouldn’t expect much change there. Insert the mitigating factors such as a new school, new coach, and new system, and I’d expect Rudock to operate at a lower level this year, perhaps only due to a limited playbook and increased reliance on a running game I expect Harbaugh to be pretty stubborn on getting to work.
Bottom Line: Jake Rudock should have a season similar to RS Sr Tom Brady (1999).
The 1999 team went 10-2 and most notably beat OSU and Alabama. Brady had help in the form of Anthony Thomas and David Terrell, both of which compare very favorably to guys on the 2015 roster. If you’re a glass half full kinda guy Rudock will be drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots and should ditch Tinder for a Victoria’s Secret catalog. If you’re like me you might be worried about Rudock’s supporting cast. Still, a guy like Rudock should be able to come in and Alabama QB the 2015 Michigan squad to a decent offensive season.
Now let’s say Shane Morris wins the starting job come September. In this case we’ll want to compare him to other players with limited playing experience. Below is a list of Michigan QBs who took on either the starting role or a significant portion of the QB snaps after seeing a similar amount of game experience to Shane Morris. Note that many of these QBs have a little more experience in terms of Attempts. Also, keep in mind that these comparisons have only been made for QBs who started or played significant portions of their upperclassmen careers. Morris may become one of these guys or he could spend the season as the backup and get another chance at the starting gig next year.
At this point Morris has seen two seasons of limited action. His stats from last year look…rough, so I’ll mostly be using his 2013 stats in comparisons. I believe (hope) his 2013 stats more accurately represent what he’s capable of doing. The table above also shows other Michigan QBs since 1975 with similar experience who went on to start as upperclassmen. I made the cutoff at no more than 110 Attempts in a season and no less than 20, which did include starter Rick Leach who showed up just as the forward pass was gaining traction.
A couple things stick out right away here: Morris looks similar to a number of QBs who were fairly successful. Rick Leach (who started both the 1975 and 1976 seasons) had one similarly uninspiring season to Morris’ 2014, as far as Completion Percentage goes, and also a tough time with turnovers. The best comparison to Morris’ freshman season might actually be Todd Collins’ 1991 sophomore campaign. The completion percentages are nearly identical, as are the Yards/Attempt. Sample sizes are obviously small, but these are guys who were primarily coming off the bench at that point in their career.
The more troubling thing that sticks out here is that Morris’ sophomore season was significantly less promising than his freshman season. Every important stat went in the wrong direction. His TD/Int ratio is similar to Denard’s 2009 freshman campaign. Morris may be mobile for a quarterback who isn’t known for his speed, but he does not have Robinson’s running ability to make up for his passing. What does this mean? I don’t know exactly. Let’s see how each of these guys turned out the next season.
Todd Collins, arguably the most similar QB to Morris, put up the most impressive next season. After seeing a moderate number of snaps during his Sophomore and Junior years, he made an important leap from his to his Senior year in Adjusted Y/Att, jumping from 6.9 to 8.6. Morris is in a similar situation this year, after seeing limited action his Freshman and Sophomore years.
Based on the rest of these seasons, it appears that we should expect a small degree of improvement in nearly all important statistics if we see a JR Shane Morris starting this season. A “Todd Collins”-like jump is best case scenario, and at that point we’d be looking at a relatively efficient and effective QB.
However, if we apply the average improvement numbers for newly minted starting QBs entering their third year of play to Morris’ freshman (best) season, we’re looking at a guy averaging about 5.9 Y/A and 4.0 AY/A, which is most comparable to a RS Sophomore John Navarre (6.3 Y/A, 5.8 AY/A). Morris’ numbers are obviously significantly lower, which is in part due to Ints making up a decent proportion of his Attempts. Hopefully he’s a victim of a small sample size and not poor decision making.
Bottom Line: Should he start, Shane Morris could have a season similar to RS Sophomore John Navarre (2001).
While Navarre was not the most efficient QB in terms of Completion Percentage (just 53.8%), he was asked to shoulder a lot of the offensive load that year, attempting 346(!) passes on a team with both B.J. Askew and Chris Perry on the roster. Somehow this team didn’t have a 1,000 yd rusher. The 2001 team went 8-4, which seems like a reasonable expectation for this year. The major caveat to this comparison is that John Navarre’s supporting cast included All-American WR Marquise Walker, a luxury Morris will have to do without.
What Does It All Mean?
Whether Rudock or Morris wins the starting spot, we’re probably going to be looking at a borderline competent starter at worst and a pretty damn good one at best. This is doubly true when looking at the QB spot in a vacuum. That being said, an offense is made up of the QB and 10 other guys, and these 10 guys for Rudock or Morris are probably not equivalent to the guys Brady and Navarre were able to rely on. Of course, I wouldn’t rule out a breakout year by one of the talented RBs on the roster which could take some pressure off the QB position.