KU's Quarterbacks: A Look At The Numbers

I'm from Utah. I'm also about as good an athlete as the first sentence would suggest.

At this point, we all have an idea of who Webb and Mecham are.  We saw each for less than a full season, but it was enough to give us a basic scouting report on each.  The traditional thinking is that Webb is more of the high risk/high reward guy.  He throws more picks, but has a stronger arm and can make some plays that Mecham can't.  Mecham is thought of as a game manager type of QB.  We see him as a guy who looks more comfortable in the pocket, makes better decisions, and while he doesn't have the arm to make the big throws, he's more reliable and less likely to turn the ball over.

But in the words of one Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friend.  I turned to the stat sheets to get an idea of how accurate these perceptions really are.

One stat people love to look at when analyzing quarterback play is touchdown:interception ratio.  Obviously, TDs represent the best possible outcome any time the ball is thrown, while picks are the worst.  Generally, you'd like to see a TD:int ratio of at least 2:1.  This was not the case for either of our quarterbacks. More interesting is that their ratios were almost identical.  Webb had 7 TDs and 8 picks, which is a ratio of .88:1.  Mecham, meanwhile, threw 4 TDs and 5 ints, a ratio of .8:1.

So TD:int ratio says there's little difference in their effectiveness.  This isn't earth-shattering, but one would think Mecham would have done slightly better here, given his reputation for taking care of the ball better than Webb.  Next, we'll turn to the interception numbers themselves.  Webb threw more picks, but that's almost a given since he threw twice as many passes.  Given the uneven pass attempts, I broke down the numbers to find out how frequently each QB threw an interception.  In the end, Webb threw one pick for every 27 passes he attempted.  That's bad, but not surprising.  What may be more surprising to you is that Mecham threw the ball to the other team once out of every 20 times he let go of the ball.  That's really bad.  Based on last season, you'd have to say the myth of Quinn Mecham as the careful QB who won't turn it over is busted.

Since Mecham's numbers belied his reputation, I figured I'd go on to compare the two QBs' overall effectiveness, to see who looks like the better option to play the position overall.  Here's the basic statistical profile for each...

Mecham: 61-102 (59.8%), 554 yards, 4 TDs, 5 ints.
Webb: 121-214 (56.5%), 1195 yards, 7 TDs, 8 ints.

Two things jump out at me.  The first: My God they sucked.  Second, Mecham didn't see as much action as Webb did.  So I'll concede that Quinn's sample size is small, and his numbers probably can't be extrapolated to judge him entirely.  I'll also respond by saying they were so atrocious that they can't be ignored. 

As you can see, the lone advantage Mecham has is in his completion percentage, which is borderline palatable at near 60%.  Of course, when you won't throw the ball more than 5 yards downfield, a high completion rate should be expected.  Mecham trails Webb in yards per completion (9.1 compared to 9.9) and yards per attempt (5.4 to 5.6).  This brings me to my favorite stat for analyzing quarterback play...adjusted yards per attempt.

Basically, adjusted yards per attempt is similar to the more commonly used "passer efficiency rating," but is way better.  I won't bore you with my criticisms of the passer rating formula, but suffice it to say I hate it.  Adjusted yards/attempt measures a QB's efficiency in much more concrete fashion.  Essentially, it takes all outcomes of a player's passes into consideration, and tells you, on average, how many yards they are truly gaining (or losing) each time they throw the ball.  On average, a pick costs a team about 45 yards of field position, so the passing yards are penalized accordingly in the formula.  Different formulas can vary when it comes to TDs, but they are not heavily rewarded, since they don't truly add anything to your yards gained.

To give you a frame of reference, in 2007, Todd Reesing's a/ya was 7.85, meaning each time the ball left his hand, the average outcome was a net 7.85 yard gain for KU.  In '08, his ay/a was 7.32 and in '09, it was 6.83.  Here are the ay/a numbers from last year...

Mecham: 3.62 ay/a
Webb: 4.23 ay/a

That might not look like a huge difference, but think about it this way: Webb's ay/a was 14% higher than Mecham's.  This means each Webb pass was 14% more effective than each Mecham pass from a yardage standpoint.  That's pretty significant on a team as strapped for yardage and points as the Jayhawks were last season.

It's not hard to guess my where opinion lies in this fall's quarterback battle.  When you look at each quarterback's production, and combine it with the fact that Webb, being a sophomore, has more room to grow, there's really no comparison.  Still, I know many fans were understandably frustrated with some of Webb's reckless throws last year, and won't back down on Mecham being the more reliable option. At the end of the day, we can only hope that whoever is at the helm does much better than he did last year.

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