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July 16, 2008

Improving Matt Stafford?

Image: Hipple

Some of our opponents and some media pundits continually bring up Matthew Stafford's lack of statistical prowess. You've heard it all, he's wildly inaccurate, prone to throw interceptions and/or grossly overrated.

I don't think any of those characterizations are completely fair.

I'm pretty sure that the wild eyed freshman from 2006 that threw 8 INTs over a three game span isn't going to start any games for UGA in 2008. So I question the idea that he's throwing INTs all over the place. In fact, Stafford only threw 10 interceptions in 2006 while the Heisman Winner threw 6. Across a 13 game schedule, that's only 0.31 more interceptions per game than TEH OMG BEST QB EVAH!!1!1!!111!1! (Note: Tebow only threw two more passes last year than Stafford so the comparison holds up.)

This year, Coach Richt set a goal for Stafford to complete 62% of his passes. Last year, he completed 55.7% of his passes. Richt has coached two Heisman winning QBs and the winningest quarterback college football history. If he says that 62% is the right number for Stafford, then who am I or Matt Hayes/Dennis Dodd/Etc to argue? Stafford is only 1.7 completions per game away from that goal. Again, is that really so far off?

As for being a starter he's 17-4 with a 7-2 record against ranked opponents, and he's projected as a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft. If that's overrated, I'm sure he'll take it.

The Nerd Stat Debate:
Another area where Stafford takes nitpicks is his "passing efficiency rating." First let me say that if you don't know the formula for this metric off the top of your head, then how big of a factor can it really be in a QB's success? That said, here is the formula for passing efficiency in college football (nerd time):
    C + Y + T + I = Rating
    C = (Completions / Attempts) * 100
    Y = (Yards / Attempts) * 8.4
    T = (TDs / Attempts) * 330
    I = (INTs / Attempts) * (-200)
Last year Stafford's, Passer Rating was a rather pedestrian 128.9, which was good enough for 56th nationally and 4th in the SEC. Although, it was better than the #1 overall NFL draft Matt Ryan (127.04).

I ran some "what if" numbers for 2008, and this is what Stafford's Passer Rating looks like with only the modest improvements:
  • Percentage: Completing Richt's recommended 62% of passes is a reasonable goal considering it's only 1.7 more completions per game. Assuming the same number of attempts and the same yards per attempt, means Stafford will throw for 2809 yards instead of the 2,523 from last year. The improvement in yards and percentage would increase his passer rating from 128.9 to 143.9. That rating would've been good enough for 3rd in the SEC and 21st nationally in 2007. It's also higher than 4 of the first 5 Div I-A QBs drafted in 2008.

  • TDs: Assuming a modest improvement of 2.0 TDs per game from his 1.5 TDs per game during the regular season, and Stafford would get 26 TDs per game next year. That combined with the percentage improvement would increase his rating to 148.8. This rating would be good enough for 2nd in the SEC this year. Getting to 26 TDs is probably a stretch given that the Bulldogs prefer to run it in. Last year, Georgia had 32 rushing TDs on the year. Two of the three QBs rated above Stafford in the SEC last year were on teams that had 12 or fewer rushing TDs on the season.

  • Interceptions: Every QB throws picks. Last year Stafford threw three massive brain farts INTs. The pick 6 against the Gators, a scrambling INT into triple coverage against Bama and a scrambling INT against Auburn where he was baited into throwing into bracketed coverage. I seriously doubt that his INT total drops much this coming season. He's a gun slinger, and even if he did drop the total it doesn't impact the rating that much.
Bottom line don't hate on Stafford. His stats are either (A) Better than most folks think or (B) easily improved given modest growth in maturity and experience.

Or said wildly differently, he should have the stats and hype to go pro after this season if he wants to.

See Also
-- Matthew Stafford Song - DawgSports



Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you say about Stafford. He is the real deal and our rivals primarily focus on and take comfort in his stats as a true Frosh. My only concern is that he does have a penchant for throwing some horrible interceptions at critical times - see the Bama game twice last year, the ball he threw up for grabs out of the end zone that gave UF a TD to tie the game and a ball thrown right into an Auburn db's hands early in the second half when that game was tight. Those balls were hard to tell who he was even throwing to. Even in the Sugar Bowl, he threw a lazy pass that got tipped when we would have otherwise surely gone in for a TD. Nobody's perfect, but hopefully he'll clean some of that up this year or it will get us beat a time or two in some of the close games that we're sure to face with this schedule.

Anonymous said...

He's actually 7-1 against ranked teams. His only loss against a ranked team was to eventual 2006 national champion Florida. The other three losses were against unranked Kentucky in 2006 as a true freshman, and against USC and UT in 2007 behind a freshmen-laden offensive line. No other active college QB in the country can boast of a similar record against ranked foes.

I've read that Stafford is a big game QB. I think that stat proves it. There's no other QB I rather have leading a team in the fourth quarter if the game is on the line. I think this bodes well for the 2008 season since the schedule is loaded with big games.

Anonymous said...

In defense of Matt, the pick six in the Florida game wasn't the result of a brain fart. He found Massaquoi open in the secondary, but couldn't step into the throw because of the pass rush.

A split second more time to throw and we'd be adding that play onto the highlight reel.

Anonymous said...

Small correction: Stafford is 7-1 against ranked opponents. Tennessee was unranked when we played them last year.

For whatever it's worth.

And that is correct, Blutarsky. If anything, he should have taken the safety on the Pierre-Louis pick-6, but he was into his motion, so that's tough to do. Chester Adams was simply beat off the ball on that play.

Anonymous said...

From Deadspin:

"Georgia sliding in at 8-1 is a horrible bet. They aren’t that much better, if at all, than several teams on their schedule and they have a quarterback in Mathew Stafford who still prefers to pick dandelions on the sideline. So waste your money on the Dawgs if you must."

I don't get too worked up about this stuff, but it does me make me wonder: Was Tennessee the only Georgia game that anyone watched last year?

peacedog said...

Groupthink that lodges itself into public mind is difficult to dislodge.

1. UGA struggled in 06, and Stafford threw lots of INTs while struggling frequently.

2. UGA struggled and lost to SC and then was pummeled by UT.

3. Knowshon Moreno erupted and UGA became a dominant running team.

Ergo, Stafford isn't very good. That ignores a pretty solidbody of work over the stretch last year (UK game notwithstanding), certainly. It wasn't All-American level work or anything, which is part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts:

Dropped balls make a difference as well. I wonder if the 1.7 completions a game can be accounted for in dropped passes. It would require a bit of subjectivity, but I have long thought that dropped passes need to be factored into the QB rating. Of course, a receiver making a great catch on a badly thrown ball might even things out.

There is a timing issue. Some interceptions are not as important as others. For instance, a QB heaving a pass on 3rd and 30 and having it intercepted 50 yards downfield or an interception as time expires in the first half mean far less than perhaps an interception thrown from deep in your own territory.

To me the great QBs (and I am not sure many in college understand this) are the ones who know to throw the ball away and fight another down. Last year I saw Stafford do this more than I recall in the previous years.

Hassan said...

Your passing efficiency goes up dramatically when your receivers catch the ball. Two years ago we had a nasty case of the drops.

Will said...

"and Stafford would get 26 TDs per game next year."

I can say with 100% confidence that if Stafford averages 26 touchdowns per game next season, UGA will win a national title. Even with injuries, all the D needs to do is hold the other team to under 182 and we win!

The TD passes this season will depend on Staford finding a few go-to targets. We've got some potential jump ball TEs and WRs, they just have to do it in games.

Anonymous said...

+ 1 Will

Anonymous said...

I think it is likely Stafford will turn pro after this season, even if he doesn't improve his skill set a great deal.

Most NFL mock draft "experts" have him as a top three pick next year with several having him going #1.

The commissioner and several other NFL big shots have been publicly criticizing the rookie pay scale, and I believe the CBA expires after the upcoming season.

If Stafford wants a shot at that Matt Ryan/Jemarcus Russell $$$, he might have to forego his senior year.

Also, most of the stink is being raised about the pay scale for the top 15 or so draftees. Therefore, I wouldn't expect an unusual number of guys to turn pro early, just those at the elite level.

Anonymous said...

Part of the trick though, Will, is also making sure those points are spread out fairly evenly over the 13 pre-MNC games. Iotw, no 30+ games like '05's defense liked to do from time to time. Those are what kill MNC hopes.

Anonymous said...

Stafford's gone after this year, fwiw. I wish he wasn't as much as every other UGA fan, but he's gone.

Will said...

@ Texas_dawg

So you're saying there'd be a downside to averaging over 180 points/game if say, we dropped 300 on Florida?

Anonymous said...


No, I was saying that for an MNC season, holding defenses under 180 points on the season might not be good enough if it allows over 30 pts in 2-3 games during such a season. Iotw, the defense needs to be good... and consistently good (not just great in 10 of 12 games but really bad in 2).

Anonymous said...

The thing that stood out to me in the video was the number of big plays Sean B. had last season. His numbers were never gaudy, but he made some big plays down the stretch. Hopefully, TK and AJ will step up and fill the gap.

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