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Why Isn't Your Quarterback a System Quarterback?

What goes through your mind when someone says something like, "Graham Harrell's a pretty good quarterback, but he's a system quarterback." My usual response is something along the lines of what exactly do you mean? Do you mean that he runs a specific offense and this offense is tailored around his strengths and weaknesses? If that's the case, then every quarterback is a system quarterback in some regard.

I'll concede that every Texas Tech quarterback under Coach Leach is a "system" quarterback, but why isn't your team's quarterback a "system" quarterback and what's so wrong with a "system" quarterback (at this point I'm going to stop using quotes around "system" because it seems silly)?

Rather than blather on about my personal feelings for those who question my love for all system quarterbacks let's look at some numbers:

-Year- -Player- -Yards- -Attempts- -TD's- -INT's- -Comp. %- -Wins-
2000 Kingsbury 3,418 585 21 17 61.9 7
2001 Kingsbury 3,502 529 25* 9 69.0 7
2002 Kingsbury 5,017 712 45 13 67.3 9
2003 Symons 5,336 666 48 21 64.4 8
2004 Cumbie 4,742 642 32 18 65.6 8
2005 Hodges 4,197 531** 31 12 66.5 9
2006 Harrell 4,555 617 38 11 66.8 8
AVG ---- 4,395 611 32 14 65.9

*Kingsbury's first 2 years in the Air Raid offensive system were not what is now expected. It took time, but not since 2001 has a quarterback thrown for less than 31 touchdowns.

**Hodges had 109 rushing attempts in 2005, thus decreasing the number of overall attempts than the normal Texas Tech season.

I thought that the above referenced 7 Texas Tech football season would be the most representative of the current state of the quarterback position, but I also thought that we should be armed with national averages. Let's take a look at the averages for all 119 Division I teams for the year 2006:

-Year- -Yards- -Attempts- -TD's- -INT's- -Comp. %- -Wins-
2006 2,616 368 18 12 57.9 6.5

Disclaimer: I realize that this is not entirely an accurate study, they are just numbers and numbers can be twisted in many different ways. This is intended to be a fun exercise so just go with it. I'm sure there are flaws in my logic and I think it would be great for you to point them out, nothing wrong with a healthy debate.

Now that we've got the disclaimers out of the way, what exactly is a system quarterback? Perhaps, we should try and define "system" first. Is a system an offensive or defensive philosophy that is specifically designed to maximize the potential and ability of every player on the field? It's not a perfect definition, but it's a working definition. Next, a "system quarterback" might be a quarterback who operates this system in the most efficient manner which should result in yards gained, touchdowns scored and games won.

Specifically, what might the elements be for such a definition: efficiency, yards gained, touchdowns and wins. I know, ultimately it's a simple definition, but most things in life should be a lot more simple than they actually are and I'm a simple guy so that's my definition.

  • Efficiency: To me there are two parts to being efficient from a quarterback's perspective: the ability to complete a pass with a high rate of success and gain yards and subsequently touchdowns. We'll get to the yards and touchdowns later, but it seems to me that it's pretty clear that Texas Tech is able to complete a pass at a much higher than the national average. For comparison purposes, the watermark was set by Hawaii last year and Colt Brennan completed passes at a 72.2% rate. Five different Texas Tech quarterbacks combined for a 65.9 average, that's 9% better than the national average, which considering the variable of different quarterbacks and the high volume of attempts, is pretty impressive.

    Next, the national average for touchdowns per attempts in 2006 was 20 (368/18), while the average for the 7 season Texas Tech sample was 19 (611/32). Huh. Now that's interesting and something I never would have expected. I'd say that Texas Tech is just as effective passing the ball from a scoring perspective than the average of schools who try to balance their offenses by running more than Texas Tech does.

    One other note, is the low total of interceptions in relation to high number of attempts. The national average of interceptions per attempts is 30, while Texas Tech quarterbacks average only 1 interception per 43 attempts.

  • Yards: I'm not sure how much there is to say here other than to state the obvious. Texas Tech throws for 1,800 more yards in a season than the national average. That means that from a passing perspective Texas Tech is creating more opportunities to score in the hopes of achieving offensive success (i.e. scoring touchdowns).

    Perhaps the more telling statistic is the yards per attempt and Texas Tech (7.19) and the national average (7.10) are almost identical. So, despite the the preconceived thought that all Texas Tech does is dink-and-dunk their way down the field, the Red Raiders are still on par with the rest of the country, and even slightly better.

  • Touchdowns: The ultimate goal of any offense is to score touchdowns. Simple math (there's really no other type of math that I understand) tells us that the national average for touchdowns scored per game for quarterbacks is approximately 1.5 while Texas Tech quarterbacks score at a 2.6 touchdown per game rate. Once again, getting the ball in the endzone is the key and the Red Raiders have been fairly efficient at doing this.

  • Wins: Wins are a little different animal. The national average for wins is only 6.5, which means that the national average of 119 Division I teams are eligible for a bowl (that's a scary thought). But I have a greater expectation of success and I think most Red Raiders do too. For the past 7 seasons, the Red Raiders have averaged 8 wins a season. That's pretty damn good, especially when you consider that Texas Tech is competing in the Big 12 South. I'd like to see a Big 12 Championship and eventually a national championship, but I'm pretty happy with 8 wins a season. The longer Leach stays the higher my expectations, but that's just a part of the job.

So what has this exercise taught us? For me it's that despite the various types of Texas Tech quarterbacks, as a group, they are highly efficient, they get the ball down the field and they score, a lot.

If having a system quarterback means having a quarterback who is generally very successful at what he does, there's relatively little drop-off in production from year to year and the average Texas Tech quarterback leads his team to touchdowns then I'll take it.

It's pretty remarkable if you consider what Leach & Co. have been able to do over the past 7 seasons. If a quarterback is a part of a system, shouldn't this quarterback or any future quarterback have almost identical success as his predecessors? Conversely, shouldn't all quarterbacks have the same average level of success if the offensive system doesn't change for a number of years? My point is that somehow the Texas Tech coaching staff has been able to coach their quarterbacks to a certain level of success which has been sustained for the past 5 quarterbacks and for the past 7 years, while other schools who also have offensive systems haven't been near as consistent or successful. Take Virginia Tech for example, quick, tell me who the starting quarterback is? I know for sure that I don't know, but the point is that Beamer has been at Virginia Tech for over a decade has had time to develop a system of success, but their quarterbacks (sans two brothers, one of whom has been the news recently) and general offensive success, for the most part, are nondescript.

The past 5 Texas Tech quarterbacks have been very successful, but is their success predicated on the system or is it the players themselves? To have 5 quarterbacks (none of whom were highly rated prospects except for Graham Harrell) have their type of success is either very lucky or good coaching. Perhaps it's a little of both, but considering all of the factors that goes into creating a good quarterback, I think it's the latter.