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This Couldn't Possibly Get Any Worse Right?

My best friend's stepfather was a Seabee who, before serving in Vietnam, was stationed at a radio relay station in Ethiopia. His stories, which I hear mostly second hand through my friend, but on occasion am lucky enough to get first hand and factually questionable but always true. He described to us that after a day in oppressive heat doing difficult work he and some of the guys in his unit had a few drinks. There was a disagreement with another group that wasn't resolved on the spot. The Seabees decided the best solution would be to Shanghai a baby baboon from wherever you steal baby baboons and turn it loose in the other guys rooms. Mayhem would ensue. So they have another cocktail and go baboon hunting. They find a colony, or whatever you call a group of baboons, and try to sneak up very quietly to make off with one of the small ones. The larger ones are neither fooled nor amused and begin throwing rocks and sticks and baboon dung at the group. The siege fails and they return home having learned that, as we would say today, Baboons don't play. When asked to describe the whole of his time in Ethiopia and later Vietnam he put it concisely:

"Well, that wasn't as much fun as everybody said it was going to be."

Factual? Well I'm guessing there was heat, liquor, bad plans and that they occasionally put up poor fights. The baboons? Not so sure. Still, as long as we're talking about walking unprepared into a situation in the third world which you believe you ought to dominate by simple evolutionary biology if not by strength of your plan only to come back home bloodied by creatures with a superior will if slightly less desirable pedigree, let's discuss the Mississippi State game.

My own father who is casual fan of college football made the comment after the 2009 affairs with Oklahoma State and South Carolina, "yeah, the University of Georgia just isn't that good." Tony Barnhart came to the same conclusion in the AJC, and I give my dad credit as a Chicago Cubs fan for knowing futility when he sees it. This leaves us, if you read the papers, somewhere between a tipping point for the program and Neo-Goffian wasteland where we gather in tribes to stalk heards of Commodores across the plains, dreaming of the days when we might topple an Elephant.

I guess what you might be asking at this point (apart from when does this bizarre introduction get to anything even tangentially related to football), is if our fearless leader is making credible comparisons between the state of the program and the destruction of Solomon's temple, could things be any worse?

Glad you asked. Yes, yes they could.

What I don't think has gone unnoticed in the carnage of Georgia football is that the young man from Tampa Florida has been playing rather well. Just how well is the subject of the rest of this post.

Let's begin by asking whether it really matters just how well the quarterback plays. Often with young quarterbacks, the advice is to "manage the game," and just don't do anything to get us beat. It seems that notably the Bulldawg Nation has had exactly the opposite request for Aaron Murray, to the tune of "open up the playbook," and let the kid throw. Both of these ideas are subjective, perhaps Mike Bobo's idea of opening up the playbook, is a little different than your own. Regardless of how we choose to phrase the concept, quarterback play is important.

Using the 2009 season as a data population I did the following simple calculation.

(Total Points Scored - Total Points Allowed)/Number of Games = Average Margin of Victory or Defeat.

 

You would get the same results if you added each game individually and divided by the number of games. As a sanity check on this statistic here are the top ten teams and the bottom ten teams in my calculation:

 

Top

 

Bottom

 

TCU

25.5

North Texas

-9

Boise State

25.1

Maryland

-10

Florida

23.5

Florida International

-12.4

Texas

22.6

Memphis

-13

Alabama

20.4

Miami (Ohio)

-18.6

Oklahoma

16.6

Western Kentucky

-19.2

Penn State

16.6

New Mexico

-19.6

Ohio State

16.5

Tulane

-20.6

Virginia Tech

16.2

San Jose State

-20.7

Cincinnati

15.5

Rice

-24.8

You can see that the Top teams are pretty good, and the bottom teams are pretty bad.

Then I measured the correlation between the Average Margin of Victory and several statistical categories. The goal here is to see what statistics have a meaningful relationship to the margin of victory or defeat that a team experiences over the season. The statistics I chose were mainly offensive, because what I am eventually interested in measuring is quarterback play's relationship with winning. The results are as follows:

 

Measure:

Correlation to Margin of Victory

Points per game

0.7917

Turnover Margin

0.6111

Passer Rating

0.6096

Kickoff Returns

0.5008

Redzone Scoring %

0.4781

Rushing Yards per Game

0.4564

Rushing Yards per Carry

0.4560

Kickoff Average

0.4396

3rd Down Conversions

0.3646

First Downs

0.3521

Punt Returns

0.3283

Redzone Touchdown %

0.2843

Time of Possession

0.2199

Kickoff Touchback %

0.1651

Penalties

(0.0369)

Fumbles Lost

(0.1377)

Sacks Allowed

(0.4642)

Yards per Point

(0.7944)

A brief word about correlation: The closer you get to 1 (or -1) the stronger the relationship between the two variables. So in this chart, points per game has the strongest correlation to margin of victory. This doesn't help us very much for running a football team but it illustrates the concept well. The same is true for numbers less than zero. Phil Steele's Yards Per Point (i.e. your total yards divided by your total points which measures offensive efficiency) is equally strongly correlated, just in the opposite direction. In other words the as your points per game increases your margin of victory increases. As your yards per points decrease, your margin of victory increases. The relationship between those is strong. The closer something is to zero, the less relationship there is between the two variables. Penalties for instance (which is actually penalty yards per game), is almost random in the way it effects margin of victory.

So we'll set aside points per game because it really doesn't tell us anything. It's kind of like measuring the correlation between points and touchdowns. We know what that's going to look like. I'll leave Yards Per Point to Phil Steele, who I'm sure covers it much better than I can (although it's a pretty awesome stat).

So our next highest correlation is Turnover margin followed by Passer Rating. Since Turnover margin is both an offensive and a defensive statistic, and that's a lot to handle, we'll hit passer rating in some more detail. More than any of the special teams measures, more than any of the offensive line measures, and more than any of the rushing statistics, passer rating correlates to winning. Good teams have good quarterback play, and bad teams do not.

So how well is Georgia's young QB doing? Here are Aaron Murray's numbers through four games, his percentile ranking among all quarterbacks, and how he compares to the average Freshman Quarterback from the 2009 season:

 

 

Att

Comp

Pct.

Yards

Yards/Att

Int

TD

Rating

Att/G

Yards/G

A. Murray 2010 YTD:

105

64

61

879

8.4

2

5

143.17

26.3

219.8

A. Murray Percentile Ranking

52%

47%

39%

65%

73%

21%

31%

63%

36%

54%

2009 Typical Freshman Percentile in 2010 Population

25%

37%

30%

37%

34%

43%

56%

22%

32%

40%

A. Murray Better/(Worse) Typical:

27%

11%

9%

28%

38%

22%

-24%

41%

4%

14%

So what do we see here:

Line 1 is Aaron Murray's statistics through the MSU game.

Line 2 Aaron Murray's percentile ranking among all Quarterbacks in 2010.

Line 3 is the percentile ranking of an average Freshman Quarterback from the 2009 season. To calculate this I took an average of the 16 Freshman Quarterbacks who played between nine and 13 games to create a "Typical Freshman QB" and determined where that Typical Freshman would rank relative to all actual QB's in 2009.

Line 4 is the difference between Aaron Murray and the typical Freshman QB. For the sake of time let's not parse each component of this and skip to passer rating. The Typical Freshman QB is in the 22nd percentile of overall quarterback play (or at least in 2009 he was), Aaron Murray is currently in the 63rd. To put some faces on this that's the difference between Patrick Pickney of East Carolina and Todd Reesing from Kansas. In an interesting coincidence, the 63rd percentile of passer rating from the 2009 season equates to a rating of 136.28. Any guesses who got 135.92? That would be Joe Cox. So let's unpack that a little bit. In his first four games, three of which were losses against SEC teams, two of whom are ranked in the top 25, and two of which were on the road, without the team's best wide receiver, and with the 87th best rushing offense in the country (vs. the 47th for Cox in 2009), how would you have expected Aaron Murray's performance to have compared to that of the 2009 senior? Better in both absolute and relative terms? Because that is what happened.

So we were asking could things get any worse. Yup. You could have your actual senior quarterback from last year, or you could have a typical freshman.

Here, for your viewing pleasure is what the numbers for a typical freshman would look like comparing Aaron Murray's relative performance year to date, to a typical Freshman QB's performance Ytd. The Annualized section extrapolates Murray's four games to twelve (I'm not going to thirteen just yet) and compares it to the typical freshman.

 

 

Att

Comp

Pct.

Yards

Yards/Att

Int

TD

Rating

Att/G

Yards/G

A. Murray vs. Typical Freshman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2010 A. Murray:

105

64

61

879

8.4

2

5

143.17

26.3

219.8

2010 Result from 2009 Typical Freshman Percentile:

87

61

59

698

6.9

3.0

6.0

122.35

25.0

205.6

Annualized

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2010 A. Murray:

315

192

61

2637

8.4

6

15

143.17

26.25

219.8

2010 Result from 2009 Typical Freshman Percentile:

309

183

59

2093

6.8

9

18

129.52

25.7

174.4

A. Murray Better/(Worse)

6

9

2

544

1.6

3

-3

13.65

0.5

45.3

As a % of Typical Freshman

2%

5%

3%

26%

23%

33%

-17%

11%

2%

26%

But hold on a second you say! Joe Cox, bless his ginger, gritty, shaved head, lead by example, character guy, not getting arrested, loves his mother and apple pie heart, um sucked. Yeah, I know. More specifically he sucked at not throwing the ball to the other team (to the tune of fifteen interceptions). Nor was he great at throwing it successfully to his own team (56% completions). But still, you'd expect a freshman to be a step up? Even without A.J. Green? Even without a respectable running game? I did not.

So let's look at Aaron Murray in comparison to someone who didn't suck. Matthew Stafford. How do we know Stafford doesn't suck? Well the Detroit Lions have 41.7 million reasons, and by God if there was ever a reliable measure of football talent it was that Detroit was willing to spend money on it. That's never failed to my memory. Ok, Detroit sucks too, but I think we can agree that Stafford did not. The number one pick in the draft in is pretty good evidence for your lack of badness, at least as a college player. Hell, Ryan Leaf was good in college.

So let's look at how Aaron Murray compares to Matthew Stafford. Just for fun let's look at Stafford's senior season:

 

 

Att

Comp

Pct.

Yards

Yards/Att

Int

TD

Rating

Att/G

Yards/G

A. Murray vs. M. Stafford (Sr.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. Murray (annualized)

315

192

61

2637

8.4

6

15

143.17

26.25

219.8

M. Stafford 2008

383

235

61

3459

9.0

10

25

153.54

29.5

266.1

A. Murray Better/(Worse)

-68

-43

0

-822

-0.6

4

-10

-10.37

-3.3

-46.4

As a % of M. Stafford Senior Year

-18%

-18%

-1%

-24%

-7%

40%

-40%

-7%

-11%

-17%

So Stafford's pretty clearly better, but maybe not by quite as much as you would expect. Notably Stafford threw for a lot more touchdowns and yards, but he also threw more interceptions. So in summary this table tells us what should be blatantly obvious without any analysis, Aaron Murray is not as good as the NFL's number one draft pick.

But how about when Stafford was a freshman:

 

Att

Comp

Pct.

Yards

Yards/Att

Int

TD

Rating

Att/G

Yards/G

A. Murray vs. M. Stafford (Fr.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. Murray (annualized)

315

192

61

2637

8.4

6

15

143.17

26.25

219.8

M. Stafford 2006

256

135

53

1749

6.8

13

7

108.98

19.7

134.5

A. Murray Better/(Worse)

59

57

8

888

1.6

7

8

34.19

6.6

85.3

As a % of M. Stafford Freshman Year

23%

42%

16%

51%

23%

54%

114%

31%

33%

63%

 Here is the percentile rankings of Freshman Stafford and Freshman Murray among the 2009 population of quarterbacks.

Matthew Stafford 2006: .5%

Aaron Murray 2010: 79%

This means that Freshman Stafford's passer rating was better than exactly one guy in the 2009 season, Donovan Porterie from New Mexico. If Murray plays exactly the way that he has for the rest of the season (and we just plunked it into 2009) he would be better than 78% of quarterbacks. That means that he would have had a better season than Greg McElroy from Alabama, Terrell Pryor from Ohio State, and Landry Jones from Oklahoma, just to name a few.

So in summary could things be worse? They could, the quarterback could be playing at the level of last year's senior quarterback, a first round draft pick at a comparable point in his development, or the guy that took snaps for last year's national champion.

That's it for the math. The stats are from www.cfsbstats.com.

Last thing I'll leave you with. There are some big holes in this. Like the fact that passer rating certainly isn't everything. It has its flaws. Additionally there is way more to winning football than your quarterback play. I'm ok with that. That said Aaron Murray is playing better than I think I could have reasonably expected. I think he's going to get better. I think there is good reason to believe this. If I didn't think that, things would definitely be worse.

 

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