Monday, October 13, 2008

Three Down: Quarterback Change

Chris Nickson has been removed as Vanderbilt's starting QB in favor of Mackenzi Adams. Photo by Tennessean.
There's nothing that gets a fan base riled up quite like a quarterback controversy. Some thoughts from the weekend:

Nickson and Mackenzi. I've always been a huge Chris Nickson fan. Before this season I was the one arguing that he was the key to the year - that he gave Vandy it's best chance of winning.

But after watching the last two games I can't imagine anyone thinking Adams shouldn't be the starter.

On the year, Vandy has run 341 plays. If you count sacks as passing plays instead of running plays (which the NFL does but the NCAA does not), Vandy has run 118 passing plays and 223 rushing plays. That's 35% passing and 65% rushing.

In 2005, Jay's senior year, we threw the ball on 56% of all plays (and that's without correcting for sacks, so the ratio should actually be higher). In 2006 it dropped to 47%. In 2007 it dropped to 42%. And now in 2008 it's down to 35%. Instead of the offensive staff gaining confidence in Chris and his throwing ability as he's matured, they seem to be losing it.

Clearly, we are throwing the ball less this year. Chris Nickson is 13th in the 12 team SEC in passing attempts. And he's outside the top 12 in completions, completion percentage, and QB rating. I would say that there's convincing evidence that either (a) Chris Nickson can't throw the ball well enough to be an SEC quarterback, or (b) the coaching staff doesn't have enough confidence in him to find out. He's a great runner - second in the league in rushing TD's behind Knowshon Moreno, ninth in carries, 13th in average despite those seven sacks - but that's probably not enough to beat great teams.

There's a lot hidden in the game of football from a commoner like me - was that a bad play call, or a bad route, or a bad read, etc. - but one thing that is clear is that Adams is more likely to complete forward passes than Chris Nickson. As Bobby J mentioned today in naming Adams the starter, "Mackenzi has demonstrated he can sit in the pocket and figure things out and see who's open and do a good job of hitting them." Sounds good to me.

Time to get off the bench, Mac - you're the new starting quarterback for #22 Vanderbilt. Photo by Tennessean.
Steady Eddie. Do you realize that Vanderbilt has improved it's average margin of victory (well, more typically defeat) in each of Bobby J's seven seasons?

2002: -10.8 points
2003: -10.3 points
2004: -6.7 points
2005: -2.0 points
2006: -1.7 points
2007: -0.9 points
2008: +8.2 points

The 2008 number will likely go down after we play Florida and Georgia, but that's still an impressive trend. Restricted to SEC games the progress hasn't been as steady - -15, -17, -10, -6, -9, -7, +6 - but that's still change I can believe in.

Big Six. In surprising fashion, Vanderbilt lost an opportunity to go 6-0 by losing to Mississippi State at Scott Field. But under Bobby Johnson Vanderbilt has lost the sixth game of the season every season. Starting in 2002 with a loss to MTSU, we've lost at State, at Georgia, vs LSU, at Ole Miss, vs Georgia, and at State.

And some of those are the worst losses in the Bobby J era (which should be a column we do, Diezba). There's last year's Georgia game which, save for CJG's fumble, was a game Vandy had already won. The Ole Miss game in 2006 when Vanderbilt had 400 yards to Ole Miss' 179 and still found a way to lose (four lost fumbles will do that). And then that MTSU game in 2002 which was the only game of Jay Cutler's career that he didn't start. Who was more at fault, Benji Walker or those taunting blue lights?

I used to have a theory regarding the "Weekend Before Fall Break" game, but this sixth game effect might be greater. (We beat South Carolina during the Weekend Before Fall Break last year).

So who is on tap for Game 6 in 2009? The Black Knights of Army on the road at West Point. Upset alert.

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