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ACC Quarterback Roundup

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Taking a look at some ACC QB numbers on the year so far.

NCAA Football: Army at Wake Forest Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, the Deacs lost a game they were favored to win. You can read more about that, if for some reason you want to, in other stories we’ve posted in the past few days. It was an upsetting performance for fans, and I’m sure the team and staff feels even worse. That said, I agree with Riley that this doesn’t mean the season is over. Hey, I didn’t expect us to win at Duke; if I had to choose I would rather get that one and lose to Army than beat Army and lose to Duke. To keep things in perspective, both Sagarin and S&P+ have Army ranked better than either UVA or BC, who we will be hosting at home.

Regardless, the Wake fanbase is understandably restless. Many of the complaints have been directed towards QB John Wolford. As the unquestioned lead QB after Kendall Hinton went down in the Delaware game, Wolford has led the team to a 2-3 record. However, it’s hard to read too much into just wins and losses, because two of those losses were games where Wake was a significant underdog (at NC State and FSU) and one of the wins was a road upset (at Indiana). About all we can say is that it’s been a mixed bag in terms of wins and losses. Plus, quarterbacks don’t play in a vacuum. Offensive playcalling, WR performance, O line performance, and even RB performance can all seriously impact QB performance. And, of course, the opposing defenses get to throw in their two cents as well.

So, to get a better sense of context and where our QB performance has fallen in the conference, I looked at a variety of 2016 numbers for each ACC team’s lead QB (most pass attempts).

Lamar Jackson (UofL) 58.3 9.31 22 5 16 38 8.1% 1.8% 4.4 159.6 89.6
Mitch Trubisky (UNC) 71.2 8.34 18 2 4 22 6.3% 0.7% 9 160.8 84.6
Justin Thomas (GT) 55.2 9.75 6 1 5 11 5.7% 1.0% 6 154.1 81.9
Jerod Evans (VT) 62.4 8.93 21 2 3 24 9.3% 0.9% 10.5 166.3 77.9
Deondre Francois (FSU) 60.5 8.45 11 4 3 14 4.3% 1.6% 2.8 142.5 77.9
Deshaun Watson (Clem) 63.5 7.73 22 10 1 23 7.3% 3.3% 2.2 145.9 74.6
Nathan Peterman (Pitt) 62.8 8.44 12 3 1 13 6.7% 1.7% 4 152.3 74.5
Eric Dungey (Cuse) 64.7 7.6 15 6 6 21 4.3% 1.7% 2.5 139.5 68.8
Brad Kaaya (Miami) 61.8 8.34 13 6 0 13 5.5% 2.5% 2.2 144.8 62
Ryan Finley (NCSU) 61.7 7.56 13 6 1 14 5.4% 2.5% 2.2 138.1 58.3
Daniel Jones (Duke) 62.5 7.02 11 9 3 14 4.1% 3.3% 1.2 128.2 56
Kurt Benkert (UVA) 58.3 6.68 17 9 0 17 5.4% 2.9% 1.9 126.5 54.3
John Wolford (WFU) 54.9 5.72 4 7 5 9 1.9% 3.3% 0.6 102.6 50.6
Patrick Towles (BC) 49.7 6.48 7 5 4 11 4.0% 2.8% 1.4 111.5 47.5

As you can see, the results aren’t pretty. Again, I want to repeat the caveat that these numbers are influenced by factors beyond the quarterback’s control. But, the numbers are what they are, and it’s up to the staff to either improve them or mitigate their effect (for example, by giving the RBs more than 12 carries to Wolford’s 43 pass attempts in the Army game).

The table above is sorted by adjusted QBR, which is a metric developed by ESPN and explained in general terms here. It’s a 0-100 scale where 50 represents an “average” quarterback (I’m not entirely sure what that means). It’s been criticized because it’s built on a proprietary formula so we don’t know exactly how it works. The simplest explanation is that it looks at every single play (including both passing and QB rushes) to grade QB performance based on down, distance, and the game situation (and adjusts to account for the opposing defenses). That’s how a player like Lamar Jackson easily tops the list even though a few of the others on the list come out ahead in some of the more traditional passer metrics. As you can see, Wolford clocks in at 50.6 in adjusted QBR, just above “average.” In fact, according to ESPN’s latest list, Wolford has the lowest adjusted QBR of any “above average” quarterback, good for 88th in the country.

Wolford 54.9 5.72 4 7 5 9 1.9% 3.3% 0.6 102.6 50.6
ACC Rank 13 14 14 11 T-3 14 14.0% T-12 14 14 13

Ultimately, depending on the metrics you prefer, Wake’s quarterback performance has been competing with BC’s for worst in the ACC (#therivalry). In the eleven categories I looked at, Wake is last (or tied for last) in seven of them (yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, touchdowns per attempt, interceptions per attempt, TD:INT ratio, and passing efficiency) and second-to-last in two more (completion percentage and adjusted QBR). Wolford is the only starting ACC quarterback with more interceptions than passing touchdowns, and he has thrown touchdowns at a volume-adjusted pace that is less than half that of any other ACC quarterback. But hey, it could be worse. BC’s quarterback is apparently “below average” according to QBR and has completed less than half of his passes.

Dave Clawson recently announced that Hinton has not yet been medically cleared to play. While this could theoretically change at any time, it makes sense that the longer Hinton is held out (particularly if it goes beyond the UVA game this weekend), the more incentive there will be to hold him out for a medical redshirt instead of pushing him back on the field to face teams like Clemson and Louisville. That leaves Wolford and redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns as the scholarship QBs. I haven’t seen the guys practice, and even if I did I fully admit I couldn’t tell you who should play based on all the variables that go into that. That’s what the coaches are there for. Wolford has sacrificed his body for the team over the past few seasons without public complaint, and I have the utmost respect for what he’s played through. But, his numbers have not been where they need to be for this team to reach its potential. I hope things turn around for him quickly, but if they don’t, I hope the staff keeps an honestly open mind in deciding which quarterback on the roster gives the team the best shot at a win each week.