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Experience and Quarterback Growth - Is There Hope?

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"The big question revolving around the C.U. offense is what type of play the Buffaloes will get from the quarterback position: if the team gets good – not spectacular, just good – play and consistency, the offense will be much, much better." -The New York Times Quad Blog

"I don't know about their quarterbacking combination with Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen." -Tim Griffin of ESPN

"BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Buffs have to get better play from their quarterback. Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, has been Colorado's starter the past two seasons, but the job is hardly his entering fall camp." - Rivals.com

Those are just three examples of the many of preseason reviews about the Colorado Buffaloes in 2009. It usually goes something like this: "If the Buffs can get any sort of production out of their quarterback play (Cody Hawkins), then they should be much improved in 2009." It's pretty short and simple. There have been just as many deficiencies at other positions but that is the nature of the beast when you are the quarterback, you get too much credit when you win and too much of the blame when you lose.

The big question is, is there any reason to think Cody Hawkins' numbers will improve enough to really give the Buffs a chance to get to 8+ wins?  The intangible that most Buffs' fans are hinging their hope on for improvement in 2009 is the team looks to be healthier at all offensive positions compared to the past couple of seasons and Cody Hawkins is now a junior, an upperclassman. Unfortunately, we can't see into the future but I thought why not look at what experience does for quarterbacks between their junior and sophomore seasons. Last year, 21 quarterbacks in the NCAA were juniors who played fully as sophomores in 2007. Their were many high profile quarterbacks like Colt McCoy, Josh Freeman, Matthew Stafford and Tim Tebow.

Combining the quarterback stats for all 21 quarterbacks in 2008 compared to the 2007 numbers, every single category showed improvement (see chart below). Some statistics didn't show huge improvement but a few things caught my eye. Completion percentage jumped a full 2.1%. That is a big difference in a year. Wins also increased, although not large like the completion percentage but significant enough. The key is all statistics showed improvement on average, nothing mind blowing but yes, we should expect improvement with experience from Cody Hawkins.

Much more after the jump...

 

Yr Year Avg Wins Avg Loss Att/G Comp/G Comp% Yards/G Yards/Att Int/G TD/G
JR 2008 7.43 5.29 31.43 19.81 63.00% 235.36 7.49 0.76 1.75
SO 2007 7.14 5.57 31.78 19.35 60.90% 230.06 7.24 0.87 1.66
Variance 0.29 -0.29 -0.35 0.46 2.1% 5.3 0.25 -0.11 0.09
                                                                                           Hawkins Sophomore Stats
SO 2008 5 7 26.66 15.25 57.20% 157.67 5.91 0.83 1.42
Variance* -2.14 1.43 -5.12 -4.1 -0.037 -72.39 -1.33 -0.04 -0.24
                                                        *Variance calculated from above on all QB's in 2007 who were sophomores

With all of that being said, Cody still has a long way to go to even sniff the numbers of last year's juniors compared to their sophomore numbers. Cody, as you can see above, was a full 3.7% behind the 21 QB's sophomore numbers in 2007 and a whopping 72 yards/game. Juniors do improve but they improve over a much better sophomore base than Cody has going into 2009. Blame it on the lack of playmakers around him, injuries, youth whatever you want but those are the facts. When you think about 72 yards a game over a 12 game season, hopefully a 13 game season, you are flirting with a 1,000 yard difference behind the average sophomore quarterback from 2007.

If you look at a sampling of the quarterbacks below, the best of the list and most of the top quarterbacks last year, every one had a winning record as a junior except Josh Freeman who went 5 - 7 as a sophomore and did not produce a winning season as a junior.

Every quarterback improved their completion percentage from their sophomore to junior seasons excluding Josh Freeman and Tim Tebow. This is the big statistic in my mind. Look at the Colt McCoy and Zac Robinson, last year's increased completion percentage brought them into the top echelon of quarterbacks from their sophomore years. Both McCoy and Robinson were seen as decent quarterbacks, probably both mid level in the Big 12 as sophomores but they became more efficient and stronger in every part of their game which produced more wins on the field. That is what the Buffs need from Cody in 2009. The 57.2% is the number that must improve and once that happens, you will see wins on the field...obvious, I know, but it's the key to the whole deal.

Name Yr W L G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yds/Att TD Int  Rating  Yds/G
Colt McCoy JR 12 1 13 433 332 76.7     3,859 8.9 34 8      173.7 296.8
Colt McCoy SO 10 3 13 424 276 65.1     3,303 7.8 22 18      139.2 254.1

Josh Freeman JR 5 7 12 382 224 58.6     2,945 7.7 20 8      136.5 245.4
Josh Freeman SO 5 7 12 499 316 63.3     3,353 6.7 18 11      127.3 279.4

Matthew Stafford JR 10 3 13 383 235 61.4     3,459 9.0 25 10      153.5 266.1
Matthew Stafford SO 11 2 13 348 194 55.7     2,523 7.3 19 10      128.9 194.1

Max Hall JR 10 3 13 477 330 69.2     3,957 8.3 35 14      157.2 304.4
Max Hall SO 11 2 13 496 298 60.1     3,848 7.8 26 12      137.7 296.0

Nate Davis JR 12 2 14 401 258 64.3     3,591 9.0 26 8      157.0 256.5
Nate Davis SO 7 6 13 478 270 56.5     3,667 7.7 30 6      139.1 282.1

Tim Tebow JR 13 1 14 298 192 64.4     2,746 9.2 30 4      172.4 196.1
Tim Tebow SO 9 4 13 350 234 66.9     3,286 9.4 32 6      172.5 252.8

Todd Reesing JR 8 5 13 495 329 66.5     3,880 7.8 32 13      148.4 298.5
Todd Reesing SO 12 1 13 445 275 61.8     3,476 7.8 33 7      148.7 267.4

Zac Robinson JR 9 4 13 314 204 65.0     3,064 9.8 25 10      166.8 235.7
Zac Robinson SO 7 6 12 316 191 60.4     2,666 8.4 22 9      148.6 222.2

 

Jared Zabransky of the Boise St. Broncos was the last Dan Hawkins' quarterback who started as both a sophomore and junior. It is a perfect example of the relationship between completion percentage and every other statistic including the wins and losses of the team. As a junior, Zabransky's Boise State team played a much tougher schedule with Georgia, Oregon State and Boston College (all losses) but the numbers show what happens when a completion percentage dips.

Name Yr W L Att Comp Pct. Yards Yds/Att Int TD Rating Att/G Yds/G
Jared Zabransky JR 9 4 342 202 59 2,562 7.5 16 18 130 26.3 197.1
Jared Zabransky SO 11 1 327 206 63 2,927 9 12 16 147 27.3 243.9

 

Fortunately for the Buffs in 2009, the schedule is more manageable and should get the starting quarterback off on a much better foot than 2008.

I am sure Eric Kiesau knows he must put in a game plan that features Hawkins' strengths: pre-snap reads, quick passing, a very progression based offense that is based on timing and that internal clock so important to a quarterback's success. Such an offense will allow Hawkins to use his cerebral knack for the game rather than forcing him to make plays with his feet and improvisation, something that is inherent when moving from the spread to a pro-style offense. Another key, in my book and an instant way to improve completion percentage, is the utilization of the running backs and tight ends in the passing game. The tight ends are deep and Darrell Scott's pass catching ability is a strong point as is fellow running back, Brian Lockridge. Nothing keeps a defense from being aggressive with their linebackers than getting the ball quickly to the backs in the flats and tight ends in the intermediate lanes. Finally, few things are better for a quarterback than a healthy running game with the ability to work the play action. If the Buffs' offensive line and running backs can establish dominance on the ground, Cody Hawkins will have his best year by far as the Colorado Buffaloes' quarterback. He has the potential to get to that 60% - 62% completion percentage with all of these very achievable factors coming into play.

I do have to say I am excited for this year, the pivotalness of it. Not sure if that is a word but everyone knows they need to perform, be it Cody Hawkins or Eric Kiesau or Dan Hawkins or Mike Bohn, the "organization" needs to win. One thing is for sure, I will personally be rooting heavily for Cody Hawkins (and Darrell Scott) to succeed this year (of course I root for all the Buffs but you know what I mean). I think it would be one great story for the program if Hawkins can have one of those great turn around years, have the last laugh against many naysayers and let's face it, this team needs a face. With all due respect to LB Jeff Smart, when Tim Griffin names Smart the player you cannot afford to lose in 2009, your team needs a face, someone that resonates with the national mind.

Here's to hoping the Buffs' perceived playmakers make the plays in 2009.