A good idea. / Also a good idea. / Not a good idea. (Upchurch)
Before we begin, since this is a Denard/Gardner comparison post, let's get this part out of the way:
Is Gardner a palatable Big Ten QB?
Is Gardner a good QB?
Yes, I really think so.
So even if Denard is 100 percent…
NO!!! Two good starts from our 2013 starting signalcaller, albeit against two of the conference's worst pass defenses, are good things. Let's not ruin them by allowing the kind of people who see the world in Tall-Passer-Lloydball Pearl and Small-Scrambly-Spreadrod Onyx to, you know, start all that again.
But I am interested in knowing just how good Gardner has played. I'm also interested in how everything else about our offense changed when Gardner went in for Denard, and how defenses reacted to it. What did it do to the receiver corps to lose him, and what to the formations and personnel? 2012 is nice and all but I want to know what 2013 is going to look like now! Since this week was a better test and a better performance to the eye than what he did against Minnesota after one week of not being a receiver, I think we need Northwestern data. In fact I was so impatient I decided to not wait for Brian to UFR the offense this week and did it myself…in a mini version.
|5 plays, 13 yards, 13 mins left in the 1st quarter. Score: 0-0|
We establish a few things, like Michigan is going under center, and Northwestern is going to defend that with the 4-3 over, and even 6'4 quarterbacks get batted sometimes. Easy out to Gallon that was still open all day, one batted, one perfect downfield throw on a blitz that was dropped by Jerald Robinson. Northwestern gives up on blitzing for the rest of the day. Michigan gives up on receivers.
Drive 2: Borges makes it rain RPS…
10 plays, 78 yards, 2:30 left in the 1st quarter. Score: 7-0 Michigan.
This is the drive when Michigan started inserting superfluous apostrophes into the snap count (Wilcat's HATE that!). Note the CA on the 32-yard pass to Roundtree. That's close to "MA" since it's behind the receiver, but not so much that it changed Roundtree's momentum when he reached back to get it. Also note that NW's cornerback is awful.
[The rest of the drives, and how this and the other Gardner game compare to the Denard ones, after THE JUMP]
Drive 3: Michigan's first drive of the 2nd quarter.
5 plays, 64 yards. The 1st quarter started after the 3rd and 6 scramble, so 14 mins left in the 2nd quarter. Score: 7-7.
Yet another magnificent scramble on 3rd down. When Michigan next went to shotgun NW opened up the edge and Toussaint hit it for 50 yards...then fumbled.
|O2||1||G||Goal line||2||3||0||Goal line||Run||0||-|
|O2||2||G||Goal line||2||3||0||Goal line||Run||2||-|
10 plays, 37 yards, 6:17 left in the 2nd. Score: 14-7 Michigan.
Four plays in it's a drop by a receiver on a well thrown ball and a fumble after a 50-yard run that's stopping the offense. On this one, after the return turnover, Gardner bailed out the running game a couple of times, then the running game suddenly found its stride inside the 10. The first scramble was an ankle tackle away from breaking big, and the second a Kain Colter special: two LBs and a safety try to converge short of the sticks, and Gardner jukes outside one so the other LB crashes into the first, then jukes back to avoid a safety. Denardian!
|4 plays, 12 yards, Michigan gives the ball back with 1:28 left in the half. Score: 14-7.|
I called it "MA" because it would have taken a pretty ridiculous play to bring this in, but with a guy in his face and little room between a closing defender and a sideline that's also about as DO as it gets. I mean where else can he put this? Next time Michigan touches the ball it's on the M35 with 25 seconds so throw to Jackson not charted, which means when we rejoin the offense in the 3rd quarter M is now down 21-14.
|3 plays, –2 yards, 9:30 left in the 3rd.|
The guh drive. At first I thought he was throwing it into triple-coverage, but now I'm not so sure. I think he tried to hit Roundtree underneath all that coverage, but then his rib cage collapsing made the pass sail. So no X, but gee golly willickers this man does not like taking sacks. OL pass protection is bad but Fitz has been coaching them during the half to scream in on a pass rush since Michigan isn't running on 2nd and 10.
|4 plays, 78 yards, 1:43 left in the 3rd.|
Pretty impressed by how the Northwestern DT recognized and blew up the screen on 2nd and 21, pretty unimpressed by their CB's coverage on 3rd and 17, though you're going to have to decide for yourself where you stand on this being pass interference. You're also going to have to decide for yourself what to do with the one to a Gallon open by several steps down the sideline which arrived at the same time as the safety. I filed "CA-" because that's pretty far downfield and if it'd arrived any earlier or further downfield it would've been DO, and how do you call something in the strike zone 40 yards downfield "Marginal" even if he made it difficult? I was mean on the perfectly thrown incompletion so I'll be nice on the not-perfect 42-yard completion.
Drive 8: This starts at 13:08 in the 4th quarter.
And it ends this way.
|11 plays, 91 yards, 8:45 left in the 4th.|
Down in the 4th quarter and out comes the shotgun. If things followed a typical "wow that was scary" spread-option script this would have been the epic drive emblazoned in memory. This man simply does not like getting sacked. This one was low but that helped Roundtree duck past the filling DB and get the 1st down. Also: Dead On. Dead On. Dead funchbunch on. And then,
Drive 9: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
|1 play, 1 interception, 3:37 left in the game.|
You'll have to wait for UFR for Norfleet. This was a young quarterback seeing Cover 2 and getting Cover 3 on a two-MLB blitz. Michigan gets the ball back with just 16 seconds, then…
Drive 10: YEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
|3 plays, 53 yards, clock at 0:02|
Drive 11: BIG TEEEEEHNNNNNNNNNNN!
|O3||2||G||Goal line||2||2||1||Goal line||Run||2||-|
|O1||3||G||Goal line||2||2||1||Goal line||Run||1||-|
|5 plays, 25 yards, Michigan 38, Northwestern 31.|
Got the BR for trying to fit it in a window even the NFL thinks is unsafe but at least he threw it so hard the only hands it touched were a diving Roundtree's. This was the follow-up, a perfect pass that allowed Roundtree to turn upfield and YAC his way to 1st and Goal.
So do it.
Brian normally gives me a chart as a reward for reading all of that.
You read all of that?
As far as he knows…but until I see the chart I really have no idea.
Here's your two QBs—screens removed—over all of 2012 if you count scrambles as positive downfield successes (Legend). (Legend by Upchurch->)
Competition thing bears repeating: Denard's numbers include games against MSU, OSU, and Alabama and even Purdue and Illinois were supposed to have more troublesome secondaries than Minnesota and Northwestern. Still, that is pretty awesome. There's only a year in age that separates the two but in experience it might as well be a generation. So the bad reads are up a bit, but a big difference in the number of inaccurate balls, and way, way, way more likely to scramble.
Both of these DSRs are really, really good.
Brian never counts scrambling.
True or false: Cain Kolter converted a lot of 3rd downs against us.
Yes he ran. A lot. Past dudes we know as fair to excellent tacklers.
It's amazing it's taken us this long to count scrambling as a positive downfield event. Perhaps that's because Mallett would do it for 4 yards on 3rd and 15. And Tate would do it because it has more moxie, and that boy needed no further encouragement. Perhaps this is why Denard doesn't scramble—he doesn't know it can positively effect a passing stat. Boom: going theory.
You're comparing two different offenses.
Rly. Number of plays run from formation, 1st and 10s in parentheses:
In two games Gardner has taken nearly as many snaps under center as Denard has all year. First down formation selection is even more dramatic:
|-||1st Down||2nd Down||3rd Down|
And, related, the type of personnel in on each snap when either guy is taking it:
The obvious: they're not running a spread with Gardner. I don't believe their skill sets are so different that Gardner is a "pro style" QB by any stretch of the imagination. What's going on is the three senior interior OL and in particular the guards are all kind of smaller spread dudes, while the redshirt freshmen and whatnot who will be replacing them may not be. That's more true for Kalis and far less true for presumptive 2013 center and Molk-a-like Jack Miller. It makes sense that what they're teaching Gardner is the offense they'll use with Gardner, and the one they've been trying to sneak in without wasting Denard.
Last thing, just because I can access it: the YPA and YPC for when either QB has been in, with 3rd and 4th downs and 2pt conversions excised. Remember: Minnesota and Northwestern…
|Gardner||12.9 YPA (55%)||4.3 YPC (45%)||8.3|
|Robinson||13.0 YPA (42%)||5.7 YPA (58%)||7.8|
The not obvious: they're calling way more passing plays for Gardner. Even if I limit it to 1st and 10s, cut out 4th quarters, and cut out any plays when the margin is greater than two scores, the tendencies seem to remain about the same: Borges will be nearly 50-50 pass with Devin Gardner under center, but 73% run with Denard.
[UPDATE 1:28 p.m.: The end was cut off.]
Yeah. So a lot of people want to take this and talk about which QB is better. The thing about these conversations is I've always been one to jump right into the muck and try to inform the conversation. Brian can't stand having a Rich Rod conversation—I am still admittedly very intrigued by what he does. Granted when people say "Denard is not a good quarterback" I shake with angar because goddammit look at all the available evidence. Look at the passing chart:
|2011 through MSU||13||66(12)||11(1)||34(1)||17||2||3||10||4||55%|
|2011 after MSU||9||77(9)||7||17||9||6(1)||5(2)||9||5||69%|
You are looking at a guy who is better at sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball to a receiver than John Navarre, and he's neck and neck with Chad Henne except against elite defenses he makes lots of bad reads. Look at Michigan's YPP against anyone else who's been here since 2008 vs. BCS-level competition:
It's not just the board dolts and Sparties who say "Devin is a better quarterback than Denard" which is a very very very different thing than "Denard is not a good quarterback." Just for kicks, here's that YPP for the entire offense vs. only Northwestern and Minnesota squads:
Fairness to Threet and to a lesser degree Sheridan that they got those numbers in a freezing rain storm vs. the Wildcats. But for the careers of Denard and Gardner, these teams have kept a consistent level of mediocre defense. Note that Michigan rolled out the Fritz and Denard Jet formations in these games last year, which are credited to Gardner since he was under center for those. Across the board, the running game goes better when Denard's legs are at least a threat on every play. And when facing incompetent secondaries like these, even without the scramble part of his brain working, Denard gets more yards out of his passing plays.
Denard is the senior quarterback, and while his learning curve was retarded by the coaching/scheme switch and being forced to play early when he needed a redshirt, I think he is clearly, almost un-debatably the better quarterback for Michigan right now.