ESPN is currently running a series taking a look through metrics compiled by Brian Fremeau (Bill Connelly’s partner in crime at Football Outsiders) at twenty teams which have a shot at winning a national title this season.
The Georgia piece is linked here. It’s a pay piece, so I’m not going to quote from it directly, but there’s a part that should be of interest to everyone who thinks there’s an Aaron Murray debate (or, more accurately perhaps, that there should be one).
First off, you have to start by noting that Murray’s passer rating declined from 2010 to 2011. That’s because his completion percentage dropped and his interceptions climbed more than enough to offset the jump in touchdown passes. Fremeau’s numbers lock in on a key area, downfield passing. Georgia was noticeably less effective on longer throws last year (98 of the 238 completions were for 15 yards or more, a 41.18% rate) than the year before (109 of the 209 completions were for 15 yards or more, a 52.15% rate). Some of that is Murray’s fault. Some of that can be laid at the feet of an inconsistent running game that limited the usefulness of play action.
But some of that was due to the change in cast at wide receiver. Murray’s #1 guy at wide out in 2010 was A.J. Green. Last year, his #1 target was Tavarres King. Despite playing in five fewer games, Green caught eleven more passes for 171 more yards. (Green also had one more TD catch.) And while their average yards per catch were fairly close, Green (34) had almost twice as many receptions of 15 or more yards as King (18) had.
To emphasize that last item, go back to Bill Connelly’s work on receiver target rates. King’s catch rate in comparison to Mitchell’s and Charles’ is decidedly mediocre, despite being Murray’s favorite target. Plainly stated, the two had trouble getting on the same page throughout the season. The ESPN piece cites King’s record-setting day in the Outback Bowl as a sign of hope that communication between the two is improving, but as I noted in my postmortem of that game, Murray’s third interception was a troubling confirmation of the season long trend of inefficiency between the two.
Where that leaves us, I’m not sure. Clearly Murray needs to step his deep game up, and just as clearly his supporting cast needs to come through. I’ve already fretted about what effect the Mitchell move to corner might have on the offense, although I hope I’m wrong. But either King in particular needs to produce at the level a number one receiver is expected to, or Bobo and Murray need to adjust accordingly in the playcalling and downfield reading as plays develop, respectively speaking. It’s another thing to keep an eye on this season, especially early when Mitchell’s role in the offense is reduced.