SEC StatCat breaks down the work this year’s group of SEC quarterbacks has done with play action in this post. Georgia getting away from one of its bread and butter plays last season was a sore spot for me and many of you.
Sad to say, his analysis indicates it’s going to take some work to get it back in shape this season (assuming it’s something Monken has in his playbook, of course).
Until last week, Jamie Newman had the inside track to be Georgia’s day-one starter. As Wake Forest’s main offensive engine last year, he had to shoulder a hefty load both through the air and on the ground. Newman’s five game sample consisted of Clemson (4th), Michigan State (13th), Duke (36th), Virginia Tech (39th), and North Carolina (44th) yielded an average SP+ rating faced of 20.3. This handful just so happened to represent his hardest opponents faced last season. The ACC might have had one of the best defenses. But cumulatively, it was rather blah.
Thanks to the Demon Deacons’ extremely vertical passing game, nearly a quarter of his attempts traveled 20 or more yards downfield. Only Lynn Bowden would have topped that mark within SEC play. With such a high degree of difficulty, consistency wasn’t really Newman’s thing. Explosiveness, on the other hand, certainly was. His 12.7% clip would crack the SEC’s top5 as would his 42.8% Depth Adjusted Accuracy. Newman’s tape has some pop to it because of his bazooka and ability to create fantastic highlights. But since that style of play has him project the worst Success Rate, First Down+Touchdown Rate, and Uncatchable Pass Rate, it’s fair to wonder if he can put it all together with the peculiar offseason.
Upon his waiver request getting the green light last week, we have to consider JT Daniels in the mix for Georgia’s starting gig. But like Costello, we have to go back in time to fill out his sample. Since Daniels only logged a half of play before his 2019 ended with an ACL tear, his sample consisted of Notre Dame (10th), California (13th), Utah (19th), and Stanford (43rd) from 2018 along with Fresno State (98th) last year. His four foes from his freshman year were his hardest in the eyes of the SP+ despite Fresno State being an awful defensive unit in 2019. That game in particular ballooned his sample’s average rating to 21.2 and had a considerable effect on his analytics.
Daniels was a game manager through-and-through. Like fellow West Coast passer Ryan Hilinski, Daniels largely looked to get the ball out quickly to his receivers on the perimeter. Though some situations called on him to press downfield, two-thirds of his passes failed to travel beyond ten yards downfield. In fact, nearly a third of his sample’s attempts went rightward from behind the line towards the ten yard mark. Methodically moving the ball with chunk gains allowed his Success Rate and Depth Adjusted Accuracy to be serviceable albeit below the SEC average. Frequently working short or asking his guys to bail him out deep begat a Yards/Attempt, First Down+Touchdown Rate, and Explosive Pass Rate that project to be bottom3 worthy. Though certainly not sexy, his consistency was somewhat dependable. Along with such little potency, sporting a 9.5% Interceptable Pass Rate makes his outlook lukewarm at best.
Tl;dr version: Newman is coming from a completely different offensive scheme and Daniels is Fromm V.2.
As far as how they project going forward,
Newman generally followed the trends set by our conference qualifiers. He saw gains in Success Rate, Explosive Pass Rate, and First Down+Touchdown Rate while seeing his accuracy figures suffer. Screens were hardly part of Wake Forest’s vertical pass scheme. And over his five game sample, Newman didn’t log a single play action screen attempt. He was, however, fed about an average amount of RPOs as those designs accounted for roughly 40% of his play fakes. Already one to throw deep downfield, his Play Action average depth of target of 18.9 would be tops and his 18.2% Explosive Pass Rate would crack the top4. But like his overall numbers suggest, consistency wasn’t a strength of Newman’s. His Success Rate, Uncatchable Pass Rate, and Interceptable Pass Rate project to be bottom3 clips amongst returners.
In an offense that lived and died by explosive gains downfield, play actions on dropback designs certainly accentuated that element of Wake Forest’s offense over Newman’s five game sample. While seeing a slight uptick in Success Rate and his First Down+Touchdown Rate staying flat, his 23.5% Explosive Pass Rate was nearly 11 percentage points better than his overall clip. That escalation projects to be top5 worthy among returning SECers. With his average depth of target also looking to be tops, Newman averaged 12 yards per play action dropback attempt. While the high ends plays help drown out the overall volatility of his down-to-down output, Newman stands to sit inside the bottom3 in Interceptable Pass Rate and First Down+Touchdown Rate. Georgia will probably lean into its conservative ground game to start, which could clear Newman for launch as teams creep up to crowd the box. But it’s worth mentioning, Jake Fromm’s 14.8% Play Action Rate placed 16th out of 19 SEC qualifiers last season. Maybe the new mentality under Todd Monken will see more than one tweak within their scheme. Recommendation: Ramp it up.
Like Costello, JT Daniels wasn’t really given a whole lot of play action attempts over his five game sample. And like Ryan Hilinski, this West Coast passer also looked uncomfortable when utilizing play action. Unfortunately, the two were more similar than different in this context. As it were, only John Rhys Plumlee sports a lower Success Rate than Daniels 35.1% clip over his sample. Only Hilinski owns worse First Down+Touchdown Rate and Depth Adjusted Accuracy%. Throwing to cushion is what Daniels overly sought. That conservative approach was fueled by a healthy amount of RPOs. In terms of his play action distribution, over 62% of his play fakes came off those designs. While play fakes did indeed help the Trojans manufacture big gainers at a higher rate, Daniels was just as likely to toss an interceptable pass as a 20-plus gain off a play action over his sample.
Thanks to his guys coming down with contested attempts, Daniels’ Success Rate off dropback play action was a little better off. He himself on these 14 some throws was indefensibly bad in terms of ball placement. As noodle-armed as Hilinski was during his freshman season, Daniels’ 18.9% Depth Adjusted Accuracy was over 3 percentage points worse than the Gamecock. To further hurt his case, his First Down+Touchdown Rate and Uncatchable Pass Rate project to sit in the bottom2. I mean he was just as likely to be successful as toss an errant throw in this context. That level of variance is too topsy-turvy for anyone to thrust on a play caller. While Newman’s skill set would aid the ‘Dawgs to take the top off of defenses, Daniels offering very little upside has me calling for him to be used similarly to how Fromm was. While I believe Newman will win the job, Daniels shouldn’t lean on play action in the slightest. Recommendation: Dial it back.
Tl;dr version: Todd Monken has his work cut out for him.
One takeaway that does intrigue me is “Georgia will probably lean into its conservative ground game to start, which could clear Newman for launch as teams creep up to crowd the box. But it’s worth mentioning, Jake Fromm’s 14.8% Play Action Rate placed 16th out of 19 SEC qualifiers last season.” If Newman can sell it and his line gives him time, the potential is there to break some big plays out of PA.