Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Auburn Realist: Glaring QB Questions for 2013

It's on every one's mind. Who is it going to be? The former 5-Star USA Today's Player of the Year, first year Wildcat, sophomore starter who hit the pine after a few games?

Or Jonathan Wallace, the consensus 3-Star and one time commit to UCF turned last second addition to Auburn's class of 2012, turned starter in the back third of the season?

If you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook, you have undoubtedly seen my opinion on the matter. Are they that close in competition? Can Malzahn transform either or both into winners? Is there some preconceived notions despite what was said? Yet, as much as I have harped on it, many people have fired back that I shouldn't be so judgemental on past performances. After all, the new coaching staff isn't giving any thought to them. Why should I?

Ok. We are getting ahead of ourselves. Truth is....Frazier has given me...and many fans...a VERY sour stomach. And it's like this one time I ate a pack of pop-tarts and made myself sick. One event defined my opinion of brown sugar and Cinnamon pop-tarts forever. Even if it wasn't the pop-tarts fault I got sick. In the same way, Wallace has been somewhat a surprise. You know, like eating Krystals at 3am when you are starving. It's so good when there was nothing else to look forward to. But, all else being equal...was it THAT good, or was it the circumstances.
Is it possible, then, that I have in my mind what I think of both Frazier and Wallace and that I have struck the gavel forrrr eevvvvvveeee eeerrrrrr ("The Sandlot" reference, thanks Alyse.). Possibly. Probably.

So, I admit that I could be tainted. So be it. Let's get down to quasi-facts, shall we.

The coaching staff at Auburn have stressed that no one's past performances will give preconceived notions of future stocks. Ok. I buy that. Just kidding. No, really I don't. But this isn't Bielema coming to Arkansas to the first time, players unknown and unseen. This is a coaching staff that has been around Auburn...in the last 2 years. Specifically Malzahn and Lashlee...the only ones that matter.

It's a great thing to say all that. And I truly believe that Malzahn and Lashlee will always do what is best for the University. But I, at ZERO time, have seen anything out of Frazier that leads me to believe that he is an SEC caliber QB. Conversely, Wallace has shown me that he at least has the mindset to be an SEC QB, and even has made plays that ARE SEC caliber plays.

Is this opinion or fact, you say. Let's talk about it.

I said that Frazier, at no point, has shown me SEC caliber play. Truth. Fact. Both. Dr. Indiana Jones would say that there is a difference, but there isn't. The stats AND the technique show it.

2011 Stats say that #10 was 0/2 TD/INT ratio. That's a skin deep fact. But more interesting to me was this: He had 5/12 completions all year. At that point, he was a QB in name only, being used as a runner. 76 rush attempts as a wildcat vs 5/12 passing. All of us Auburn fans recall those 2 pics against Arkansas and how that sealed the game for the Hogs. Again, until that point, Frazier had really yet to throw a pass, making all of us Die Hards wonder...why?  The game could have gone either way until that point, but the choice to let him throw proved to be the two nails needed to bury the Tigers that day. He had a 32 passer rating for 2011, though he did have 320 yards and 3 TDs rushing to show for it.

So, he was a true freshman that year. He didn't have a full year in the system. How did he do in 2012? Well, again, the stats say.....Bust. 62/116, 750 yards, 2/8 TD/INT ratio. While that's very telling, the biggest stat was this: 18 sacks. 42 rushing attempts and -35 yards. Yikes.

Now, guilty by all reasonable doubt? No. Ex-Coordinator Loeffler proved that he could not win at Auburn. Reflection of him, the program, or the players? Jury is out. I will say that his play calling, in my opinion, was beyond horrible. It was like calling from the pages of Madden 2013.
Except that in Madden, most people like to throw the deep ball every once in awhile, which was a glaring issue in play calling or execution early on.

Stats are stats. And any statistician will tell you that stats can say whatever you want them to say.

The most telling thing to me wasn't on paper. Watching Frazier's game play...even from a complete novice like me's viewpoint....was painful. The decision making was terrible. He tucked when he shouldn't. He scrambled when he shouldn't. But, even worse, were the mechanics. He threw off his back foot falling backwards more often than I could count, usually landing in the arms of an opposing player. He missed wide open receivers deep in exchange for check down routes that went nowhere. Heck, his long pass of the year was a 54 yarder hail mary at the end of the half against Mississippi State! That was his highlight of the year! Ws and Ls? 1-5 and his win was against La-Mo.

Ok. Was I too hard on him? That's up to you to tell me. You are probably going to say that I was too soft on Wallace here in a second.

So, Jonathan Wallace comes to Auburn as a footnote in the 2011 recruiting class. I admit that I didn't know anything about him until he signed. But, as I read about him, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. So, 2012 goes to pot. Literally, if you believe the hype. Wallace gets put in at the halfway point against Texas A&M, which was future Heisman Jonny's real break out game. How does the true freshman respond? 6/9, 127 yards, 2TDs.  Granted, it's in garbage time. I said it. You said it. Everyone did.

How would he do against real competition? New Mexico State isn't it. Georgia came to town, perhaps the second best team in all of college football. 15/22, 181 yards. 0/1 TD/INT. He wins against Alabama A&M handily. Gets blasted by Alabama. But...the mechanics were so different. Wallace tucked and ran when he should. He ate it when he should. The rush and sack stats show it. 7 sacks on the year. He never had a problem throwing down field. Even in face of a rush, he stood tall and threw.

Again, stats are stats. Let me throw some more.
How many games with negative rush yards did Frazier have as a starter? 5 Wallace? 0.
Multi turnover games? Frazier? 2. Wallace? 1.
150 yards plus games? Frazier? 1. Wallace? 3.

What about the level of competition faced? Frazier played really only 2 teams with "successfull" records in Clemson (11-2) and LSU (10-3). Wallace played Georgia and Alabama. The top two teams in the NCAA. Period.

Your next question. Malzahn can turn anyone into a winner despite their past performances. Maybe. Maybe not.

So, all of history says that QBs only do better under Malzahn then under anyone else. Right?  But this is not the first time he has had a true QB battle. And, history says that his teams don't do well without an established starter out of spring practice. At Arkansas in 2006, he had capable starters in Dick and Mustain that battled it out. The result? Combined 19/15 TD/INT. He did terrific at Tulsa. Then he came to Auburn. Kodi Burns was never going to be a winner at Auburn. Face it. And Todd was hurt in 2008. The man couldn't throw away a paper wad by midseason. Healed in 2009 and named starter early, he set single season records. There was ZERO question that Cam was going to start in 2010. In 2011, Malzahn faced a QB battle between Trotter and Mosely that went through fall practice. The result? Not good. 16/9 and a complete lack of offensive fireworks despite having a fantastic running game duo of Dyer/McCaleb. He went to Ark State where Aplin was an established starter. Ryan Aplin in 1 year under Gus went from 19/16 to 24/4. That's huge. But, to be fair, he had a junior slump as he was 21/11 his sophomore year.

So that brings us to today. We have a QB battle raging on The Plains. We've already been told that a starter won't be named this spring. History tells us this is not a good thing....unless....Nick Marshall, the JuCo transfer.....channels his inner Cam Newton this summer. Possible? Yes. Auburn has a pretty rich tradition of 1 year JuCo/Transfer stars at all positions, but specifically at QB under Malzahn. Though 2 data points aren't much to go on.

I don't like waiting that long. After all, Cam and Todd both went through spring ball, though they were named starters afterwards. That leaves really me asking this: Is the competition that close? Or is Frazier getting some bonus points to keep it close? It's well known that Frazier was the coveted recruit of Malzahn's 3 years at Auburn. He is from Springdale, Ark. He was brought up in the same offensive system. He spent 1 year under the Head Coach.  He's as close to a coach's son as it will get. And I think that is playing into the decision. Everyone is human. Even at NASA where lives and billions of dollars are on the line, many decisions are based upon the human dynamic rather than data points. Sure, the word around Auburn is that "It's a Brand New Day." Yes it is. Work ethic and attitudes can change. Changing everything else, like leadership, footwork, mechanics, bravery, and decision making takes a lot of time...or never.

No one asked for my opinion, but here it is: Even under Malzahn in 2011, Frazier was never the firebrand he was sold as. 2012 was a travesty of poor quarterbacking, even with the shoddy play calling and offensive line. Wallace showed everything needed to win in the SEC in his short tenure as starter. I already think he is good enough to be named starter. Having the position solidified now will pay much more dividends than fighting it out in the summer and fall. Gus certainly knows best. It's his job and he does it great. Yet, you know what they say about polishing a turd. I'm ready to be proven wrong, but from my seat in Section 39, if it looks like it and smells like it, it probably is.

What are your thoughts?