Before I go into any of this, I can not emphasize enough how much one game can only give us a glimpse of what to look for in the future. Still, I thought it would at least settle some nerves to take a look at the starting quarterbacks of the past 10 years and consider how each player fared in their debut start compared to how well they finished their first “starting season”.
FIRST, THE CAST…
Philip Rivers (#17) fielded his first start against Arkansas St in 2000, leading the Wolfpack over their opponent 38-31. He finished the day connecting 51% of all passing attempts (29-51) and racking up a total of 397 passing yards.
Jay Davis (#10) started against Richmond in 2004, the season following a Tangerine Bowl victory over Kansas, crushing the Spiders 42-0. He connected an impressive 73% of his passes (16-22) averaging 11 yards per completion.
Marcus Stone (#9) began his starting career during the 2005 homecoming game against Southern Mississippi leading NC State to a 21-17 victory, largely due to the help of a break-out game by Andre Brown. Stone, who originally was a back-up for Jay Davis, only connected 38% of his passes (10-26) but managed to total 128 passing yards for the day and 13 yards per completion. About the only good thing people recall about Stone’s tenure was his ability to truck unsuspecting defenders.
Daniel Evans (#7), son of famous Wolfpacker and current radio voice of the Wolfpack Johnny Evans, opened up two games into the 2006 season against Boston College leading the Wolfpacker over the Eagles 17-15. He completed just under 50% of his passes (15-31), totaled 179 yards, and earned 12 yards per completion.
(NOTE: Harrison Beck didn’t see a massive amount of playing time the way these other guys did, so I didn’t include him in this list. Sorry, buddy.)
Russell Wilson (#16) is… actually, scratch that. If you don’t know who Russell Wilson is, you’ve probably navigated to the wrong site. Russell opened against Clemson a couple games into the 2008 season. The Pack fell short of defeating the Tigers 9-27. Wilson’s passing game was on par with Daniel Evans (48% or 10-21), but his rushing game was on full display (compared to how every other quarterback fared in their season opener). The rookie quarterback rushed 13 times for a total of 26 yards, the most rushing attempts for any quarterback in the past decade. Wilson averaged 9.2 yards per completion that night. It’s ironic that despite how much everyone enjoyed Wilson’s tenure, he is the only quarterback in this list to open up with a defeat; though, it’s worth noting that he also opened up to arguably the toughest defense of anyone else, as well. (NOTE: Wilson was actually slated to start the 2008 season opener against USC, but was injured after only 1 quarter or two full drives. For the purpose of this analysis, I’m assuming that only getting to play for one series doesn’t really help you get your “first game jitters” out of the way, so for all intensive purposes… his “first full start” was against Clemson. Thanks LRM for the head’s up.)
Mike Glennon (#8) started Saturday against the Liberty Flames in a 43-21 victory. I know everyone is aware of this, but I’m writing it for posterity. Glennon completed 58% of his passes (18-31) and racked up 156 yards for an average of 8.7 yards per completion. Glennon only rushed 6 times, amounting to -26 yards, but I’m sure as every NC State blog on the internet will be willing to tell you, that was because of the O-line or whatever other force of God we are blaming performance on these days. Please excuse my cynicism.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT?
The short answer is… for what we’re talking about we’re not that interested in the game in general. For Glennon, what you have is a quarterback that had hiss start at the beginning of the season, had to overcome some difficulties, made some incredibly stupid mistakes, but still gave a glimpse (maybe) of what he could or could not be. It’s worth noting that Jay Davis and Philip Rivers are the only other quarterbacks on this list that debuted as a starter for the first game of the season. Every other quarterback on this list debuted as a starter sometime in mid-season. Glennon was forced into a situation where he had to debut as a new starting quarterback with an entirely fresh squad right out of summer camp, albeit an experienced one.
I can tell you what Glennon didn’t do: turn the ball over through interceptions. That may be reaching to see the positive in Saturday’s game, but its something that shouldn’t be overlooked. To be honest, I’m shocked that more people aren’t pointing that out, especially after some of the quarterbacks that came between Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson. Now you may be saying “yeah, but Glennon did fumble the ball which was returned for a touchdown”. Well, he fumbled when he got sacked and he only fumbled during one of his 4 premature run-ins with Liberty’s defense (still waiting on that legendary O’Brien O-line to show up). I’m somewhat able to overlook that and recognize that as a quarterback, Glennon does have enough sense to not throw the ball to the wrong team. It’s something and it gives me some confidence that no matter how Glennon turned out, hopefully we won’t be dealing with him willingly giving the ball to our opponents the way it’s felt previous quarterbacks have in the past.
ANYWAY, HOW DOES GLENNON’S PERFORMANCE FORECAST THIS SEASON’S FUTURE?
Long story short, last night doesn’t mean one damn thing in terms of who Glennon is or isn’t. It’s all up to Glennon’s work ethic and how O’Brien and Bible develop him.
Here are the facts. We all know who we liked and didn’t like ‘behind center’ over the past 10 years, right? I think everyone agrees that besides Rivers and Wilson, NC State has died by their quarterbacking.
Let’s look at how everyone’s arm debuted in terms of passing percentage (red/top axis) and average yards per completion (blue/bottom axis).
In terms of distance, the only result that you might expect is for Philip Rivers to be a total beast . What you may not be expecting to see is the next biggest contenders for strongest arm to be Marcus Stone, Daniel Evans, and Jay Davis, respectively. Now, there are several reasons why Russell Wilson may have such a low average passing distance and percentage (such as issues with the receiving core), but the stats are what they are.
‘Average yards per completion’ is deceptive because it could simply be how the offensive coordinator decided to run the offense and not how capable the quarterback is, but the passing completions should be at least somewhat comparable between players, baring some discussion on the level of pressure each quarterback faced from the opposing team’s defense. Obviously a quarterback who is facing an opponent like Clemson will probably have his receivers shut down more frequently than someone playing Richmond, which likely explains why Jay Davis’ passing percentage was so high sompared to Wilson’s. All you can tell at this point in time is that judging the outcome of a quarterback is deceptive when you only look at their first time starting on the field and not how they evolved through the season.
Maybe if we look at the same stats over the course of each quarterback’s first season, we can see some kind of trend between their debut and what they ended up becoming.
What you find when you look at the remainder of each quarterback’s season is that each individual’s passing ability leveled out to be about the same. ”So, NCStatePride, what’s the point of showing us this?”, you may ask. The purpose of this plot is to prove that the ability of each quarterback isn’t necessarily in what their boxscore stats show, but in what happens off the field. Maybe a better graphic to prove this point is in how each player’s passing percentage and average yards per completion improved over their first seasons.
Philip Rivers started great in his season opener and he stayed great (less than 10% change in his accuracy and distance per game). That’s just who Rivers was… consistently impressive. Wilson started mediocre and under the coaching of O’Brien and Bible improved to become who we all knew him as in the 2008 through 2010 season posting a 15% increase in his accuracy and an amazing 40% increase in his average range per game. The point of this whole analysis is that Glennon’s mediocre performance proves nothing other than he isn’t a Rivers who will come in on day one and instantly win our hearts and souls. Glennon’s start proves that he is a quarterback in control of his own destiny and that if he listens to the instruction and training of the very qualified Wolfpack coaching staff, he can become something great.
BOTTOM LINE (AND SOME NOTES ABOUT THE RUNNING GAME)…
Glennon will be relying on the coaching staff. It’s been said time and time again that this is “put up or shut up” time for Coach O’Brien and his staff so what better way to “put up” for the fans than to develop Glennon into a machine? Last season, he amazed the fan base and shocked the critics with his ranked 9-win season and victory over West Virginia in the Champs Bowl. What everyone is looking for now is consistency in success. Glennon didn’t start his career in any kind of irrecoverable hole. If anything, Glennon started with a far more accurate arm than Rivers did (58% completions for Mike and 51% for Philip). Let’s keep in mind, however, that Glennon is an older player now than when Philip debuted as a rookie starter.
If Glennon develops in the footsteps of Russell Wilson, the Wolfpack will be perfectly fine. Remember, Wilson developed best in the area of yards per completion, making him a true deep-field threat. The one area Glennon really lagged behind last Saturday was in yards per completion.
What we need to watch out for, with respect to Glennon’s development, is (a) how Glennon is developed into a greater long-range threat while maintaining his level of accuracy and (b) what Glennon does with his running game. Glennon had 6 rushing attempts and lost 26 yards. Now, the offensive line can be looked at if we’re trying to point fingers, but the bottom line is that the guys Glennon lined up behind last Saturday are the same guys he’ll be lining up behind when we play Carolina. As the rest of the team improves, we can’t have a quarterback who is losing a quarter of the field per game (not to mention that NC State fans are just getting off the ‘rushing’ high that Wilson left… racking up an average of 39 yards per game in his starting season).
Glennon had an average start, and where he goes from here is up to him. That is the message… the only message… that you can take from last Saturday’s game.