It’s the second (third?) week of the college football season and TCU has a bye, so let’s talk about quarterbacks, friends. The Big 12 is a quarterback-heavy league, and TCU has been blessed with relative consistency over the years, from Dalton (eventually) to Boykin (eventually) to Hill (eventually). Yes, Dalton, Boykin, and Hill all had “bad” years, but they developed and turned into solid contributors, the bedrock of potent offenses, each with some incredible accolades.
TCU made their hay with that quarterback development plans - in Boykin and Hill’s second seasons at TCU, they both bounced back from a single-digit debacle to a double digit contender, challenging for a Big 12 championship and winning major bowl games. That TCU plan of development and steady improvement seems to have gone awry with the disappointment and transfer of Shawn Robinson and the injury of Justin Rogers.
What we have now is a weird strain of uncertainty - two competing forces manifesting in Kansas State grad-transfer Alex Delton starting against UAPB: Gary Patterson’s preference for high floors and experience, and Gary Patterson’s concern for hurting a freshman’s development. Delton took the first couple of series on Saturday, and then took most of the third quarter for himself. Along the way, Delton looked at times shaky with his passes (most receptions were under-thrown) with a 40.6 QBR, and fairly inconsistent with his legs (an impressive 54 yard scamper inflated a 9.6 yards per attempt number; without that run, Delton had 13 yards on 6 carries - barely 2 yards per). It’s worth noting that Delton suffered from more than a few drops, but many of those were a function of Delton’s accuracy, in addition to the WR’s ability.
Duggan, in his time, showed the boom and bust characteristics you would expect out of a freshman: his one passing touchdown came on a coverage assignment so busted you and I could’ve put the ball in the end zone, and his rushing touchdown was a one yard scamper on a seemingly broken play. Aside from those two plays, Duggan looked mostly consistent, but with a lot to improve: his 94.4 QBR dwarfs Delton’s, but outside of that one touchdown, Duggan averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, hardly distinguishable from Delton’s.
I’m writing today to make a case that Duggan should start, and play the majority of the reps, going forward for TCU, and Delton should only be used in a “Break-Glass-In-Case-of-Emergency” role.
Big Picture Comparisons: Rush and Pass
First, let’s contextualize both QBs’ performances with the Big 12 last week. (Note, for whatever reason, Kansas’s PBP data wasn’t in this round of updates, so I’m still working out some kinks - Carter Stanley had a 68.1 QBR vs a 4-loss FCS team, so who cares.)
First things to note - the universe loves irony: Delton left KSU presumably after having been beaten out for the starting job, and that seems to be a pretty smart move for KSU. Competition aside, Skylar Thompson looked as good as anyone in the Big 12 last weekend (98.9 QBR), and Delton looked as bad as anyone. EPA/Attempt here is just a stat that measures on average how much value per pass attempt a player added (for an EPA primer, go here).
There’s a huge drop-off between Thompson, Hurts, and the rest of the conference, but Duggan still had better stats than any other Big 12 QB who played meaningful minutes. Note - there’s some variation in style that EPA struggles to capture; Sam Ehlinger is obviously not the 11th best Big 12 QB. Note that on one more attempt, Duggan was a half point more valuable than Delton, on average. I’ll have more on that below.
You might be thinking, “well, sure, passing isn’t Delton’s strong suit. He’s a run-first threat.” Let’s go to the tape.
Ok, ok, a sample size of 1 rush for Duggan and 5 for Delton doesn’t tell us a whole lot. In fact, it looked like TCU was passing a lot early on to give the QBs time to work and establish themselves - TCU passed 55% of the time, and that number looks much higher when you realize that the Frogs ran 12 times in their last three drives of the second half. They were pass heavy until the game was out of reach, which makes sense for a QB audition game.
But, to the matter at hand. Delton had that huge scamper and that helped his EPA, but in five rushes, his total rushing value added was only 3 points better than Duggan’s one rush, and the discrepancy vanishes when you factor in Delton’s big play and sacks.
Delton and Duggan, Play-by-Play
The first thing that jumps out at me between these two charts is third downs: Duggan had 4 third downs with positive EPA (out of 6 attempts), whereas Delton had only 2 out of 6 attempts with positive EPA. Third down passing is going to be crucial for extending drives in a league where teams score so profusely.
Second, Delton was worth almost 23 points less than Duggan over the course of the game. Granted, that includes a huge swing on a play outside Delton’s control, but if you give him credit for that play (+12 Net EPA), he still is 11 points worse than Duggan in the passing game. Look deep inside yourself; how much better would you feel if TCU had won this game 57-7 instead of 39-7? Would we even be having this QB conversation if that was the case?
Finally, we have to contextualize these numbers in two key areas: first - this is one game, the first of the season, against a mediocre FCS team, with two quarterbacks brand new to the system. There are differences between the two, but perhaps not as stark and obvious as an 18 point swing.
Second, more importantly, we need to contextualize the ages of the QBs. Alex Delton has been a pretty-ok player for his entire career. Delton had 20 starts under his belt going into Saturday’s contest, and his best career completion percentage line was 57%. Duggan played in his first college game, a night game, and clearly outshone Delton.
We know what Alex Delton is, and all Frogs should be grateful for the depth and experience he brought to TCU this season - he is making the Frogs better in practice and in the locker room.
We know what Max Duggan could be, and the Frogs are only hamstringing their season by not giving him the chance to become that star. Duggan is more valuable than Delton, Duggan has proved his potential on the field - the Frogs should hand him the ball and not look back.
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