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What’s Eating Garrett Gilbert?

My goal as a blogger is to only make claims and arguments that can be supported by evidence. I have very little trust in subjective assessments, even when made by very informed observers.

I take to heart the statement displayed on an old boss’ placard- “Without data or supporting evidence, what you have is just another G***amned opinion.”

 Which leads me to the topic of Garret Gilbert.  I see a lot of criticisms of him- slow release, locks in on receivers, doesn’t take enough shots downfield, turnover machine.  I think he’s getting a bad rap, and that there are far more serious problems on offense.  I get that he's ranked as one of the poorest Big 12 passers, and he's doing awful per the most important metric of a Texas QB- wins.  Let’s look at some other numbers for perspective.

 Gilbert is a first year starter, second year player.  Knowing that, are you surprised to hear that we are running more of the offense through him than any QB Mack has had here except for junior and senior year Colt McCoy?  I looked at the season stats for Mack’s tenure, and subtracted QB carries from the rushing attempts.  I then divided that (rushing plays where the ball is carried by somebody other than the QB) number by the total number of offensive plays.  Here are the results:

  RB Carries Plays %
1998 400 757 52.84%
1999 408 975 41.85%
2000 352 803 43.84%
2001 420 886 47.40%
2002 438 915 47.87%
2003 413 916 45.09%
2004 437 890 49.10%
2005 438 941 46.55%
2006 384 854 44.96%
2007 389 975 39.90%
2008 372 955 38.95%
2009 373 1053 35.42%
2010 193 493 39.15%


Wow.  Remember Major’s second year, when he threw the ball so much, winning Big 12 POTY?  We didn’t ask him to shoulder as much of the load as Gilbert does.  Remember when we had the best running QB ever?  We still handed the ball off to RBs more than with Gilbert at QB.  Basically, the only QB we asked to carry more of the offense than Gilbert was our two-time AA – Colt McCoy.  Given two more games like ISU, and Gilbert might pass McCoy in this metric.

 Well, we know Gilbert is costing games with turnovers, right?  Well…that is a perception, but I’m not sure it’s grounded in reality.  Here is Gilbert’s interception data for 2010, and the career marks for the other major QBs in Brown’s tenure:

QB Picks Attempts Ratio
Gilbert 8 253 31.63
McCoy 45 1615 35.89
Young 28 718 25.64
Simms 31 911 29.39
Applewhite 28 1065 38.04


Huh.  So Gilbert throws interceptions more often than McCoy and Applewhite, and less often than Simms and Young.  He is only a sophomore, though.

 We also see that he doesn’t throw downfield enough.  Let’s look at a funny metric Texas keeps- “Explosive Plays”.  An “explosive play” is defined as a pass play that goes farther than 16 yards or a run that goes farther than 12.  Through 7 games, Texas has 33 explosive passes and 17 explosive runs.  Through 7 games last year, our undefeated Longhorns had 31 explosive pass plays and 27 explosive runs.  I think now we are starting to see the real problem here.  Our running game sucks.  It’s awful, and the coaches know it.  If we had a better running game, I bet Gilbert would have less pass attempts for as many or more yards.  If we had a better running game, I suspect we would all feel better about Gilbert.

 Don’t get me wrong.  I root for the Longhorns, and not Garret Gilbert in particular.  He seems like a nice kid, but I posted before that we should compete the position, and would not shed a tear if he were beat out by a better player.  I just don’t want to see a bogus “pull the QB as a last gasp to see if the backup has something special we have never noticed before” move.  I would be OK with a “change the whole offense in mid-season and replace the QB with someone better able to run it” move if it were followed in the off-season by a “retire the OC who so badly misread the state of college football play” move.  Frankly, the staff has known Gilbert for years and bragged the whole time about his skills and how they would build an offense around them.  Any failings are on them more than the kid.

It was telling a couple of weeks ago, when Davis said Gilbert's problem was not making things happen when a play breaks down.  Good luck recruiting with that pitch, Greg.  "Well, Johnny, you do great executing your HS offense.  The real question if you want to be a QB for me is how well you will do when the defense seems to know what the play is before the snap, and they jump all over the receivers you plan to look for.  What do you do then?  Do you scramble for a first down?  Do you buy time and see how long it takes for somebody to break open?  Because that's what happens about a third of the time in my offense."

It makes you want to weep.