Alternate Title: What happened to all our big plays?
The rise of the Cincinnati Bearcats as a nationally relevant Football program has been built on the premise and promise of great quarterback play. What really elevated things, and caught the attention of nearly everyone, was the out of nowhere 2007 season from Ben Mauk when he finished second in the Big East to Brian Brohm in all relevant statistics. Since then the meme on the Bearcats has been great QB play. The prevailing notion being that unless there is someone extraordinary under center things were going to get tough. That idea held firm through the 2008 season which was, in purely statistical terms, the worst Bearcats offense and passing game since the Mark Dantonio era.
Even going back and reading the pre season prognostications on the Bearcats they all had section that basically said.
The 2011 Cincinnati Bearcats will be a better team if Quarterback Zach Collaros can maintain his form from last season and/or recapture the magic from his mercurial 4 game starting stretch in 2009.
Collaros was singled out again and again as the guy who had to perform for this team to have a shot at a bowl game. Getting a piece of the Big East crown wasn't in the offing from almost anyone's perspective. The shocking thing is that the Bearcats posted 10 wins for the 4th time in 5 season and won a share of a third Big East title in 4 seasons despite a monster year from the QB position. The facts.
In every meaningful statistical category the 2011 Bearcats weren't just off the pace set by the high flying teams of the 2007-2010 era, they were well off the pace. Becuase the Bearcats had such a dominate force in Isaiah Pead the offense went away from the pass more in favor of the run. In the end the Bearcats threw the ball five fewer times than the 2007-10 average and did it with less efficiency and clearly diminishing returns. Again that is a perfectly logical direction to take the offense, players with Isaiah Pead's skill sets aren't exactly common. Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian milked every last ounce of ability from Pead this season. That goes part of the way to explaining why the passing game was de-emphasized. But it doesn't explain why with fewer attempts per game and a real, live play action passing game to work with the efficiency of the Bearcats quarterbacks didn't just fall, but plummeted to five year lows.
The Square Peg in the Round Hole
Last Spring I did an all consuming study of the Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian offense. What became clear as the process wore on is that Zach Collaros really isn't a great fit for the system that Jones and Bajakian prefer to run. The ideal QB for this scheme is tall enough to stand in the pocket and survey the defense, has a strong enough arm to challenge defenses outside the numbers and down the seams and the accuracy to fit the ball into tight windows on intermediate routes. A good pocket presence is a must and has to be able to challenge defenses with his feet.
If you are keeping track at home Zach ticks two of those boxes. He is extremely accurate on intermediate routes and he is a threat as a runner. But that's it. So much of what he has been asked to do has been outside his comfort zone and/or beyond his abilities. It was harder to figure those facts out in 2010 because Armon Binns was such a towering presence on the offense. He bailed Zach out on god knows how many questionable decisions by being generally spectacular.
This year's receiving core didn't have a play maker of that magnitude (pop! pop!). As a result the passing game with Zach took place almost entirely from the numbers to the sideline. To the degree that the appearance of a vertically threatening passing game against South Florida took me by complete surprise.
And there is proof that the passing game was pedestrian, a real lack of big plays.
Same numbers with a twist. The number of attempts it took to generate a play of x+ number of yards.
Not all of that can be placed at the hands of Zach Collaros and Munchie Legaux. Both played their parts in the issue. But for most of the season they were absolutely killed, killed I tell you, by a lack of consistency for the Wide Receivers. More on that latter in the process.
The Point Where You Get To Laugh At Me For Being Stupid
Coming into the season I gave the quarterback position a rating of 8 (out of 10) looking back it's easy to see that I was being exceedingly generous. Looking at the season and the performance out of the QB's this year it's hard to put myself in a frame of mind where an 8 makes sense. For the 2011 season the Quarterbacks get a 6. It should probably be a 5, but its hard give the QB's from a 10 win season a 5, even with plenty of reason.