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Friday, August 26


ATL Roundtable: Texas passing attack

We’re introducing something new here at All Things Longhorn: the ATL Roundtable, where we’ll be breaking down an interesting topic three ways, between ATL’s two regular authors—Peter Bean and Andrew Wiggins—as well as Travis Richmond, former editor of the sports page at the university's daily newspaper, The Daily Texan, and an avid Longhorn fan as well. These roundtables are meant to spark discussion, and we strongly encourage readers to jump in the fray at the end of the posting in the comment section.

Today's Topic: How effective will the Texas passing attack be this year?

Peter Bean
Let’s start with some stats, gentlemen. Here are Vince Young’s statistical passing totals:

2003, freshman: 84-143 (58.7% completion), 1155 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT, 96.2 yards per game, QB Rating 130.6

2004, sophomore: 148-250 (59.2%), 1849 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT, 154.1 ypg, QB Rating 128.4

And now, for comparison, another African-American Big 12 quarterback who can run as well as pass, Reggie McNeal:

2002, freshman: 24-45 (53.3%), 456 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 57 ypg, QB Rating 169.1

2003, sophomore: 113-221 (51.1%), 1782 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT, 148.5 ypg, QB Rating 124.5

2004, junior: 200-344 (58.1%), 2791 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT, 232 ypg, QB Rating 137.4

What can we make of this? We can pretty much ignore McNeal’s freshman year, as he only played for limited minutes, and didn’t even appear in three games. So, let’s compare McNeal’s sophomore-junior campaigns against Young’s freshman-sophomore seasons and see what we can learn.

In McNeal’s first full year as a starter, he was solid, but far from a strong passing quarterback. Only one more touchdown than interception, a mediocre completion percentage, and an unspectacular quarterback rating. Fast forward a year to McNeal’s junior year and we see a huge improvement. McNeal was very good last year, with a strong completion percentage, quarterback rating, and TD-INT ratio. The Aggies clearly trusted him to pass more, too, as evidenced by the 56% increase in passing attempts.

Basically, after a freshman year in which he was learning the college game, McNeal had a rough sophomore year and a breakout junior year. And let’s not forget: after McNeal’s 2003, plenty of people were clamoring about how he couldn’t pass and was too one-dimensional.

Sound familiar? It should. Vince Young, with the benefit of a redshirt year upon arriving in Austin, had a productive-but-rough freshman year and an improved, but not spectacular, sophomore year. Is there reason to think Young can break out in the way that McNeal did?

In my mind, I think we’re going to see significant improvement in the Texas passing game and Vince Young this year. Last year’s receiving “core” was pathetic. As one of our more poetic readers pointed out in the comment section, “Limas Sweed fucking sucks!” Well, he certainly sucked last year. But he’s still big and talented. The tight ends are solid. And, like McNeal in 2004, I think we’ll see Young have a much improved year passing the ball. I don’t think we’re going to see numbers that, taken without consideration for his running, would blow anyone away. But I think you’ll see fewer interceptions, more touchdowns, and more deep balls. I’m not expecting Peyton Manning here, but something closer to Reggie McNeal of last year would be just fine.

And lest we give McNeal too much credit here, let’s not forget who the better runner is. In Young’s first two years he ran for 998 yards and 11 TD (2003) and 1079 yards and 14 TD (2004). McNeal can’t touch that. He ran for 370 yards and 4 TD (2003) and 718 yards and 8 TD (2004). Give me Young any day of the week.

Andrew Wiggins
Don’t call me an Aggie, but McNeal for Young is more than worth considering. In his first two years at UT, Young was a run first, pass second quarterback. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Texas won a BCS bowl (during which Young was spectacular) for the first time in team history and has beaten everyone but OU since Young took over.

We hear week after week how difficult it is to defend against Young. But we must remember that the last two years Young has had Cedric Benson at his side. This year that will not be the case. Texas has successfully gotten away with running until it can’t run anymore before even considering passing. I don’t think this is going to work again this season without Benson. Romance Taylor and Selvin Young have extremely big shoes to fill. Unless they provide a second serious run threat, Young and the Texas offense will be in trouble.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that they do. Are we now to assume that OSU, OU, and A&M won’t be able to scheme a defense to stop the run enough on first and second to force third and long. Third and long is the demise of all offenses but will be even more so with Texas without a legitimate passing threat from Young. I agree with Bean that we may see better years from our young wideouts but unless Young develops into a more accurate, more consistent passer, it won’t matter who is running the routes.

Technique is why I will place Reggie McNeal slightly above VY. Young is probably a better athlete and is certainly better at making defenses miss with the ball in his hand. McNeal is without a doubt a better passer, though. He has the technique, arm strength, and confidence to make the throws necessary to run a quality offense. In my opinion, Young may have the arm strength but in no way does he have the technique or confidence to become a quality passer. I predict both McNeal and Young will have outstanding years and both will show improvement from their last two. McNeal will improve his accuracy while continue to come up big in big games. Unless Young has improved his mechanics in the off season to allow him to throw the ball over his shoulder and down the field with strength, he will remain simply a great running quarterback.

Travis Richmond
Reggie McNeal is a good quarterback. Vince Young is an unstoppable player. Now you tell me which one you would rather have. It’s college football. You take the best player and build around him. If you’re USC and you lose Matt Leinert, you’d want the better passer. But if you are Virginia Tech and the offense is going to the Michael Vick show, you want the unstoppable player because on every play he is the number one option.

Texas this year will be the Vince Young show. That’s fine with me, because I think he is the most exciting player in college football, and when you have the number one guy, you showcase him. There was no doubt what the Atlanta Falcons were going to do after they traded for the No. 1 pick to draft Vick. It was going to be his show.

Now with Benson gone and no established receivers, it’s got to be the Vince Young show. The coaches knew this last year and they started making plans for it. The idea was cemented when Young took over the Rose Bowl. What we saw was not the original game plan. Cedric Benson got hurt on the first series, and from there the playbook went out the window. We should have lost that game, and the coaches basically knew it. Without Benson, our offense had no one to pound the ball with. So the coaches just let Vince “wing it” out there. It was like a video game. And most importantly, it worked.

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: that Rose Bowl may end up being one of the most important games in Texas football history, and not for what it accomplished but what it may lead to. If we open the offense up this year, it will be because the coaches found out on accident that it would work, and that Vince was that damn good.

But if we see the same old bullshit, with Vince playing in handcuffs, we’ll have two losses by the middle of October.

We’ll know very soon. If you see wild and crazy Texas, almost streetball style, in the opener, this could be the year. If I see Selvin Young get 20 carries and Vince is running for less than 100 yards, I am going to be pissed because it will mean our coaches don’t have the balls to let the man play.

Young is the Heisman favorite by a mile at this point, believe me. Everyone around the country saw the Rose Bowl, and no one wants a repeat winner in Leinart. Vince also has the two giant showcase games early to solidify his role as favorite. We’ll know very early on whether Mack Brown is smart enough, and ballsy enough, to let the Vince Young show take the stage.

I’m going to add the remainder of my commentary to the comment section, as we don’t want the main post to get out of control. First, to Andrew’s take: I disagree. A Young-for-McNeal swap makes absolutely no sense. Maybe, maybe, maybe you draft McNeal ahead of Young in the NFL because you know that McNeal is a better passer and you’re not sure Young has a natural position to play in the NFL. Maybe.

But in the college game, Travis nailed it. You take the better all-around player, and in that regard, there is no question: Young is better. By quite a bit. The college game is all about the big play, and there isn’t anyone with more potential to make a big play on any down than Young. He needs to touch the ball on every single snap, and defenses must be worried that, on any given play he might: hand off, fake a handoff and run himself, pass, or drop back to pass with the intention of running.

How much fun do you think it would be to be a safety trying to figure out what Young is going to do? I’m guessing not much. If you cheat up to stop his run, you’ve opened up the field for some big passing plays. If you stack the box to stop Young, you’ve still got to tackle him. Ask Michigan how difficult that can be.

And that’s why Travis’s take is especially important: the Texas coaches must, must, must get creative with Young and the offense to keep the defenses off balance. It’s so easy to scheme against a predictable offense – Young’s best quality is that he can beat you so many ways. Is he a great thrower? No, but he doesn’t have to be. He just has to continue to be the best player on the field on any given down, which he always is. And he needs the opportunity to keep the defense guessing. That part will be up to the coaches. Kinda scary, don’t ya think?
Are you guys saying that McNeal couldn't have had better stats/percentages/ratios if he had a RB like Benson, a better O-line or receivers like Young had 2 years ago?

Mcneal's people around him have upgraded while Young's have slightly downgraded.

Only time will tell.

Selvin Young? What has he ever done that has folks salivating? Ramonce Young? I never heard of him til the other day. What do you think is going through Bob Stoops' head right now?

Texas has no proven RBs or WRs. He'll have 2 LBs track V Young the whole game. The rest of his defense is good enough to shut down. He'll force V Young to use his sidearm screwball to beat him.
No, we're not saying that McNeal couldn't have done better if he'd had Benson and a better offensive line. I'm sure he could have been. What we are saying - or at least what Travis and I are saying - is that, all else being equal, it's better to have Vince Young. If you had a college team to run, and you got to choose your quarterback, who would you rather have?

Travis and I would rather have Young. Furthermore, don't underestimate Texas' ability to run the ball this year. The offensive line is phenemonal, Selvin Young is far better than you're giving him credit for. And your last argument is, well, not an argument. That you've never heard of a player speaks nothing of his abilities.
Vince Young on another level that McNeal on playmaking ability, no matter who is playing with them. There is no question as to who you want at QB between the 2 in college football. I also think that a lot of young's passes were dropped last year. I am not saying he is a better passer than McNeal, but I think he is better than people are saying. Ramonce Taylor is also a play maker, he was last year, and I think he will be better this year.
I agree that the success of the passing game is up to the coaches this year, and yes that is scary. Greg Davis is still the OC and he will always have a touch of downs syndrome.
Nevertheless, I am still cautiously optimistic about the passing game because everything is in place for it to be successful.

-Vince Young aka Black Jesus
-David Thomas is the best receiving TE in the country
-Ramonce Taylor (should touch the ball 10-15 times a game)
-about four more very talented backs
-offensive line is the best at UT since 96

These factors will make the defenses creep up which should create some opportunities for a deep ball. I know Texas does not have Teddy Ginn and Santonio Holmes at receiver, but somebody is bound to get open deep. Vince Young may not have the touch on a deep throw like Applewhite did, but he can put it in the general area which is good enough against man coverage. The deep ball worked for the Aggies, the Okie Lites, and the Trojans against OU in recent years. For some reason Texas does not like to throw deep in big games.

Hopefully it won’t be ‘too windy’ this year. A few designed screens to Ramonce Taylor would be nice too, but GD does not use that play either.
Nice blog Peter & Wiggins.
There's no way UT fans should even consider a McNeal for Young swap, because Young is the type of player who can make up for offensive deficiencies. He can be a one man wrecking crew. McNeal, on the other hand is the guy who would fit in better with a team that has all the traditional pieces around him (hence his likelihood of being a higher NFL draft pick). That said, I think I go with McNeal as my QB if I'm building a team from scratch. I think people often overvalue a quarterback's ability to gain positive rushing yards from scrimmage. We drool over highlights of Vick's scramble against West Virginia or the Minnesota Vikings, but the reason these highlights are so appealing is that these runs are few and far between. The real value in a QB's athleticism is to evade the rush and hit a receiver 45-55 yards downfield for the big play. If he gives himself 6 seconds to throw the ball instead of 3, a quality receiver will get open. That's why in a well balanced offence, I go with McNeal's arm-leg combo over Young's overwhelming ground attack.
Greg D’s comment is the first compelling argument I’ve heard for McNeal, but in my mind, it’s only a half-truth and not divergent with what I’ve been saying the entire time. What Greg D. correctly points out is that the real prize is the big play, and that the ability for a quarterback to buy enough time to free receivers is immeasurably valuable. It’s one of the reasons Donovan McNabb is as effective as he is, warts and all. (Anyone remember that pass against Dallas on Monday night last year? Oh. My. God.) Daunte Culpepper is similarly effective.

But the NFL and college game are so vastly different that we have to take them separately. It’s one of the reasons why so many of the great college quarterbacks are not legitimate NFL prospects. Charlie Ward comes to mind. I have serious doubts about Vince Young’s ability to quarterback in the NFL. For that matter, I have serious doubts about Michael Vick’s ability to retain his status as a starting quarterback.

But in the college game, there is no replacing the threat that Vince Young brings to the field. For me to pick someone to build my offense around, they’d have to be terrifyingly good at throwing the ball. A lot better, in other words, than Reggie McNeal. Give me Vick and Young over almost anyone, save the ELITE passers.
Greg Davis posts here? Awesome. Hey man, can you open it up a little bit on Oct 8th?

The McNeal vs Young debate is stupid. They're both great college QBs. Both schools are happy with who they have behind center. I'm much much happier with the results VY has given. I mean, he even beats Baylor.

I'm convinced aTm will always have trouble staying at 3rd place in the Big 12 South no matter who they have at QB. aTm is where college QBs go to die. Just look at their past 5 or 6. When Dustin Long transferred, he was an instant star.
V Young has had a better team around him and nobody - not even Aggies - will challenge that fact.

With the "all things being equal" thing ... well, four years ago they had comparable teams around them. McNeal won the 5A state championship and Young lost in the semifinals to the team McNeal beat in the finals.

Now. Quarterbacks, at all levels, are ultimately judged not on big plays or scrambles or stats, but how many points the team puts on the board.

Who do you want in the big game, Montana or Marino? Vick or Brady? Manning or Brady? Sure, V Young single-handedly beat Michigan just like McNeal single-handedly beat Oklahoma.

I dig the college-only QB thing. Look at Wuerffel, Tee Martin, Crouch, Frazier, Matt Mauck, Scott Frost. This has been a pleasant debate although there's no clear-cut correct choice. For the record, I voted for V. Young in the poll and was surprised to see him trailing.
Off topic, but are you guys going to set up an ESPN pick em group?
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