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Just The Sports: Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley Demonstrate How Not To Follow A Legend

Just The Sports

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley Demonstrate How Not To Follow A Legend

Following a legend is no easy feat as University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert and University of Florida quarterback John Brantley can now attest to after equally disastrous seasons. Gilbert and Brantley were tasked with replacing Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, respectively, who were two of the most prolific and efficient passing quarterbacks in recent history and failed miserably at doing so. In fact, Gilbert and Brantley played so poorly that not only does it solidify McCoy's and Tebow's greatness as college quarterbacks, but it also calls into question whether or not Gilbert and Brantley should be allowed to continue in their roles as starting quarterback.

After Colt McCoy was injured in the first quarter of the 2009 BCS National Championship game, Garrett Gilbert received his first opportunity to be the Longhorns' primary quarterback and he completely squandered it. Gilbert only completed 37.5 percent of his 40 pass attempts (15 of 40), gained a measly 4.7 yards per pass attempt, and threw twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two), but he had built-in excuses of having only thrown 26 collegiate passes before that game, being a true freshman quarterback who had not planned on playing in the game, and going against the best defense in college football.

There was prevalent thinking that under more favorable quarterback conditions where Gilbert was the unquestioned number one quarterback and would be able to prepare fully to play that he would be a very good college quarterback. However, Gilbert's play over the course of the season disabused people of that notion, as he completed just 59.0 percent of his passes, gained a paltry 6.2 yards per attempt and 4.9 yards per attempt, and threw 17 interceptions (3.9 interception percentage) to 10 touchdowns (2.3 touchdown percentage). Compared to Colt McCoy's time at Texas, Gilbert's already abysmal statistics look even worse.

Former University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy completely spoiled Longhorn fans during his four years as the starting quarterback. In games where he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards, McCoy completed an otherworldly 70.2 percent of his passes, gained 8.0 yards per attempt and 8.2 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and posted a 6.8 touchdown percentage and a 2.7 interception percentage, establishing himself as the best quarterback to ever play for former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

McCoy also set an almost impossible standard for his successor, but one would have expected Gilbert to come closer to matching McCoy than he did. Instead, he forced Longhorn fans to witness a passing game that decreased dramatically, and statistically significantly, in production. The transition from McCoy to Gilbert saw the Texas passing game decrease by 16.0 percent in completion percentage, 22.5 percent in yards per attempt, 40.2 percent in adjusted yards per attempt, and 66.2 percent in touchdown percentage; in terms of interception percentage, Gilbert was 30.8 percent better at throwing interceptions than McCoy. In every positive category, Gilbert was incredibly less proficient than McCoy and in the one negative category, he showed himself to be much more proficient, which is the opposite of what you want to see from a quarterback successor.

Gilbert could not even match Colt McCoy's worst season, his sophomore campaign, as a starting quarterback for the Longhorns. During that season, McCoy completed 65.1 percent of his passes, gained 7.8 yards per attempt and 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt, and threw 22 touchdowns (5.2 touchdown percentage) and 18 interceptions (4.2 interception percentage). McCoy's completion percentage and yards per attempt were still impressive, but his high number of interceptions kept the season from being as valuable as it could have been.

Even so, Gilbert's season represented a decrease of 9.4 percent in completion percentage, 20.5 percent in yards per attempt, 29.0 percent in adjusted yards per pass attempt, 55.8 percent in touchdown percentage, and 7.1 percent in interception percentage. Gilbert was better than McCoy at avoiding interceptions, but does not even come close to making up the advantage McCoy had over him in touchdown percentage.

The decrease in production from McCoy's career to Gilbert's season was so drastic Greg Davis no longer has a job as an offensive coordinator. That is the danger when your team transitions from the best quarterback to ever play for you to one where if he were to continue the trend he set this past season would be the worst quarterback you ever coached.

The nightmare Texas football experienced as Gilbert took over for Colt McCoy was mirrored at another football powerhouse university, the University of Florida, as John Brantley replaced Florida's favorite son, Tim Tebow. As much as Tim Tebow was revered for the value he provided to the Florida offense, Brantley might be equally reviled for the value he did not provide for the Florida Gators.

John Brantley had a reputation as an effective pocket passer, an attribute never bestowed upon Tebow, and even I was guilty of thinking Brantley would put up even better passing numbers than Tebow. Instead, Brantley posted paltry numbers across the board, completing 60.8 percent of his passing, gaining 6.3 yards per attempt and 5.4 adjusted yards per attempt, and throwing nine touchdowns (2.7 touchdown percentage) to 10 interceptions (3.0 interception percentage).

Contrast that to what Tim Tebow did over his tenure at the University of Florida in games when he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for his team as he completed 66.6 percent of his passes, gained 9.4 yards per attempt and 10.4 yards per pass attempt, and posted a 8.7 touchdown percentage and a 1.5 interception percentage.

The statistically significant difference between the years Florida fans enjoyed with Tebow as the primary quarterback and what the Brantley-led passing offense just subjected them to was a decrease of 8.7 percent in completion percentage, 33.0 percent in yards per attempt, 48.1 percent in adjusted yards per pass attempt, and 69.0 percent in touchdown percentage; Brantley was 50.0 percent better than Tebow in interception percentage, not a feat of which any quarterback should be proud.

As Tebow was remarkably consistent over his time as Florida's primary quarterback, there was no season where he was definitively at his worst so Brantley cannot even gain a reprieve by claiming he was at least better than Tebow at Tebow's worst since he was not.

With Charlie Weis arriving as the new offensive coordinator for the University of Florida with what Brantley should hope is an offense more suited to his strengths, there is a good chance that he could see an improvement in his production. It would certainly be difficult for him to play any worse.

Even if Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley had arrived on their respective campuses at different times, times where two great college quarterbacks had not just finished wrapping up their careers, their seasons would still have been disappointments due to their meager yards per attempt averages, but they might not have been viewed as the unmitigated disasters they are in light of what we have come to expect from the Texas and Florida football programs over the past few seasons.

That is what happens when you attempt to follow a legend and their inability to do so led to coaching changes at each university.

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