During the Kentucky-Tennessee game last Saturday night there were a handful of prominent football people openly wondering if Patrick Towles had regressed. One of them being the very respected Chris Brown of both Smart Football and the late Grantland:
Kentucky QB Towles has gotten worse. The Tennessee LB didn't read screen at all but Towles just threw it directly at him for an INT— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) November 1, 2015
Chris is certainly more knowledgeable about the game than myself, but this comment struck me as misguided at worst, oversimplified at best. I tend to trust my instincts about UK football over the national-level pundits, so after being a bit of a jerk to Chris on Twitter, I decided to double-check my stance. If I was going to be one of those loudmouth jerks online, I should at least make the effort to support my opinion with evidence.
The following is based on a true story. The names of the players have not been changed.
Comparing Patrick Towles' Seasons
|Year||Games||Completions/Attempts||Completion %||Passing Yards||Yards/Attempt||TD's||INT's||Yards/Game|
The table illustrates Towles' previous three seasons. After redshirting in 2013, he had a good stat line for a first year SEC starter in 2014. At the moment, Towles looks set to surpass most, if not all, of his stats from last season. He's averaging 20 completions per game, which would put him at 242 completions for the year. If his numbers remain consistent, he'll also throw for nearly 2,900 yards this season.
It will be hard for Towles to remain consistent given the strength of the upcoming defenses he'll face, but just like last season, he's projected to finish the season as one of the leading quarterbacks in the SEC in several categories. He's also doing so without the offensive line that Dak Prescott, Chad Kelly, and Brandon Allen get to play behind. Nor does he have access to Ole Miss' receiving corps.
What Could Be The Issue Then?
The only statistical measure where Towles is worse in 2015 than he was in 2014 is taking care of the football. A careless quarterback is a big problem for an offense, and would go a ways toward wiping out the increase in other categories.
Here are Towles' interceptions for 2015:
11:27 4Q LA-Lafayette
||Underthrown ball single coverage.|
13:03 1Q South Carolina
||Should have just taken the safety.
11:12 1Q Florida
||Overthrown but off Dorian Baker's hands too.|
0:33 4Q Florida
||Desperation Hail Mary on 4th-and-27 at UK 30 yard line.|
13:48 2Q EKU
||Off back foot, underthrown deep ball, single coverage.|
0:33 2Q EKU
||Underthrown deep ball, single coverage.|
|INT #7||13:56 2Q Auburn
||Poor ball but not best route-running either.|
1:03 2Q MSU
||Overthrown deep ball, single coverage.|
10:40 3Q MSU
||Good play by the defense on deep ball.|
|INT #10||10:20 3Q Tennessee
||Screen thrown too soon.
Of the ten interceptions thrown by Towles in eight games, at least 6 were purely his fault. The Hail Mary against Florida, and the good play by the MSU defender can likely be overlooked. The ball that went off Baker's hand in the Florida game, and the poor route-running against Auburn are candidates as well depending on how charitable you're feeling. A common theme is many of them come off misplaced passes thrown into single coverage on deep routes. More on that at the end.
In order to compare whether Towles had taken a step back in taking care of the football, I also watched the nine interceptions thrown by Towles in 2014. Here's how they breakdown:
|INT #1||12:41 3Q Florida||Underthrown deep ball.|
|INT #2||13:48 4Q Florida||Deep ball thrown into double coverage.|
|INT #3||0:28 4Q Florida||Receiver's fault.|
|INT #4||10:19 2Q Vanderbilt||Throw into double coverage|
|INT #5||0:22 2Q Missouri||Overthrown deep ball into single coverage.|
|INT #6||14:55 3Q Georgia||Throw deflected off receiver, probably double coverage.|
|INT #7||1:48 3Q Tennessee||Underthrown ball, double coverage.|
|INT #8||7:45 4Q Louisville||No idea. Possible WR miscommunication.
|INT #9||0:35 4Q Louisville||Poor throw into coverage.|
Of the nine interceptions thrown by Towles in 2014, eight were very likely his fault with the possible exception of the interception against Georgia if you're still feeling charitable. The theme of 2014's interceptions were throws into double coverage.
Murky Conclusions & Role of the Coaches
The evidence is mixed. Towles is on pace to put up bigger numbers in 2015, but he also looks set to throw more picks. In 2015, Towles is very likely responsible for somewhere between 70-80% of his interceptions. In 2014, he was very likely responsible for between 78-88% of his picks. There are still four games left to go, and one would hope an experienced quarterback's numbers would decrease, or hold steady in picks while increasing everywhere else. That will likely prove difficult given the quality of upcoming defenses on UK's schedule.
The evidence above certainly doesn't take into account the precision passes Towles has completed this year against tight coverage. It may even be a sign of maturation that fewer interceptions were the result of throwing into double coverage so far in 2015.
Which leads me to my next point: four interceptions came on deep balls, which may be a result of a coaching point to throw deep when receivers Dorian Baker, Jeff Badet, Garrett Johnson, and Blake Bone draw single coverage. The coaches may judge that Towles hits enough of these throws, and has the receiving talent, to risk deeper throws with a quarterback who battles with consistency. Throwing along the sideline may be the best option for a big-arm quarterback who can use the out-of-bounds line as an insurance policy.
If throwing it up for grabs against single coverage is by design then how many of Towles' interceptions are on the staff? If it were as a result of Towles making the decision to be aggressive independently, one would think he would have been replaced by Drew Barker by this point. If the aggressive approach is by design, who can blame the staff? They throw deep for chunk yards when they get single coverage, because they've been handcuffed by execution on standard plays in 2015.
It's a double-edged sword. UK's best offense in 2015 is the deep ball, and it's resulted in an offense averaging nearly 400 yards per game without any semblance of a consistent running game; however, it appears to have resulted in an uptick in interceptions.
What say you?