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How Does Dylan Thompson compare to other SEC quarterbacks?

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Many folks think Dylan Thompson has played unacceptably poorly over the season, with particular attention paid to three critical interceptions thrown against Kentucky. How does he compare to his SEC brethren?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The problem of late with arguments about Dylan Thompson is that people end up arguing about different things.  If you defend Dylan, then you're all of a sudden suggesting that he's the same guy Connor Shaw was last season (he's not).  If you criticize him, people note that he has no capable back-up, despite the fact that the lack of back-up in no way means Dylan's playing well.  He's become somewhat of a Rorschach test for Gamecock fans - you see what you want to see.

With half the season gone and a bye week approaching, it's as good a time as any to compare Dylan to the rest of his SEC counterparts to see just how his play stacks up against the "average" SEC quarterback in five important categories - yards per attempt (with sacks included as attempts); completion percentage; interceptions per attempt; sacks per attempt; and "bad" plays, which are defined as plays that end in either a sack or interception.

You'll notice that these statistics are all percentages.  To compare these guys on equal footing, we need to use rate stats, rather than just the raw number.  Kenny Hill has thrown more interceptions than Hutson Mason, but given that Hill's also thrown more than twice as many balls as Mason, should that really surprise.

Two things aren't adjusted for here that are important.  First, there's the strength of schedule.  As we've noted elsewhere, Carolina's played a far more challenging early-season slate than any other SEC school.  Second, this isn't adjusted for the style of offense.  I personally think Mason probably gets far easier throws over the course of a game because of the running threat presented by Todd Gurley, so consider that when you're looking at this information.

Yards per attempt

RK PLAYER TEAM YDS/ATT ATT
1 Blake Sims, QB ALA 10.1 128
2 Dak Prescott, QB MSST 9.5 122
3 Bo Wallace, QB MISS 8.9 162
4 Kenny Hill, QB TA&M 8.4 242
5 Anthony Jennings, QB LSU 8.1 93
6 Nick Marshall, QB AUB 7.7 95
7 Brandon Allen, QB ARK 7.7 97
8 Patrick Towles, QB UK 7.6 164
9 Dylan Thompson, QB SC 7.0 216
10 Maty Mauk, QB MIZZ 6.7 159
11 Hutson Mason, QB UGA 6.4 101
12 Justin Worley, QB TENN 5.6 194
13 Wade Freebeck, QB VAN 5.0 65
14 Jeff Driskel, QB FLA 4.8 139

Here, Dylan comes out as a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, someone who doesn't light up the opposition in the passing game, but also clearly distinguished from guys like Worley, Freebeck, and Driskel, who affirmatively hold their team back.


Also, remember the part about style of offense playing a role here - guys like Nick Marshall throw the ball only 20 or so times a game, so teams leave themselves more susceptible to the pass in order to stop the far more frequent rushing plays.  On the other hand, Dylan's been tossing the ball 36 times a game, and it's unsurprising that as usage increases, efficiency decreases.

Completion percentage

RK PLAYER TEAM Comp% ATT
1 Blake Sims, QB ALA 69.2% 128
2 Bo Wallace, QB MISS 64.9% 162
3 Hutson Mason, QB UGA 64.5% 101
4 Kenny Hill, QB TA&M 62.0% 242
5 Dak Prescott, QB MSST 60.0% 122
6 Patrick Towles, QB UK 59.4% 164
7 Brandon Allen, QB ARK 59.2% 97
8 Dylan Thompson, QB SC 58.7% 216
9 Justin Worley, QB TENN 56.4% 194
10 Nick Marshall, QB AUB 56.1% 95
11 Maty Mauk, QB MIZZ 53.6% 159
12 Jeff Driskel, QB FLA 52.8% 139
13 Anthony Jennings, QB LSU 46.5% 93
14 Wade Freebeck, QB VAN 40.8% 65

The story is similar in completion percentage - Dylan clearly stands apart from the dregs of the league, and indeed tops sophomore Maty Mauk of Missouri and Nick Marshall of Auburn, despite the latter's infrequent usage.  Of quarterbacks that throw a significant number of passes, only Bo Wallace and Kenny Hill clearly stand out above Thompson, as he otherwise finds himself completing a percentage of his passes that compares favorably to his far less frequently used colleagues.

Also, it's worth reiterating here - Dylan still has games against Furman and South Alabama to come.  These are the types of games that most of the guys you see here (e.g., Kenny Hill against Lamar) already have padding these numbers.

Interception percentage

RK PLAYER TEAM INT% ATT
1 Wade Freebeck, QB VAN 7.7% 65
2 Jeff Driskel, QB FLA 4.3% 139
3 Bo Wallace, QB MISS 3.7% 162
4 Anthony Jennings, QB LSU 3.2% 93
5 Hutson Mason, QB UGA 3.0% 101
6 Dylan Thompson, QB SC 2.8% 216
7 Justin Worley, QB TENN 2.6% 194
8 Maty Mauk, QB MIZZ 2.5% 159
9 Patrick Towles, QB UK 2.4% 164
10 Blake Sims, QB ALA 2.3% 128
11 Kenny Hill, QB TA&M 2.1% 242
12 Dak Prescott, QB MSST 1.6% 122
13 Nick Marshall, QB AUB 1.1% 95
14 Brandon Allen, QB ARK 1.0% 97

First things first - Wade Freebeck has thrown five interceptions in 65 attempts.  That's not good.

Second, interception percentage is generally a product of how many passes you throw that are broken up by the defense.  Quarterbacks have little to no control over whether the defensive back can catch or not.  Unfortunately, the NCAA doesn't keep pass break-ups against as a statistic, so we use interceptions as an imperfect but realistic stand-in statistic.

Here, Thompson once again finds himself in the middle of the pack.  His 2.8% interception percentage isn't good, but it's also significantly better than Bo Wallace, one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season, and someone who just engineered a win over the Alabama Crimson Tide.  Of course, Wallace plays for an Ole Miss squad with one of the best defenses in the league.  Dylan Thompson plays for one of the worst defenses the Gamecocks have put on the field in Steve Spurrier's 10-year tenure.

Sack percentage

RK PLAYER TEAM Sack% ATT
1 Wade Freebeck, QB VAN 8.5% 65
2 Justin Worley, QB TENN 8.1% 194
3 Anthony Jennings, QB LSU 7.9% 93
4 Patrick Towles, QB UK 6.3% 164
5 Dak Prescott, QB MSST 6.2% 122
6 Hutson Mason, QB UGA 5.6% 101
7 Bo Wallace, QB MISS 5.3% 162
8 Maty Mauk, QB MIZZ 4.2% 159
9 Dylan Thompson, QB SC 4.0% 216
10 Jeff Driskel, QB FLA 3.5% 139
11 Kenny Hill, QB TA&M 3.2% 242
12 Nick Marshall, QB AUB 3.1% 95
13 Blake Sims, QB ALA 1.5% 128
14 Brandon Allen, QB ARK 1.0% 97

In perhaps one of his most underrated skills this season, Thompson's done a very good job of avoiding sacks.  Of course, credit for this must be combined with the offensive line, but where Connor Shaw at times took too many sacks while being indecisive or trying to escape the pocket, Thompson typically gets rid of the ball to extend the series without taking a loss of yardage.

Much like the other areas, Thompson doesn't shine here, but he finds himself firmly ensconced in the middle of the SEC rankings, and perhaps rating the best of any SEC quarterback that isn't also a strong runner.

Bad play percentage

This combines sack percentage and interception percentage to show a percentage of plays the quarterback makes on pass attempts that constitute bad plays.

RK PLAYER TEAM Bad% ATT
1 Wade Freebeck, QB VAN 14.5% 65
2 Anthony Jennings, QB LSU 10.6% 93
3 Justin Worley, QB TENN 10.2% 194
4 Bo Wallace, QB MISS 8.5% 162
5 Patrick Towles, QB UK 8.4% 164
6 Hutson Mason, QB UGA 8.2% 101
7 Dak Prescott, QB MSST 7.6% 122
8 Jeff Driskel, QB FLA 7.3% 139
9 Dylan Thompson, QB SC 6.5% 216
10 Maty Mauk, QB MIZZ 6.5% 159
11 Kenny Hill, QB TA&M 5.1% 242
12 Nick Marshall, QB AUB 4.0% 95
13 Blake Sims, QB ALA 3.8% 128
14 Brandon Allen, QB ARK 2.0% 97

Again, Thompson finds himself in the middle despite the fact his team uses him substantially more than the other teams use the players around him, with one or two notable exceptions.  While we'd obviously like to see him lower on this list, his play doesn't fall outside the normal bounds of the typical SEC quarterback.  In fact, you find him right around average, with room for improvement, but certainly not pulling up the rear.

Also, again, Wade Freebeck is a truly miserable quarterback.

Conclusions

Again, you'll conclude what you want to based on these numbers.  Those that desperately want Spurrier to replace Thompson with Connor Mitch or Perry Orth will either find an area where Thompson doesn't excel and harp on it, or they'll note that his "clutch" play lacks in a way that a redshirt freshman or walk-on wouldn't lack.

In this vein, it's worth wondering how Mitch or Orth might play next season, given Spurrier's not found them worthy of even a single snap so far this season.  This time, he doesn't have a younger quarterback to hold the spot until reinforcements arrive, so the fact that neither have played yet concerns me greatly for the 2015 season. There's only been one season in his nine years at the helm where Steve Spurrier didn't get the back-up quarterback a significant number of snaps - 2009.  That team, led by Stephen Garcia, had Reid McCollum and not much else backing up Garcia.  Spurrier feared using McCollum so much he basically kept Garcia on the field no matter what he did.  And in 2010, when Connor Shaw arrived, he immediately moved him to second on the depth chart, keeping him from using a redshirt.

On the other hand, if you want to defend Thompson, you can find plenty of evidence here that he's done at least a capable job as quarterback of the Gamecocks, while also noting his numbers should improve as the Gamecocks play two of their weakest foes in the next six games.

From my perspective, it's hard to look at this and say the blame for this season lays at Dylan's feet, though you'd have to be insane not to recognize that he's not played his best in two critical Carolina losses.  Ultimately, however, he's simply not been as good as he needs to be, given the strengths (or lack thereof) of the defense and special teams.

Thompson still has at least six games left in a Gamecock uniform to write a different legacy than the one he seems to have transcribed so far this season.  He's already got wins against UCF, Clemson, and a last-second touchdown pass against Michigan on his record, and still has a chance to sweep the Gamecocks' most-hated rivals - Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Clemson.  If he (and the rest of the team) improve, he can still end this season, and his college career, on a high note.