Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is something of an enigma. On one hand, he hasn't lost since middle school, a stretch that includes an undefeated record as the starter at Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll after stepping in for Chase Daniel and his current undefeated season in his lone year as the starter at Alabama. On the other hand, he's sometimes dismissed as a "game manager" -- the catch-all term for an uninspiring quarterback on a good team. In a discussion the other night, my friend compared him to a quarterback for the Ravens in the early part of the decade. Trent Dilfer, basically.
In his best moments, McElroy delivers passes accurately, with good touch, and with confidence. He even mixes in a few positive runs for good measure, showing off a degree of athleticism for which he receives little credit. Colt McCoy, he's not, but he's no stiff either. At other times, he stares down his primary receiver and misses easy throws to open teammates.
So, what story do the stats tell about Greg McElroy, the type of quarterback that he is, and the type of season that he has had?
The team record tells the most important story of McElroy this season -- he has always played well enough to win. Often, he was not necessary the driving force behind the wins, but the record is truly what matters. The record does not, however, provide much insight of McElroy individually as a quarterback and for that the stats provide a glimpse.
Really, McElroy's season was really three smaller seasons wrapped up into the larger regular season.
The First Four: McElroy's Surprising Efficiency
|09/05/09||+ 12 Virginia Tech||Turf||W 34-24||30||15||50.0||230||7.7||1||1||118.73|
|09/12/09||Florida Int'l||Grass||W 40-14||24||18||75.0||241||10.0||0||1||173.10|
|09/19/09||North Texas||Grass||W 53-7||15||13||86.7||176||11.7||0||2||229.23|
- The Tide roll Virginia Tech and then it's two cupcake non-conference games before a destruction of the Piggies. Some decent competition, but the middle two obviously aren't particularly adept at football.
- Compared to McCoy's interception-filled start, the thing that jumps out about McElroy is just how few mistakes he made in taking over the offense. These stats do not account for any dropped interceptions on the part of the defense, but it does paint at picture that McElroy isn't making critical mistakes.
- Look at the completion percentage in the last three games of this stretch -- 75, 86.7, 70.8. High numbers. In games against basically equivalent talent, McCoy's numbers were 63.8, 76.0, and 80.0. Remarkable given that McCoy was more accurate than any other quarterback in the history of college football in 2008. McElroy is putting most balls on target and the receivers aren't dropping them.
- The efficiency here completing passes is McCoy-esque (better, early this year), but the yards per attempt also stand out. Completing a high percentage of passes obviously figures heavily into yards per attempt, but McElroy had more yards per attempt against Arkansas than he did against UNT, despite completing 15% fewer passes. His attempts count. McCoy, in comparison, picked up barely more than 6 yards per attempt in the game against Texas Tech, even completing 70% of his passes.
Middle Four: McElroy Slumps
|10/03/09||@ Kentucky||Grass||W 38-20||26||15||57.7||148||5.7||0||2||130.88|
|10/10/09||@ Mississippi||Turf||W 22-3||34||15||44.1||147||4.3||0||0||80.44|
|10/17/09||South Carolina||Grass||W 20-6||20||10||50.0||92||4.6||2||0||68.64|
- The conference season gets going, but none of these teams are heavy weights, or even as good as Virginia Tech. McElroy's numbers go down. The startling decrease here is in the complete lack of touchdowns -- over the last three games of this stretch, as Alabama, in no great coincidence, struggled unbelievably to put the football in the end zone. Leigh Tiffin was the star offensive player.
- Still, even as McElroy fails to throw touchdown passes, he still doesn't make decisions that result in interceptions -- only two in the stretch, both against South Carolina in perhaps his worst peformance of the season.
- The completion percentage drops, too, as McElroy's accuracy wanes and his receivers begin to drop more passes. Likewise, obviously, the yards per attempt. At the same time, his attempts were going up, including what tied for a season-high 34 against Ole Miss -- a game that Bama ended up winning quite convincingly.
- Look at the yards per attempt numbers -- they're just ugly. 4.1. 4.3. Amazingly, Colt's abysmal 3.26 against Oklahoma puts McElroy in a much better light, even with these struggles.
- McElroy has now gone from one of the biggest surprises of the early season to the team's major question mark entering the final stretch -- possibly the weak link.
The Final Five: McElroy Finishes Strong
|11/07/09||13 LSU||Grass||W 24-15||34||19||55.9||276||8.1||1||2||137.60|
|11/14/09||@ Mississippi St.||Grass||W 31-3||18||13||72.2||192||10.7||0||2||198.49|
|11/27/09||@ Auburn||Grass||W 26-21||31||21||67.7||218||7.0||0||2||148.10|
|12/05/09||+ 5 Florida||Turf||W 32-13||18||12||66.7||239||13.3||0||1||196.54|
- Most notable are the attempts -- 18 against Mississippi State and Florida and 11 against Chattanooga. Did Jim McElwain, the Alabama offensive coordinator, scale back the passing attack to take pressure off of McElroy? It's hard to say just from the numbers, but the attempts do decrease in this timeframe as Alabama used their running game to bludgeon opponents.
- The efficiency increases, but not to the level of second, third, and fourth games of the season -- he never once reaches a 75% completion percentage again. Still, it helps his yards per attempt significantly, including efficient games against Mississippi State and Florida that resulted in 10 or more yards per attempt.
- The lack of interceptions remained. McElroy was not going to make mistakes throwing the football. His decision making makes it easier to cast him as a game manager and the meme spreads. Solid, generally unspectacular. But never spectacularly bad. And that's important.
The stats certainly supports the narrative that McElroy was a major surprise early in the season and then struggled in the middle section before rallying to help Alabama close the season strongly. And he just didn't make mistakes that resulted in turnovers -- he wasn't exceptionally accurate, but the interceptions remained low throughout the season. By comparison, McCoy threw three times as many as McElroy's four.
In regards to the national championsihp game, one of the major questions is which quarterback McElroy really is. The quarterback of the last five games, or the quarterback of the middle four games? The stats say that there's little chance McElroy throws even two interceptions, but how dangerous can he be throwing down the field or avoiding any poorly-thrown balls that limit his yards per attempt and completion percentage? In this case, the stats only lead to more questions. So it goes.