The Notre Dame football community was stunned when it learned that starting quarterback Everett Golson, the freshman who had taken the Fighting Irish to the national championship, was no longer enrolled at the university. The void left in his absence will be filled by deposed veteran Tommy Rees this fall.
Rees had a promising freshman year but faltered as a sophomore, suffering 14 interceptions during the 2011 season and ultimately losing his starting spot to redshirt freshman Golson.
The initial reaction to Golson's loss from the Notre Dame community was one of great disappointment, as the prevailing feeling is that Rees is not as capable at quarterback as Golson. But is that really the case?
Let's take an in-depth look at the numbers to see how these guys stack up. They may surprise you.
Pass Completion Percentage
In his 12 games with the Fighting Irish, Everett Golson had a pass completion percentage of 58.8. Rees is doing slightly better at 63.6.
This does not come as a huge surprise. Rees' strength has always been as a pocket passer, while Golson is more of a dual-threat who was not always comfortable in the pocket under pressure.
Average Yards per Attempt
Last season, much was made of Golson's athleticism, including his superior arm. Now we all know Golson can make a huge pass here and there, but when you look at his career totals next to Rees, you see the difference is surprisingly negligible.
Golson is averaging just a little more than a half-yard over Rees for each pass attempt.
Pass Efficiency Rating
While Golson has the slight advantage in yardage per attempt, Rees is slightly more efficient.
Those concerned with Rees' athletic ability should also consider that Golson only adds an additional half-yard per attempt, and Rees improved his average yards per attempt—albeit not dramatically—every season he has played at Notre Dame.
Here is the breakdown of Rees' average yards per attempt by year:
Anyone who has watched a Notre Dame game in the last three years knows Rees is not a rusher. In his three years with the Irish, he has run the ball for a pedestrian total of minus-71 yards. Golson however, is in the green with 298 total yards during his season with the Irish.
The difference is not as much as it would seem on a per-attempt basis, though. Golson's average yards per attempt is 3.2 while Rees is at minus-1.5.
I would be remiss not to mention that while Golson's average yards per attempt was only 3.2, he averaged 24.83 yards per game in 2012—and that is substantial.
When comparing quarterbacks, it is easy just to focus on the individual player's statistics and overlook other factors that affected the team during each QB's time leading the team.
Let's analyze how the rest of the team either contributed to or diminished from each quarterback's success during his starting season.
Everyone who followed college football last season knows that the 2012 Fighting Irish defense was a juggernaut. What the average fan may not realize is just how dramatic the improvement was. Here are their national rankings in key defensive areas in 2011 and 2012.
|Pass Efficiency Defense||58th||16th|
The offensive line improved as well, moving down from 26th nationally in sacks allowed to 28th.
As you can see above, Rees was playing with a substantially weaker defense, putting greater pressure on the offense. Golson benefited greatly from the improved defense, and he also got some help from the running backs—Notre Dame moved up from 54th to 38th in rushing offense between 2011 and 2012.
So What's the Takeaway from All These Numbers?
The team will not implode because Golson is gone. The differences between the two are marginal in every area except rushing, where Golson has the clear advantage. The win-loss record of both players should not be given substantive consideration given the defense's dramatic improvement between 2011 and 2012, therefore making individual accountability of the quarterbacks more difficult to quantify.
What is clear is that Rees is a more accurate passer, but Golson is a better rusher and throws the ball nominally (approximately .5 yards) farther on average.
The biggest unknown is whether Rees has overcome his panache for turnovers. If his limited time on the field in 2012 was any indicator, it would appear he has matured into a reliable pocket passer, but only time will tell.