The problem with using aggregate stats to evaluate performance is that they don’t take into account growth or regression over the course of the season. With that in mind, we wanted to evaluate the ACC’s quarterbacks based solely on the second half of 2014 to see which ones performed best, which ones made the biggest improvements, and which teams likely have their work cut out for them in spring practice. Only teams with returning quarterbacks were included.
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech: No quarterback in the league posted a better second-half Adjusted QBR than Thomas’ 83.8, which ranked seventh nationally from Game 7 through year’s end. Thomas tossed 11 touchdowns compared with just three interceptions, averaged a league-best 9.95 yards per attempt, and added another 497 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina: Williams spent the first month of the season sharing reps with Mitch Trubisky, but once he secured the job full-time, few quarterbacks in the country were better. From Game 7 on, only five Power 5 quarterbacks accounted for more total touchdowns (20), and three of them earned Heisman votes. Williams’ 299 yards of total offense per game over that stretch outpaced even Jameis Winston in the ACC.
Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh: Perhaps the most under-the-radar improvement of the second half last season was Voytik. Of all ACC quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts, Voytik ranked second in passer efficiency (154.3), third in completion percentage (63.9), yards-per-attempt (14.0), completions of 10 yards or more (56.5 percent), and Adjusted QBR (79.6). He also added another 372 yards on non-sack rushes.
Work to do
Brad Kaaya, Miami: The only ACC quarterback to toss more touchdowns in the second half of the season than Kaaya (13) was Winston, but the Miami freshman also threw 10 fewer interceptions than the defending Heisman Trophy winner. Kaaya’s 8.3 yards per attempt ranked third among ACC quarterbacks, and his 4.3-to-1 TD:INT ratio was tops in the league and sixth among all Power 5 quarterbacks nationally. The problem for Kaaya, however, was he completed just 55.4 percent of his throws, which ranked 47th among Power 5 quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State: The first half of the season included some impressive numbers for Brissett, who accounted for 14 touchdowns and just five turnovers in the first six games. In the second half, that production dipped to 12 TDs and seven turnovers over the final seven games, which led to his per-game offensive output dropping from 261 yards to 224. But that also coincided with a tougher schedule and a more balanced attack from the Wolfpack’s ground game, and Brissett’s Adjusted QBR only fell slightly.
Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech: The early part of Brewer’s season was marred by turnovers, and he cut down on those dramatically in the second half. In his first six games, he had 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the second half, he threw nine TDs with just four interceptions. The flip side, however, was that Brewer’s production dipped, too. His completion percentage dropped from 62 to 57, his yards-per-attempt dipped from 6.4 to 5.8, and his passing yards per game fell from 235 to 183. The biggest reason? His sack rate more than doubled from 4.3 percent to 9.1.
John Wolford, Wake Forest: When you’re throwing a true freshman into a starting role with a historically bad offensive line and ground game to support him, you’re probably just hoping he doesn’t get killed. But not only did Wolford manage to start every game for Wake Forest last season, he actually made some dramatic improvements in the second half. In spite of a more difficult second-half slate, he tossed the same number of touchdowns (6), dramatically cut his turnovers from 13 to four, and more than doubled his Adjusted QBR from 22.4 to 46.4. That’s incredibly encouraging for 2015.
Signs of trouble
Greyson Lambert, Virginia: Banged up and splitting time in the first half of the season, Lambert was largely ineffective. He did manage to start five of Virginia’s final six games, and though that helped distance him from Matt Johns on the depth chart and nearly doubled his passing attempts, he also saw his Adjusted QBR dip, his completion percentage fall by nearly 10 percentage points, and Johns still posted better deep-ball numbers across the board.
Syracuse: The Orange had no consistency at quarterback all season, with three different players getting a start, and though that means there will be more experience on the roster in 2015, it’s not necessarily encouraging. A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, and Mitch Kimble combined to average just 4.92 yards per attempt in the second half of the season, the fourth-worst rate in the nation, while tossing just two touchdowns compared with 10 interceptions. Terrel Hunt wasn’t much better when he was healthy, but there was little reason to think he shouldn’t still be Syracuse’s best option when spring practice opens.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson: It’s hard to say what Watson might have been if he’d been healthy in the second half of the season, but instead the freshman attempted just 25 passes. It’s worth noting though that on those 25 attempts, he tossed two touchdowns, posted an Adjusted QBR of 94.0, and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt -- numbers that stood in stark contrast to the limited production of his replacement, Cole Stoudt. Obviously, the key for 2015 for Watson is simply staying healthy.
Louisville: Like Syracuse, Louisville cycled through three different starting quarterbacks last season, with Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin all seeing action in the second half of the season. Each had highlights and each made mistakes, but the aggregate performance was actually pretty good. Despite the inconsistency at the position and the third most sacks in the conference during the latter half of the year, the Cardinals were at or better than the league average across the board, and they combined to toss 36 completions of 20 yards or more -- tops among all ACC teams. Gardner and Bolin each posted Adjusted QBRs of 72 and combined for eight touchdowns and just four picks. Bonnafon was more of a work-in-progress, with a dreadful sack rate of 22 percent -- by far the worst in the country during that span. And all three quarterbacks will have to go to battle in 2015 without receiver DeVante Parker, who was probably the biggest reason for the second-half success in 2014.