The SEC featured plenty of clutch performers at quarterback last season, but the identity of the conference’s best fourth-quarter QB might come as a surprise.
It was Missouri’s Maty Mauk, who was hardly a model of consistency in the first three quarters of most games. Mauk’s raw Total Quarterback Rating in the fourth quarter and overtime (88.1) ranked seventh nationally, which helped the Tigers pull away and win multiple close games in 2014. Granted, some of those games might not have been so close if Mauk had played better earlier -- his QBR in the first three quarters (42.0) ranked 102nd nationally -- but he was typically on the money when it mattered most.
That’s the definition of clutch.
This week, as we attempt to use ESPN Stats & Information’s database to determine which SEC players truly came up big at crunch time, we will discuss how players like Mauk were particularly effective when the pressure was most intense.
Later this week, we’ll look at running backs, receivers and pass rushers who produced similar results in key situations, but today we start with Mauk and the conference’s quarterbacks:
Clutch Factor No. 1: QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime
Check out Mauk’s passing numbers from the fourth quarter and overtime (Mizzou didn’t play an overtime game in 2014, although those numbers are included here for quarterbacks who did). He tied for second among all FBS quarterbacks with nine touchdown passes, didn’t toss a single interception and completed 46 of 79 passes for 663 yards.
Conversely, Mauk was frequently a mess in quarters one through three, completing 52.2 percent of his passes (175-for-335) for 1,985 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That’s an amazing turnaround in end-of-game situations, and the Tigers will need more of that from their junior quarterback this fall. With a rebuilt receiving corps, Mauk’s late-game leadership likely will be more valuable than ever.
Because of significant quarterback turnover in the conference, there will be some new blood on this list come fall. Among the SEC’s top five performers in this category, Mauk is the only returning player. Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace and Alabama’s Blake Sims were all seniors, and Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill has transferred away from College Station.
Aside from Mauk, the SEC’s other returning starters still have something to prove late in games, as will the league’s brand-new starters. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was a Heisman Trophy contender, but his QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime was a mediocre 51.5 (although in his defense, he tossed six touchdowns against one interception in 42 attempts). And that was better than the SEC’s other returning QBs -- Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen (50.1), Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs (41.9), Florida's Treon Harris (35.5), Arkansas’ Brandon Allen (25.5), Kentucky’s Patrick Towles (23.7) and LSU’s Anthony Jennings (11.3) -- some of whom have yet to lock down starting jobs in 2015.
Without question, Mauk is the SEC’s king of this category for now.
National top 10: 1. Derrius Vick, Ohio (96.0), 2. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois (94.1), 3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (92.1), 4. Wes Lunt, Illinois (91.1), 5. Matt Davis, SMU (89.2), 6. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State (89.0), 7. Maty Mauk, Missouri (88.1), 8. Rakeem Cato, Marshall (87.7), Nick Arbuckle, Georgia Southern (86.7), 10. Marquise Williams, North Carolina (86.5).
SEC top five: 7. Maty Mauk, Missouri (88.1), 11. Kenny Hill (86.5), 12. Nick Marshall, Auburn (85.5), 38. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (69.3), 42. Blake Sims, Alabama (66.5).
Clutch Factor No. 2: Completion percentage on third and fourth down
This statistic -- largely because of the connection between Sims and superstar receiver Amari Cooper -- was one of the biggest factors in Alabama's offensive success last season.
Sims led the FBS with a 70.7-percent completion rate on third- and fourth-down passes. He finished the season 70-for-99 for 837 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions on those downs. We’ll get to Cooper’s numbers in these situations later this week, but it goes without saying that they were good.
The SEC’s other players to land in the top 20 might be slightly more surprising. Tennessee’s Justin Worley came in at No. 16 in the FBS with a 63-percent completion rate (46-for-73) on third and fourth down, and Georgia’s Hutson Mason was two spots behind him, completing 62.5 percent of his passes (50-for-80) in those situations along with six touchdowns against zero interceptions.
Incidentally, Greyson Lambert, who will compete for the starting job at Georgia this year after playing for Virginia in 2014, ranked 19th in the FBS by completing 62.2 percent of his passes on third and fourth downs. However, he tossed just two touchdown passes against six interceptions on those plays.
National top 10: 1. Blake Sims, Alabama (70.7 percent), 2. Cody Kessler, USC (70.6), 3. Brett Hundley, UCLA (67.0), 4. Tyler Jones, Texas State (65.9), 5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (65.8), 6. Joe Gray, San Jose State (65.2), 7. Shane Carden, East Carolina (65.2), 8. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan (65.0), 9. Brandon Silvers, Troy (64.9), 10. Jared Goff, Cal (64.9).
SEC top five: 1. Blake Sims, Alabama (70.7), 16. Justin Worley, Tennessee (63.0), 18. Hutson Mason, Georgia (62.5), 43. Patrick Towles, Kentucky (56.8), 47. Nick Marshall, Auburn (56.5), 60. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (54.8).
Clutch Factor No. 3: QBR with score differential of seven points or less
So we’ve looked at quarterbacks’ performances late in games and on the key downs to keep possessions alive. Now let’s check out how they fared in close games.
In this case, we’ll examine the quarterbacks’ raw QBRs during games where there was a point differential of seven points or less. That’s where Prescott came up especially big. Not only did he hit 60.8 percent of his passes (73-of-120 for 1,111 yards, 10 touchdowns and 3 interceptions), but Prescott also ran 62 times for 304 yards and six touchdowns when Mississippi State and its opponent were separated by seven points or fewer on the scoreboard.
Hill also was faring well in close games (fifth nationally with an 84.7 raw QBR, eight touchdowns, one interception and a 69.8-percent completion rate) before he lost Texas A&M’s starting job to Kyle Allen after a couple of ugly losses.
Overall, the SEC featured seven quarterbacks in the nation’s top 50 in this statistic: Hill, Prescott, South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson (27th at 70.7), Marshall (35th at 67.1), Sims (43rd at 65.4), Towles (45th at 65.2) and Allen (46th at 65.1).
National top 10: 1. Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky (90.3), 2. Grant Hedrick, Boise State (89.0), 3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (88.1), 4. Jake Waters, Kansas State (84.9), 5. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M (84.7), 6. Brandon Silvers, Troy (83.9), 7. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (83.4), 8. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan (83.4), 9. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (82.3), 10. Joe Licata, Buffalo (80.7).
SEC top five: 5. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M (84.7), 9. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (82.3), 27. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina (70.7), 35. Nick Marshall, Auburn (67.1), 43. Blake Sims, Alabama (65.4).