Another Look at Rod Smith’s Quarterbacks

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Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson in 2009 (Greg Shamus, Getty Images NA)

Taking a closer look at what quarterbacks end up doing under Rod Smith’s direction may provide Michigan fans a better indication of what to expect over the coming years with the Wolverines’ comparatively young quarterback situation that includes sophomores Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, and true freshman Devin Gardner for the 2010 season.

After Rich Rodriguez accepted the job as Michigan head football coach in December 2007, he summarily fired the entire staff of former head coach Lloyd Carr including quarterback coach and star UM recruiter Scot Loeffler.  UM running backs coach Fred Jackson was the only Carr assistant that was later rehired.  Rodriguez then proceeded to bring in many of his own assistants from West Virginia with him to Michigan, among them offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith.

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Rod Smith played quarterback for Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State

Prior to joining Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia, Magee and Smith both coached at the University of South Florida in Tampa under then Bulls head coach Jim Leavitt.  Magee had been the running game coordinator for the Bulls for 4 years (1997-2000). Rod Smith was the quarterbacks coach from 2001-2004.  Smith actually wore two hats as South Florida’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2005 to 2006. Though Jim Leavitt is no longer the head coach at South Florida, his well-documented disdain for RichRod no doubt stems from Rodriguez’s rather frequent raiding of USF staff over the years, including Magee, Smith and eventually former Bulls’ offensive line coach Greg Frey too.

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South Florida's Jim Leavitt: "I should be able to apply and use this scowl in other professions".

Rod Smith played quarterback for Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State in West Virginia.  He understand the key concepts and fundamentals of RichRod’s spread option offense and has helped to shape some of the new nuances of quarterback play from his own coaching experience.

Often the first assumption seems to be that when Michigan said goodbye to Scott Loeffler back in 2007, it also said adios to the concept of a effective down field passing game, 400+ passing attempts per year, and 3,000-ish yards through the air.

The statistics of Rod Smith-coached quarterbacks over the years bear out something quite surprising. During his career Smith has coached quarterbacks to both throw and run - a lot.  And 400+ passing attempts and 3,000 yards passing in a season is not so foreign a concept as many would like to believe.

Since 1999 Smith has coached seven different quarterbacks.  Only one of them was he fortunate enough to tutor a full 4 years: Marquel Blackwell at USF, 1999-2002.

  Below are the starting quarterbacks that Rod Smith has coached:

Quarterback Team Year Class
Marquel Blackwell, USF, '99 South Florida 1999 Fr.
Marquel Blackwell, USF, '00 South Florida 2000 So.
Marquel Blackwell, USF, '01 South Florida 2001 Jr.
Marquel Blackwell, USF, '02 South Florida 2002 Sr.
Ronnie Banks, USF, '03 South Florida 2003 Jr.
Pat Julmiste, USF, '04 South Florida 2004 So.
Pat Julmiste, USF, '05 South Florida 2005 Jr.
Matt Grothe, USF, '06 South Florida 2006 Fr.
Pat White, WVU, '07 West Virginia 2007 Jr.
Steven Threet, UM, '08 Michigan 2008 RS Fr.
Tate Forcier, UM, '09 Michigan 2009 Fr.

Passing Yards

If we summarized the average season passing performance statistics of quarterbacks who have played under Rod Smith over these years, they would look something like this:

291 attempts

162 completions (56%)

1,915 yards

13 TDs passing

8 interceptions

And no, I don’t see a Tom Brady, Elvis Grbac, John Navarre or Chad Henne in these numbers either.  But let’s remember that these are average numbers and  from time to time Rod Smith has actually coached a few above-average quarterbacks:

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Marquel Blackwell threw for 2,882 yards in 2001 and 2,590 yards in 2002.  True freshman Matt Grothe chucked the pigskin around with reckless abandon for 2,576 yards in 2006, and Tate Forcier, an dangerous, though injury-prone true freshman starter at Michigan, had over 2,000 yards passing in his first season.

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South Florida Bulls Quarterback Marquel Blackwell 1999-2002

So yeah, not quite 3,000 yards per year a la John Navarre, but those are some pretty decent passing numbers from certain quarterbacks.

Passing Accuracy

One of things we don’t witness with Rod Smith quarterbacks are major improvements in throwing accuracy. This is somewhat discouraging to see, as is an average completion percentage of 56% among all of Rod Smith’s students.  But every quarterback has had different strengths and weaknesses. One must bear in mind that over the last 5 years, Smith has coached 4 different quarterbacks, so there hasn’t been a lot of continuity under his charge.

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When we look at completions versus attempts, the smaller gaps are what we want to see.  Matt Grothe, Pat White and Tate Forcier are noticeable here with smaller gaps compared to the rather mediocre completion successes of Marquel Blackwell, Ronnie Banks, Pat Julmiste. Steven Threet almost craters off this graph in terms of actual completions, but Threet was not the least accurate thrower that Smith had to cope with.

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Touchdowns Versus Interceptions

Touchdowns good. Interceptions bad.

For whatever reason, interceptions have been a disturbing problem with quarterbacks under Rod Smith throughout his coaching career among underclassmen and veteran quarterbacks alike.  Notice the regression under quarterback Pat Julmiste (2004-2006) below. We can also see some of the other "Interception Fiestas" going on under Marquel Blackwell, freshmen Matt Grothe and Tate Forcier.  Between 2003 and 2005 Smith and USF struggled to find consistent play at quarterback.

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NCAA Passing Efficiency Ratings

Sometimes when you accept a new job, you kind of wish you could take some of your good old colleagues and protégés with you.  At Michigan, Rod Smith had to start from scratch....twice. Building an effective offense with an efficient quarterback takes time.

Quarterback efficiency is nice because it wraps up all of the attributable quarterback statistics into a neat measurement package that takes into consideration passing yardage, completion percentage, touchdowns thrown and interception thrown.  The higher the efficiency rating, the better your quarterback is.    This is not to say that a highly effective quarterback almost always wins more games.  For everyTim Tebow (164.2) or Kellen Moore (161.7) being highly effective at quarterback statistically and winning tons of football games,  there's plenty of Jimmy Clausens (161.7) going 6-6,  or Terrelle Pryors (128.9) leading Ohio State to another Big Ten conference title and Rose Bowl win, or another Greg McElroy (140.5) leading an Alabama team to another national title.  

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USF Quarterback Pat Julmiste, Rod Smith's starter in 2004 and 2005 (Photo Scout.com)

Still, from a passing efficiency point of view and historically speaking, Smith's most successful football teams were led by the most effective signal callers. Marquel Blackwell may have played at the quarterback efficiency of a 2009 Adam Weber (Minnesota, 114.7), but the USF was 31-13 over the regular season with him under center.  Matt Grothe led USF to a 9-4 season in 2006.  Pat White led West Virginia to 10-3 in 2007.  Both USF and West Virginia ran spread option style offenses.  Conversely, Pat Julmiste's efficiency performance in 2004 correlates nicely with USF's 4-7 finish and 6-6 finish in 2005.  For the first time Steven Threet passing efficiency and a 3-9 record somehow start make sense when used together in sentence.

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Changing Nothing Can Also Be A Strategy

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Other times when you arrive at the new job the best thing to do is leave things be.  Rod Smith replaced Bill Stewart as West Virginia’s quarterback coach in 2007. Before that season began, West Virginia was already pretty excited about the future promise of sophomore Pat White.  The result of Smith’s instruction of White is surprising: Fewer quarterback rushing yards, less yards per carry, more throwing attempts, fewer interceptions, but a major decline in overall passing efficiency.   

Freshman Pat White 2005 (Under WVU Quarterbacks Coach Bill Stewart)

114 attempts

65 completions (57%)

8 TDs

5 Interceptions

828 Yards

132.4 Efficiency Rating

131 Rushes

952 yards

7.3 YPC

7 TDs

Sophomore Pat White 2006 (Under WVU Quarterbacks Coach Bill Stewart)

179 attempts

118 completions (65.9%)

13 TDs

7 Interceptions

1,655 yards

159.7 Efficiency Rating

248 rushes

1,744 yards

7.5 YPC

18 TDs

Junior Pat White 2007 (Under new WVU Quarterbacks Coach Rod Smith)

216 attempts

144 completions (66.7%)

14 TDs

4 Interceptions

151.4 Efficiency Rating

197 rushes

1,335 yards

6.8 YPC

14 TDs

It's interesting still that

Pat Julmiste made Steve Threet look pretty decent, and how a 4-star recruit and true freshman Tate Forcier managed to hit the 128.1 mark in passing efficiency in 2009 while essentially scrambling around for dear life. Wisconsin Scott Tolzien (143.0), Daryl Clark (142.6), Kirk Cousins (142.6), where far more efficient than Forcier.  Terrelle Pryor (128.9) and Ricky Stanzi (131.6) where only slightly more effective, yet won more games, including bowls. If young Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson as sophomores ever become comfortable back there, things could get mighty interesting for Rod Smith and Michigan’s upcoming opponents.

Rushing Yards

This is where we must leave the Tom Brady, John Navarre and Chad Henne placards at the door, because there’s no way they enter into the conversation about meaningful quarterback rushing yardage, unless we are enthralled with the study of negative integers. I am not.  If we were to summarize the average rushing performance of quarterbacks under Rod Smith over his career, it would look something like this:

112 rushing attempts

494 yards

4 YPC

5 TDs

That’s it?

What’s interesting about quarterback rushing statistics under Rod Smith's instruction is just how rare it is for a game-changing, ankle-breaking quarterback to ever emerge.  Sure, Marquel Blackwell ran for 771 yards as a sophomore in 2000, but he never came close to repeating that feat during his remaining two seasons of eligibility at USF.  Why not? If he had this ability, why not exploit it? Did Smith coach him away from running more?

With 178 rushing attempts in 2006 we also see how USF true freshman Matt Grothe, who was actually an insolent fullback in a quarterback’s uniform, racked up 802 yards on the ground. The next year at WVU, Pat White's jackrabbit-like elusiveness had him averaging a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry. 

None of the other quarterbacks coached by Rod Smith stand out very much as dangerous runners.  Admittedly most quarterbacks in the country probably won’t don’t stand out much against a Matt Groethe or a Pat White, but some might have expected to find a little more Zak Kustok and Mike Kafka in there somewhere. To find the next great rushing performance at quarterback under Rod Smith would take us back to then senior Pat Julmiste in 2005 with only 483 rushing yards, 4 TDs and a 6-6 record at USF. 

Quarterback Team Year Class Rush Att Gained Lost Net Yds/Att TDs
Marquel Blackwell USF 1999 Fr. 93 394 268 126 4.2 3
Marquel Blackwell USF 2000 So. 128 771 205 566 6.0 3
Marquel Blackwell USF 2001 Jr. 92 347 106 241 3.8 9
Marquel Blackwell USF 2002 Sr. 89 425 113 312 4.8 5
Ronnie Banks USF 2003 Jr. 40 90 153 -63 2.3 0
Pat Julmiste USF 2004 Jr. 96 354 161 193 3.7 9
Pat Julmiste USF 2005 Sr. 126 483 147 336 3.8 4
Matt Groethe USF 2006 Fr. 178 802 180 622 4.5 9
Pat White USF 2007 Jr. 197 1335 33 1302 6.8 14
Steven Threet Michigan 2008 RS Fr. 76 201 98 103 2.6 2
Tate Forcier Michigan 2009 Fr. 118 240 138 102 2.0 3
 

Rushing Touchdowns

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Northwestern's Zak Kustok, 1999-2001: 22 TDs, 1,293 yards, 3.0 YPC

So why did he frighten me so?

One of the things I’ve always thought was extremely cool when watching college football teams running spread offenses – not mention absolutely terrifying - was when these little quarterbacks like Northwestern’s Zak Kustok, Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler or Texas's Vince Young would go skirting around the end, or just take off on a ridiculous quarterback draw scampering dozens of yards untouched for a first down or six points while lumbering linebackers and NFL-bound defense ends could only look on in disbelief.  There have been many Motorola headsets destroyed and plexiglass clipboards snapped in two on the sidelines over the years, but nothing has ripped out the aorta of defensive coordinators across this fine land quite like an opposing quarterback scoring touchdowns with their legs. Because, hey, they’re not supposed to do that.

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USF Quarterback Matt Grothe: A threat with his feet....and his helmet.

Rod Smith’s quarterbacks were not all equal when it came to rushing talent, but opposing defenses definitely had to have a strategy in place to neutralize the threat of them scoring getting first downs or rushing for touchdowns.

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Summary

It’s difficult to make to make too many conclusions as to how good or bad any coach is when he has only one year to work with a given student.  The only true specimens of quarterback development under Rod Smith that we can consider so far are Marquel Blackwell and Pat Julmiste.  Blackwell was a dangerous runner, a decent passer, but did not display a crescendo of improvement in terms of quarterback efficiency that one would like to see. Matt Groethe and Pat White were rare, but very talented quarterbacks under Smith’s charge, and both continued along similar trajectories of success when Rod Smith stopped coaching them.  Pat Julmiste was a dangerous runner, a key scoring weapon, but a less accurate thrower, and actually showed regression in  overall quarterback efficiency under Smith’s tutelage.  The good news is that in 2010, Smith is finally coaching two talented returning quarterbacks for the first time since 2004 (Pat Julmiste, Ronnie Banks).  Of course, the bad news is that the last time Smith was so blessed, his team, USF, experienced its only losing season in school history at 4-7.

Forcier, Robinson and Devin Gardner are arguably the most talented trio of students Rod Smith has ever coached at one time.  This group is incredibly young.  Smith is now guaranteed a strong level of competition that should promote greater improvement and growth each week of practice.  And unlike 2008 and 2009 seasons, Rich Rodriguez will no longer be starved of choice as to which completely inexperienced freshman ends up with the keys to his supercharged, V8 powered offense on Saturday afternoons.

 

Michigan Quarterbacks and 2010 Season Ahead

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Certain information has come to light! Like hasn't that occurred to you....man?.....Sir?

Following the 2010 spring practice reports, it appears that Denard Robinson has made up some major ground on Tate Forcier and has an excellent chance to break the starting lineup for the opening game against Connecticut on September 4th.  The competition will continue to be fierce in August, but Robinson appeared to receive an inordinate amount of praise from Rodriguez and other coaches this time around. Clearly the off-season workouts have yielded dividends, and Denard Robinson is much more familiar and comfortable with where people are going to be on offense and why. His reads appear quicker and more certain than they were only a few months ago.   As a passer last season, Denard Robinson was a complete non-factor for Michigan, connecting on only 14 of 31 attempts for 188 yards, 2 TDs and 4 Interceptions.  Still, Robinson’s improved throwing form and arm strength has been a pleasant surprise for Michigan coaches this spring.


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KISS Destroyer Album: "Flaming Youth Will Set The World on Fire"

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Sophomore Denard Robinson, freshman Devin Gardner, sophomore Tate Forcier (Photo Tony Ding, AP)

While there remain some big questions for Michigan about replacements at running back this fall, it might be worth remembering just who it was that trailed the tailbacks Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown in rushing yards for the Wolverines last year?

The answer is Denard Robinson.  Robinson’s running ability and speed should not questioned.  He racked up 351 yards on a measly 69 carries last fall, a 5.1 yard per carry average and 5 rushing touchdowns. 

Now. What college football pundits should be dying to find out now is this:

What happens when you take a specimen like Denard Robinson at quarterback in this offense and you suddenly triple those 69 carries in 2010?  Does a 2007 Pat White emerge?  A 2009 Terrelle Pryor?  A 2002 Woodrow Dantzler? A 2008 Juice Williams? How about a 2003 Marquel Blackwell?  Have Big Ten defenses seen running quarterbacks before?  Sure. And most have done a fairly lousy job of bringing them under control. 

Tate Forcier still has the best arm and throwing accuracy on the Michigan football team. Another year of playbook study, less urge for improvise, and an improved sense of patience should all help Forcier tremendously in 2010.  Michigan’s football team leaned on Forcier so hard in every game last year, it was not a surprise by game 12 to see the youngster so badly beaten and bruised.

Michigan returns seven starters on offense in 2010 including arguably one of the quickest, athletic offense lines Michigan has ever had.  This should help Rod Smith’s top students relax a little bit and have some fun out there for a change.

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