Russell or Stidham? Breaking down Baylor's QB battle
It really was a tale of two seasons last season for Baylor, thanks in large part to injuries that decimated the team. They started the season 8-0 while averaging more than 57 points per game thanks to one of the best offenses in college football. But they finished the regular season by losing three of their final four games with the offense dropping to just 29 points per game.
While it would be easy to point to starting QB Seth Russell’s injury as the turning point of the season, backup Jarrett Stidham came in and actually played very well for his three games as a starter until he too was injured.
Now it sets up a good situation for the team — they have two starting-calibre quarterbacks going into the season. But it begs the question, who actually deserves to start under center for the Bears? Below we’ll take a look at some important qualities needed in a quarterback and compare the team’s two options.
Thanks to the Baylor offense last year, there’s a good sample size for both quarterbacks on deep passes. Surprisingly, Stidham was the more effective deep passer last season. Stidham was accurate on 57.1 percent of throws over 20 yards downfield, compared to 47.3 percent for Russell. Stidham averaged 21.3 yards per attempt on deep throws, which was the most among all NCAA quarterbacks last season. Russell averaged just 14.9 yards per attempt on deep throws, 35th in the nation. The throw below shows his ability to throw deep with perfect touch, leading his receiver away from coverage and into the endzone.
Russell did have Stidham beaten in extremely high-level throws (+1.5 graded throws) with three, compared to zero for Stidham. But throws like the one below did not come frequently enough to take the advantage away from Stidham.
While neither quarterback was under pressure a lot last season, that figures to change this year with much of Baylor’s strong offensive line not returning. When faced with pressure last season (18.9 of dropbacks) Russell’s adjusted completion percentage fell from 73.2 to a mere 43.3. Compare that to Stidham (24.1 of dropbacks under pressure), who’s adjusted completion percentage actually rose from 77.7 to 80.1 when under pressure.
One aspect of dealing with pressure that Russell does have the advantage over Stidham in is his ability to avoid sacks. On 40 snaps under pressure last season, Russell was sacked just three times. In Stidham’s 32 snaps under pressure, he was sacked nine times.
While Seth Russell’s overall adjusted completion rate of 70.8 percent was near the top echelon of quarterbacks last season, it still wasn’t close to Stidham. At 81.0 percent, Stidham’s adjusted completion percentage ranked third in the nation among quarterbacks who threw over 100 passes last season. He rarely missed on a throw. Russell was also more reliant on short passes as 64 percent of his completions came on passes that traveled less than 10 yards in the air. Only 37.3 percent of Stidham’s completions came on such passes.
Stidham was also better on taking care of the football. He had just two turnover-worthy throws all season, and only fumbled the ball twice. Russell fumbled the ball just twice too, but he had seven turnover-worthy throws.
This is one area where there’s a clear advantage for Seth Russell. Last season he gained 341 yards on 33 designed runs (10.3 yards per rush). He also added 66 yards on 9 quarterback scrambles. He forced 13 missed tackles and scored six touchdowns including the one shown below.
Stidham offered very little as a runner, gaining a mere 52 yards on 12 designed runs (4.3 yards per rush). He was almost identical on his scrambles, with 66 yards on 15 runs. He did manage to score two touchdowns and force three missed tackles, but he was nowhere near Russell’s level.
A lot of who should start at quarterback for the Bears depends on what kind of offense they run this year. New head coach Jim Grobe has said that Baylor will keep the same offensive scheme as last year. If that’s the case, then Seth Russell likely will and should start. His passing game is well above-average, and fits perfectly within the Baylor offense. His rushing ability adds another dangerous threat that defenses need to focus on, which leaves other areas available to exploit.
However, any change towards a more pro-style offense, and there’s a case to be made for Stidham taking over as the starting quarterback. He’s a more accurate passer than Russell, and still has the deep throw accuracy to stretch the field. If Russell goes down with another injury or struggles early on, Baylor should have no worries about swapping him out for Stidham and still finding success.