Four-hundred and thirty-eight pass attempts into the Richard Lagow-era and we are still slightly uncertain about his ability and potential. On one hand, he was a strong-armed gun-slinger, unafraid of taking shots downfield. On the other hand, he often underthrew deep passes despite the arm strength, forced too many passes, and was unable to escape pressure. So how does he compare to his predecessor, Nate Sudfeld, or even the serviceable Cam Coffman?
Using the first 438 pass attempts of Nate Sudfeld’s career, I was able to compile a comparison to the Lagow data. It isn’t perfect. Sudfeld’s first 438 attempts came over 3 seasons spanning his freshman, sophomore, the first game of his junior year, and a portion of the second game. Indiana had different opponents and offensive weapons. The majority of Sudfeld’s work in this comparison came as a sophomore compared to a junior for Lagow. But both sets included their first 438 attempts as a Big Ten quarterback.
The first comparison is completion percentage. Sudfeld has the slight edge here and it is pretty safe to say he was the more accurate quarterback. However, one benefit he had on the majority of his 438 pass attempts was Cody Latimer. The current NFL wide receiver had a catch rate of 70% over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Compare that Lagow’s options where none of his top 3 options had a catch rate above 60%.
While catch rate is also somewhat dependent on the quarterback, receivers do play a big role. For example, Ricky Jones had a catch rate of 56% in 2015 and a catch rate of 55% in 2016. It wasn’t as if there was some dramatic drop off in catch rate as a result of moving from Sudfeld to Lagow.
The second comparison is yards per attempt. Again the two quarterbacks fare very similarly. Sudfeld has an ever so slight edge, as you would expect with a slightly better completion percentage, but the difference is only one tenth of a yard per pass attempt.
The biggest difference was the interceptions. Sudfeld’s 11 picks translate to one every 40 pass attempts. Lagow’s 17 interceptions were roughly every 26 attempts. That is not very good. Out of the top 100 QBs in yards per attempt last year, Lagow ranked 93rd in pass attempts per interception.1
This was an area of concern coming into last season. His JUCO stats show him with 10 interception in 265 attempts, or one every 26.5 attempts. At this point, a trend is beginning to emerge.
The next area to examine on Lagow’s interceptions is to see if he was simply unlucky. Did opponents convert a high number of passes defended into interceptions? Certainly Northwestern’s Kyle Queiro made an outstanding interception against him.
According to Bill Connelly’s work, around 22% of all passed defensed result in an interception. Lagow ended the year at 21%. Had his ratio been in the high 20s or even the 30s, you could argue that he was simply unlucky. Unfortunately for Indiana, it falls right in line with the expectation.
I then decided to compare Lagow to the last JUCO quarterback that Indiana brought in. I consider Cam Coffman to have been a completely average quarterback at Indiana. He certainly wasn’t at the same level as Sudfeld or Tre Roberson, hence the eventual transfer, but he wasn’t out of his element either. The 2012 season in which he was the main quarterback in a three-way split, IU ended up 54th in offensive S&P+ and 40th in passing S&P+. It was an offense that fell short of the 2013 juggernaut, but was still a serviceable one.
Lagow compares similarly to Coffman in completion percentage, but really outpaces him in yards per attempt.2 With his arm strength, Lagow took more shots downfield resulting in nearly an additional yard per attempt. However, by taking fewer chances downfield Coffman was able to average 35 passes per interception. If Lagow had been able to sustain that rate, he would have finished with 13 interceptions. This seems much more reasonable for a starter.
Digging deeper into the data, Lagow’s ability and frequency to throw the deep pass clearly led to his elevated interception totals.
Of the 74 passes he threw that traveled 20+ yards downfield, he was intercepted 10 times. On his 364 passes traveling 19 yards or less, he was intercepted just 7 times.
His 2nd interception against Purdue is a perfect example. Feeling pressure and unable to step into the throw, he fired deep into double coverage to the smallest receiver on the field. The result was an interception.
In retrospect, Lagow would have been much better served to attempt a pass on the boundary side away from the defender. Luke Timian is either able to make a catch near the sideline to pick up a couple yards or the pass falls incomplete.
Should Lagow have attempted less passes downfield? It certainly seems that way. Whether he chose to go deep on his own or that was the first read within the called play is unclear. It is possible, to aid a struggling running game, the coaches called the deep passes in an attempt to force the defenses back.
Hypothetically, what if Richard Lagow turned into the ultimate game manager? What if he hadn’t attempted a pass over 20 yards last year? He actually looks like a slightly better version of Cam Coffman. He completion percentage is higher,3 but his yards per attempt is also higher. The biggest difference is Richard Lagow’s attempts to interception ratio jumps to 52!
At this point it seems that if Indiana wants to limit the number of interceptions thrown by Lagow, they need to focus on his bread-and-butter, the short and intermediate passes. While he did have some accuracy issues on those throws, particularly the short ones, the inaccuracy generally resulted in an incompletion, not the interceptions that plagued his deep passes.
Additionally, it is entirely possibly that Austin King or Peyton Ramsey moves ahead of Lagow on the depth chart.
While Tom Allen has stated that he prefers a mobile quarterback, if Lagow can cut down on his interceptions, I think he’ll still be the main quarterback come 2017. I think Allen made his comments in the context of recruiting4, and good coaches adjust to the skill sets of their players.
Having said that, it is no guarantee, given his history, that Lagow will be able to cut down on his interceptions. Which makes this spring and fall very interesting.