Obviously the biggest news of the season thus far is the change from Richard Lagow to Peyton Ramsey as the starting quarterback. Today we examine the switch and what it could mean for the offense going forward.
As a note, all the statistics referenced below are FBS non-garbage time plays only unless otherwise noted.
The Hoosiers have been more balanced with Ramsey at QB than Lagow. With Ramsey at quarterback, IU has called a designed run play 57% of the time compared to just 29% with Lagow. These are designed rushing plays either in the traditional sense, a zone read, or a QB option. Plays where Ramsey first looks to pass and then takes off are notated as pass plays in this calculation. Even excluding the Ohio State game where IU was pretty determined not to run into the Buckeye defensive line, IU only rushed on 43% of Lagow’s snaps.
The biggest difference has been on first and second downs. Indiana is calling a rushing play on 65% of those downs with Ramsey and only 34% with Lagow. Again, excluding the OSU game the offense rushes 51% of those downs with Lagow. The question for Indiana going forward will be, with Ramsey’s weaker arm, how do the Hoosiers react when defenses stack the line? Against Charleston Southern, IU flipped the script with a pass play on 55% of first and second downs. It appears, rightfully so, that Indiana doesn’t want to become too predictable, especially on first and second downs.
While the number of Indiana pass plays is down with Ramsey, the Hoosiers have actually been much more efficient. Indiana has a passing success rate of 46% with Ramsey, up significantly over the 34% with Lagow. For reference, the 2015 Indiana team primarily led by Nate Sudfeld1 had a success rate of 47%. Last year Indiana had a passing success rate of 42%. The 46% success rate likely isn’t sustainable. Michigan (1st in pass defense success rate), Michigan State (25th), and Wisconsin (24th) will probably have something to say about it, but the early signs are promising. Another encouraging fact is this success rate on passing plays isn’t the result of Ramsey scrambling out of the pocket. On actual pass attempts, Ramsey has a success rate of 55%. When he is scrambling, it is often just to make something out of nothing.
Performance inside the red-zone, an area in which Indiana struggled in 2016, has slightly improved in 2017. With the collapsed field, the Ramsey offense has a 56% success rate, up significantly over the 38% with Lagow. Indiana averaged 3.6 points per scoring opportunity in 2016, a sad average ranking 124th in FBS. This year the Lagow offense averaged 3.9 points per scoring opportunity while the Ramsey offense has averaged 5.5. Granted one of these scoring opportunities was against Georgia Southern where Lagow led IU on a drive to the 2 yard line before Ramsey came in and handed it to Morgan Ellison who scored a touchdown. However, there is probably something to having a mobile quarterback deep in opponent territory that the defense must account for.
On the receiving side, the average depth of target (aDOT) has been pretty identical for receivers and running backs regardless of the quarterback. The story with tight ends is remarkably different. With Lagow, tight ends Ian Thomas and Ryan Watercutter have an aDOT of 14. Under Ramsey, it is essentially the line of scrimmage. The largest downfield Ramsey has passed to a tight end is 4 yards.
The running backs have better yards per catch under Ramsey. In 2016, RBs had an average yards per catch of 6.9.2 This year with Lagow the yards per catch is 7.3. With Ramsey, in a small sample size, the number is 11.2. One of the complaints about Lagow was his lack of finesse on short passes. It’s too early to tell, but hopefully Ramsey can get the ball to his backs in stride and allow them to make plays.
Finally, turnovers had to be a factor in this decision. Including Charleston Southern and the garbage time throws, Lagow had an interception rate of 2.9% versus 2.2% for Ramsey. Certainly 1 bad game for Ramsey can destroy this rate, but he hasn’t shown himself to be as turnover prone as Lagow.