The Roundup Signal Caller Throwdown series looks at the most important position on the field for some of the Roundup's 12 FBS programs, complete with bad excel graphs. This week, the mad bomber - Matt Davis.
Matt Davis is an unguided missile of offensive inefficiency and yet we cannot look away. And here's the real trick, he may be SMU's best hope of turning things around in 2016. Even his journey to the Hilltop has been circuitous. Davis started his career at Texas A&M and ran into the phenomena named Johnny Manziel. He was one of three quarterbacks, along with Matt Joeckel and Jameill Showers, that left the university in the wake of Johnny Football. Davis landed at Tyler JC where he attempted just 53 passes completing 30 in four games.
Davis landed at SMU under then coach June Jones and was part of the last painful shots out of the roman candle that was Jones' tenure. He promptly set SMU records for the two highest rushing games by a quarterback. Davis rushed for 613 yards and also passed for 855 yards in 2014 in five games of remarkably inefficient quarterback play. That might be the best place to start, 2014 Matt Davis.
Davis was well below the national average among other quarterbacks in 2014 in every statistical category other than rush yards. Davis completed passes at a smaller percentage, for less yardage, and took more sacks than the majority of his quarterback counterparts. Combine that with an interception rate that was in the 42nd percentile and you had a statistical disaster. To his credit, Davis was at the helm for the Mustangs' one victory in 2014. On average, in his five starts, the Mustangs were outscored 160-84. That was a better spread than the first seven games and the Mustangs doubled their points scored for the season but all this is just a reminder that SMU was bleeping terrible in 2014. Matt Davis was part of that terrible bleeping team, an improvement at quarterback, shockingly, but still not good enough to elevate the team.
Moving forward to 2015 Davis was incrementally better than his 2014 self, however the results were still below average. Start here, college quarterbacks, good ones, complete 60% of their passes or more. National average for quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts is 58.2%. That baseline continues to go up as offenses continue to find ways to be more and more efficient at throwing the football. Remember, we are living in a passing golden age. Of the top 10 completion percentage seasons in NCAA seasons, nine have come since 2004. The outlier? Daunte Culpepper's 1998 season which actually sits third overall at 76%. That's a trivia question answer that will both impress and baffle your friends. You're welcome.
Back to Davis, he has yet to complete more that 54% of his passes. In 2015 Davis started the season completing 61% of his throws in his first six starts. He then let loose a string of stinkers to end the season, completing only 46% in his last six starts including three games of below 40%. That's a huge issue for any offense outside of those running the wishbone.
Sacks can't always be attributed to one player and we aren't here to do that, but quarterbacks are a contributing factor when it comes to sacks. Matt Davis is sacked as much as any quarterback in college football and the last two years bear that out. Davis' sack rate was in 7th percentile in the 2015, that was an improvement over 2014, but still bottom 10 in the county.
Part of what makes Davis an appealing talent is that he is undeniably a great improviser, the one area where Davis is elite is rush yards as he's been in the 90th percentile or better both seasons. Last year he was in the 97th percentile rushing the football.
Even with his impressive running numbers, Davis still falls well below average in yards per play. Chalk that up to his lost yardage due to sacks and a below average yards per attempt number. Among FBS quarterbacks Davis ranked 53 in pass attempts so he was throwing the ball around a good bit. When he did throw, Davis did a pretty good job keeping the ball away from opponents as his interception rate in the 70th percentile. That area has continued to be a positive for Davis when compared to his other productivity stats.
Looking to 2016, SMU should be better. Chad Morris has recruited well and young skill talent surrounds Davis. Cortland Sutton is a legitimate number one receiver with size, speed, and ball skills that almost every program would covet. Aside from Sutton, SMU has a deep group of receivers. The run game, which relied on two freshman last year, should be better as well. Davis adds to that threat. The offensive line, though a weakness, will not be as bad as the 2015 version. The Mustangs are trending up from the dumpster fire of 2014. Davis won't be counted on to do as much in 2016 and that's a good thing. That means that the talent around him is better. It also means that the scheme of "let Matt run around until something happens" may be largely abandoned.
If SMU is to make a big leap Davis needs to improve in two vital areas, 1) he'll need to replicate the first half of 2016 and complete a higher percentage of passes and 2) he'll need to be more judicious in the pocket to avoid sacks and negative plays. The stats are trending in the right direction, the Roundup just isn't sure Davis will take the significant leap in 2016 from below average to above average.