After Sam Ehlinger emerged as something between the second coming of Colt McCoy or the risen Tim Tebow, Shane Buechele became that man on the outside, looking in. In the old days, a quarterback in Buechele’s position would be out of luck. Today, with the transitory nature of the job, Buechele is on his way to SMU as a grad transfer. It’s a pretty sweet setup for the Arlington Lamar product. It also sets up well for Sonny Dykes and SMU.
Here are Buechele’s radar graphs, encompassing his percentile rank in six statistical categories (completion %, yards per play, yards per completion, sack rate, interception rate, and percentage of plays with a touchdown) among qualified quarterbacks in 2016 and 2017. Buechele didn’t attempt enough passes to qualify in 2018.
Basically, the larger the radar area, the better the player performed vs. his peers. In 2016, Buechele, as a true freshman, was all-around right about average. That position is good for a first-year player. In 2017, started six games, giving way to Ehlinger by week two but returning after injuries to play the majority of the second half of the season.
In 2016 Buechele threw for nearly 3,000 yards as a true freshman - a Longhorn record. By 2017, while his completion percentage improved, as did his interception avoidance percentage, both were at elite levels, he took a step back in every other category. The Horns, with Buechele under center, lacked a lethal finishing touch. He took more sacks, and didn’t threaten defenses downfield.
So what is SMU getting in Buechele? A lot of positives, first and foremost, but also a few negatives that might need to work themselves out. Buechele is a polished, well-prepared quarterback. He’s a coach’s dream because he coaches himself as hard as anyone. He’s always taking mental reps, diving into the playbook. Tom Herman said as much once Buechele announced his intention to transfer.
He’s an accurate passer, something that SMU’s been lacking. He completed nearly 65% of his passes in 2017, compared to 60% in 2016. NCAA average in 2016 was 59.3%, 57.9% in 2017. Former SMU starter and current Arkansas Razorback Ben Hicks never got above 58% in his three seasons starting on the Hilltop.
If you’re looking for areas where Buechele might struggle, you can start with the sack rate. Sacks aren’t always the fault of a quarterback or a missed assignment, but avoiding sacks is a gift that keeps a team from falling behind the chains, expands the playbook, and keeps drives alive. Opposing defenses sacked Buechele on 7% of his dropbacks in 2016, that was the NCAA average for qualified passers. In 2017, that number bumped up to 11%, among the worst in the country.
Lastly, Buechele doesn’t exactly test defenses downfield. At least he didn’t in Herman’s offense in 2017. Buechele’s yards per completion were among the worst in the FBS. Chalk some of that up to sack rate and poor line play, plus a near non-existent run game - allowing defenses to use more resources in coverage.
In SMU, Buechele finds an air raid guru who predicates his offense on pace - both in tempo and in getting the ball out of the pocket quickly. Dykes’ Cal teams consistently finished in the upper third of the PAC 12 in fewest sacks allowed.
Buechele also looks out and sees high-level skill talent including James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. Proche looks like an NFL receiver and torched top 15 squads Michigan and UCF for 23 catches, 266 yards, and four scores last year. He plays big against big competition and most other Saturdays as well.
If there’s a reason for pause, it’s that SMU, like Texas in 2017, struggled to run the football last season. Add to that the Ponies lose three of their top offensive lineman from 2018 and must rebuild at tackle. The good news is SMU played a lot of young players on the front last season, so they’ll benefit from that experience.
Dykes’ system is designed for cerebral players like Buechele to thrive. Expect Buechele to have a handle on the nuance of the system quickly, if he can stay healthy, put up big numbers. A lessor considered, but important benefit may be Buechele’s contribution to the quarterback room. Young players like William Brown and Austin Upshaw will get a seasoned, well-prepared starter to learn under.
Also, don’t forget, Buechele was a consensus four-star recruit out of Lamar. He held offers from Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech, Cal, Kansas State, North Carolina, and a bunch of other P5 schools. He lost his gig at Texas not because of performance issues, but because Ehlinger was just that good and turned into a force of nature. Unlike Garrett Gilbert, who looked overmatched in Austin before moving on to SMU, Buechele was every bit the dude at Texas, even in a backup role. He has the physical tools and makeup to win a lot of games for the Ponies.