Stats & Info: Connor Cook

Video data polishes College Total QBR

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9
11:30
AM ET
Wire photosConnor Cook (left), Blake Sims were among those most affected by postseason adjustments to QBR.
Every year, ESPN’s College Total QBR metric undergoes minor changes at the end of the season. In the interest of complete transparency, an explanation and analysis of the 2014 changes are below.

Total QBR is an all-encompassing metric that captures all aspects of a quarterback’s play – passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties, etc. It is built off play-by-play data and accounts for down, distance, field position, clock and score to determine which quarterbacks are the most and least efficient in the country. A full explanation of Total QBR can be found here.

College QBR differs from the NFL version in a few important ways. First, College QBR adjusts for the strength of opposing defenses and the NFL version does not. This is necessary in college because of the varying competition faced in conference and non-conference play.

Another important difference is that the NFL version uses live video tracking to capture data such as air yards of passes, number of pass rushers, run type, etc. This information is not widely available for all FBS schools, particularly the lower-level ones, so - during the season - this component of QBR is estimated from play-by-play data (down, distance, target position, etc.). The estimates are based on statistical analysis and modeling.

Once the season is complete, ESPN obtains video-derived data for the majority of FBS conferences (all Power 5, American, Mountain West and a few others) and replaces the estimated component of QBR with exact data.

Factoring in the exact data generally does not result in significant changes to a player’s season QBR, though there were some notable changes in 2014. A complete list of updated player QBRs can be found here, but below are some notable changes. As you will see, most changes are a result of air yards and scrambles for quarterbacks.

2014 final QBR numbers
Marcus Mariota remained No. 1 in Total QBR after the postseason adjustments. His QBR remained relatively unchanged, and he ended the season with a sizable lead over the second-place finisher, J.T. Barrett.

The biggest mover in the top 10 was Michigan State’s Connor Cook. Why? Sixty-three percent of Cook’s passing yards came through the air (rather than after the catch), the highest percentage of any Power 5 quarterback with at least 100 passes. In other words, Cook did not rely on yards after the catch for his passing yards.

Blake Sims fell from second to fifth in QBR for reasons similar to Cook’s rise. Led by Amari Cooper, Alabama gained 54 percent of its passing yards after the catch, the third-highest percentage in the SEC. Sims also benefited from some improbable long plays; he led the SEC with 24 completions of 30 yards or longer, yet six of those completions came on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage (see Cooper’s 52-yard touchdown against FAU). No other Power 5 player had more 30-yard completions (six) or touchdowns (four) on passes behind the line of scrimmage than Sims.

Barrett replaced Sims as No. 2 in Total QBR. Barrett was helped by his scrambling: a Big Ten-high 315 rush yards (7.3-yard average) and three touchdowns.

Looking beyond the top 10, Clemson’s Cole Stoudt had the largest decrease in Total QBR (-7.8 points) among qualified players after the addition of tracked data. Stoudt’s average pass traveled 6.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, two yards shorter than the Power 5 average (8.7).

Conversely, UNLV’s Blake Decker had the largest increase in Total QBR (+4.8 points). His average pass traveled 10.9 yards past the line of scrimmage, two yards farther than the Power 5 average. He gained 364 of his 366 rush yards on scrambles, and a player generally receives more credit for a scramble than a designed rush in the Total QBR calculation.

Overall, the teams that relied heavily on quick, short screens (Washington State, West Virginia, Texas Tech) were negatively affected by the updated information, and the ones that passed downfield more frequently (Michigan State, Minnesota, Florida) were positively affected.

Though these changes were minor – two players had QBR changes of more than five points – adding the additional information at the end of the season made QBR more accurate by adding information that allows us to isolate the quarterback's effect on each play. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section of this post and we will do our best to answer.

Michigan State offense doing its share

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
9:41
AM ET

AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State’s Jeremy Langford consistently posts 100-yard games against Big Ten opponents.
Defense is often the first word associated with Michigan State football. The Spartans are one of two teams (Alabama) to finish each of the previous three seasons ranked in the top 10 in points per game allowed and defensive efficiency. The offense was often an afterthought, but things are different this season.

Michigan State is averaging the fifth-most points per game in the FBS (45.5) and has already scored one more offensive touchdown (47) than it had all of last season. Its offense is adding nearly seven more points to its net scoring margin than in any other year since Mark Dantonio was hired before the 2007 season.

What has made the offense so successful?

A 3-headed monster
The Spartans are one of three FBS teams (Mississippi State and Marshall) this season that are averaging at least 250 passing and rushing yards per game. They are also one of three FBS teams (USC and Western Michigan) that have an 1,800-yard passer, an 800-yard rusher and an 800-yard receiver.

Connor Cook has led the way for Michigan State’s passing game. He leads the Big Ten in Total QBR (81.9) and yards per attempt (9.4) this season. Cook has also been the best downfield passer in the conference; he has eight more completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer than any other Big Ten player.

On the ground, Jeremy Langford has been one of the most consistent backs in the nation. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive conference games, tied with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey for the longest streak in at least the last 10 seasons. Langford has averaged 3.0 yards after contact per rush in conference play this season, second-best among Big Ten running backs (min. 50 attempts).

The third piece of Michigan State’s dynamic trio is wide receiver Tony Lippett. He has a Big Ten-high 889 receiving yards and is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. On passes thrown 15 yards or longer, he leads the conference in receptions (16) and touchdowns (six).

So, although Michigan State’s defense has received the bulk of the attention, it now has an offense to hold up its part of the bargain. On Saturday, the Spartans may need that offense to produce against an Ohio State team that has scored at least 50 points in five of its last six games.

Keys to victory: Michigan St. 24, Stanford 20

January, 1, 2014
1/01/14
9:11
PM ET
What were the keys to victory for Michigan State in its come-from-behind win over Stanford in the 100th annual Rose Bowl?

Shutting down the run
Stanford had nine rushes for 91 yards in the first quarter, but managed only 71 yards on 27 rushes the rest of the way. Michigan State's defense, which allowed only 80.5 yards per game during the regular season, got back on track.

The Cardinal were able to run inside the tackles successfully in the first 15 minutes, but couldn’t do so at game’s end, epitomized by Michigan State’s fourth-down game-clinching stop.

Stanford had only 14 yards after contact on its 21 runs inside the tackle in the game’s final 15 minutes.

The Cardinal had 10 rushes that lost yardage in this game, their most since they had 10 on Nov. 8, 2008, in a loss at Oregon.

Winning Time
Stanford went 4 for 15 on third and fourth down in this game.

Michigan State held its last two opponents to 5 for 27 on third and fourth down, including 1 for 10 in the fourth quarter.

Connor Cook’s deft touch
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was 22 for 36 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a career-high six passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield, including the go-ahead touchdown throw to Tony Lippett.

Cook fared far better than Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was 2 for 7 on his throws of that distance.

This was Cook’s second straight game with at least 300 passing yards. He’d never had such a game prior to that.

Did You Know?
Michigan State’s 4-1 record in Rose Bowls is the best of any team that has played in at least five of them. It marked Michigan State’s first Rose Bowl win since 1988.

The Spartans have won three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. Their 10-game winning streak is their longest since a 10—gamer spanning the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

Michigan State got its conference some much needed respect. It marked the second win in the last 11 Rose Bowls for the Big Ten.

Spartans returnees look to answer Bell

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
9:43
AM ET
AP Photo/Al GoldisAndrew Maxwell will be under center for the Spartans once again this season.
With the college basketball season in the books, College Football Live embarks on its Spring Bus Tour, visiting eight schools. Today we take a trip to check out the Michigan State Spartans.

2012 Season Recap
Michigan State started strong with a win over No. 24 Boise State, with running back Le’Veon Bell running for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries and entering the very early Heisman conversation.

After starting 2-0, the Spartans lost six of their next nine games and had to win at Minnesota in the last week of the season to become bowl eligible.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Spartans defense held their opponent to 20 points or fewer for the 10th time in 13 games and freshman QB Connor Cook led the team back from a 13-0 deficit in a 17-16 win over TCU.

Key Roster Notes
Bell and tight end Dion Sims are gone and four key defensive contributors will not be back, including DE William Gholston and CB Johnny Adams.

But seven offensive linemen with starting experience will return next season to protect senior QB Andrew Maxwell. His top five receivers from last season will return.

On defense, the Spartans’ top three tacklers and their interception leader -- CB Darqueze Dennard -- will be back.

2013 Outlook
In head coach Mark Dantonio’s first five seasons in East Lansing, Michigan State averaged 29.7 PPG. Last year the Spartans scored just 20.0 PPG, and with inconsistent play from Maxwell there will be competition to determine the starter, with sophomore Cook getting a chance.

They’ll need to replace Bell, who led all of FBS with 382 carries last year and served as the complete focal point for the offense.

A visit to Notre Dame will be the Spartans’ toughest non-conference test, but the rest of the schedule has them avoiding Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State in Big Ten play.

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