Ponder Pre-Season Heisman Watch: Will a 2008 FSU Receiving Redux Hurt His Chances?

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While many of us at Tomahawk Nation like to look at advanced metrics of performance, and the QB position is no exception, many Heisman trophy voters have never even heard of a statistic like yards per attempt.  When considering quarterback performance, their vote is going to be based upon several things: hype/highlight reel type plays, team record, school stature, passing yards, touchdowns, and td/int ratio.

 

There is little dispute that Ponder has the tools to become Florida State's third Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.

Christian Ponder Highlights (via bzotheman)

Florida State finished the 2009 season with 3523 receiving yards, an improvement of over 1,000 yards from 2008 on just 50 more attempts.  While much of this increased production can be attributed to the explosive, accurate play of Christian Ponder (pre-injury), the experience and depth of the 2009 receivers far surpassed what Ponder had to work with in 2008.

With the dismissal of Jarmon Fortson, and the departures of Rod Owens and Richard Goodman, certain parallels have emerged between the 2010 Seminole receivers and the 2008 group.  Will this drag down Ponder's Heisman campaign?

Come explore, starting with the conclusion of the 2007 season, after the jump...

 

 

2007 FSU Receiving Statistics (courtesy of www.cfbstats.com)

Name Yr Pos G Rec. Yards Avg. TD Rec./G Yards/G
1 Greg Carr JR WR 12 45 795 17.67 4 3.8 66.3
2 Preston Parker SO WR 13 62 791 12.76 3 4.8 60.8
3 De'Cody Fagg SR WR 13 54 758 14.04 5 4.2 58.3
4 Antone Smith JR RB 12 22 203 9.23 0 1.8 16.9
5 Richard Goodman JR WR 9 20 184 9.20 2 2.2 20.4
6 Joslin Shaw SR WR 8 15 113 7.53 0 1.9 14.1
7 Charlie Graham SO TE 12 11 84 7.64 1 0.9 7.0
8 Caz Piurowski SO OL 9 5 57 11.40 0 0.6 6.3
9 Rod Owens SO WR 11 6 55 9.17 0 0.5 5.0
10 Marcus Sims SO RB 4 5 43 8.60 0 1.3 10.8
11 Damon McDaniel SO WR 6 4 35 8.75 0 0.7 5.8
12 Russell Ball SO RB 3 2 20 10.00 0 0.7 6.7
13 Seddrick Holloway SO RB 13 2 3 1.50 0 0.2 0.2
14 Jamaal Edwards JR RB 9 3 2 0.67 0 0.3 0.2
Total 13 256 3143 12.28 15 19.7 241.8

 

With the departure of Fagg,


De'Cody Fagg Highlights (via Qpsijoker3)


dismissal of  McDaniel, graduation of Shaw, and medical redshirt for Goodman, questions about the depth of the receiving corps abounded following the 2007 season.  Popular speculation at the time posited that Preston Parker and Greg Carr were poised to pick up the slack and break out to have dual 1,000 yard seasons.

As it turned out, neither Carr nor Parker matched their 2007 levels of productivity.  For Carr, perhaps it was the transition away from the jump ball passing attack favored by Jeff Bowden.  For Parker, maybe he was  too busy with the sticky icky.  Whatever the reasons, their production totals declined substantially, with Carr amassing roughly 300 yards less in 2008, and with Parker on pace for a similar 300+ yard drop in production (had he played a complete season).  Had FSU fans known that the production would drop from Carr and Parker, their cause for concern would have even been greater.

Fortunately, the 2008 season was one which saw significant contribution from true freshman, Bert Reed (322) and Taiwan Easterling (295), and to a lesser extent, Jarmon Fortson (137). Newcommer and JuCo Transfer Corey Surrency pitched in with 237 yards.

 

2008 FSU Receiving  Statistics (courtesy of www. cfbstats.com) (significant newcommer contributions in bold). 

 

Name Yr Pos G Rec. Yards Avg. TD Rec./G Yards/G
1 Greg Carr SR WR 13 39 542 13.90 4 3.0 41.7
2 Preston Parker JR WR 10 40 372 9.30 2 4.0 37.2
3 Taiwan Easterling FR WR 12 30 322 10.73 1 2.5 26.8
4 Bert Reed FR WR 10 23 295 12.83 3 2.3 29.5
5 Corey Surrency JR WR 12 12 237 19.75 4 1.0 19.8
6 Rod Owens JR WR 13 15 183 12.20 0 1.2 14.1
7 Jarmon Fortson FR WR 11 8 137 17.13 1 0.7 12.5
8 Antone Smith SR RB 13 10 101 10.10 1 0.8 7.8
9 Caz Piurowski JR TE 10 8 83 10.38 1 0.8 8.3
10 Cameron Wade FR WR 5 3 59 19.67 0 0.6 11.8
11 Jermaine Thomas FR RB 12 6 48 8.00 0 0.5 4.0
12 Marcus Sims JR RB 9 8 45 5.63 0 0.9 5.0
13 Louis Givens SO WR 11 4 44 11.00 0 0.4 4.0
14 Josh Dobbie SR TE 5 1 14 14.00 0 0.2 2.8
15 Joe Surratt SR RB 4 1 11 11.00 0 0.3 2.8
16 Bo Reliford FR TE 3 1 8 8.00 0 0.3 2.7
17 Seddrick Holloway JR RB 11 2 5 2.50 1 0.2 0.5
Total 13 211 2506 11.88 18 16.2 192.8

 

However, between the extremely young offensive line,  the lack of experienced playmakers (and seeming regression of Carr and Parker), and a switch to the more mobile but less experienced Ponder, FSU for the first time in recent memory became a team whose yards were spread nearly evenly between the run and the pass.  FSU's receiving yards dropped below 3,000 for the first time since 2004.

If you've been following along at home, you've probably started to notice some parallel story lines at the wide receiver position. 

The 2008 FSU squad lost Fagg (758) to graduation, Goodman to injury (184),  and got substantially reduced production from Carr/Parker and Antone Smith (700 fewer yards combined), for a total of 1,642 yards "lost".  The 2008 WR's returned approximately 130 yds/game of receiving.  Despite meaningful contributions from Reed, Easterling, Fortson and Surrency, FSU's passing attempts dropped off (from 466 to 387), and FSU was only able to replace roughly 1,000 of those "lost" receiving yards.

For this season, FSU loses Owens (729) Goodman (355) and Piurowski (182) to graduation (although he was gone most of last season anyway due to injury), and Fortson (610) for repeated violations team rules, Sharia law, and basic human decency.   Between those four, that makes 1,876 receiving yards "lost." The 2010 receivers return approximately 90 receiving yards/game.

2009 FSU Receiving  Statistics (courtesy of www. cfbstats.com).

Name Yr Pos G Rec. Yards Avg. TD Rec./G Yards/G
1 Rod Owens SR WR 13 61 729 11.95 3 4.7 56.1
2 Bert Reed SO WR 13 60 711 11.85 0 4.6 54.7
3 Jarmon Fortson SO WR 13 45 610 13.56 4 3.5 46.9
4 Taiwan Easterling SO WR 13 35 442 12.63 2 2.7 34.0
5 Richard Goodman SR WR 8 27 355 13.15 1 3.4 44.4
6 Caz Piurowski SR TE 6 13 182 14.00 2 2.2 30.3
7 Lonnie Pryor FR RB 13 10 132 13.20 1 0.8 10.2
8 Jermaine Thomas SO RB 13 17 129 7.59 1 1.3 9.9
9 Beau Reliford SO TE 13 11 89 8.09 2 0.8 6.8
10 Louis Givens SR WR 12 7 78 11.14 0 0.6 6.5
11 Ty Jones SO RB 6 5 35 7.00 0 0.8 5.8
12 Chris Thompson FR RB 11 2 10 5.00 0 0.2 0.9
13 Willie Haulstead FR WR 13 1 10 10.00 0 0.1 0.8
14 Rodney Smith FR WR 7 1 7 7.00 0 0.1 1.0
15 Ja'Baris Little SO TE 8 1 4 4.00 0 0.1 0.5
Total 13 296 3523 11.90 16 22.8 271.0

 

More jarring, FSU's returning receivers combined for just 2 touchdown catches all of last season (Easterling had both).  By comparison, FSU's returning receivers in 2008 combined for 7 touchdown passes (Carr 4, Parker 3).  For an offense that put up 3500+ receiving yards  to have only posted 16 receiving touchdowns (and only be returning WR's/TE's with 4 combined touchdown catches) seems low.  Checking the stats, that speculation appears to be confirmed. 

Here is a list of teams who accumulated between 3300 and 3700 yards (an arbitrary sweet spot based upon the Noles' performance) passing in 2009.  Number of passing touchdowns is in bold.  As you can see, FSU was dead last in passing touchdowns among this group.  The average was 25.5 passing touchdowns.  If this chart had been sorted by passing touchdowns, FSU would have ranked 71st nationally (FSU was 20th nationally in rushing TD's with 27).

 Rank by total passing yards                                      Passing TD's  (courtesty of www.cfbstats.com)

10 Oklahoma 13 519 300 57.8 3760 7.2 15 28 130.68 39.9 289.2
11 Idaho 13 396 240 60.6 3727 9.4 15 28 155.42 30.5 286.7
12 Northwestern 13 531 342 64.4 3725 7.0 14 20 130.50 40.8 286.5
13 Kansas 12 506 320 63.2 3724 7.4 10 22 135.46 42.2 310.3
14 Missouri 13 467 274 58.7 3711 7.9 11 26 139.08 35.9 285.5
15 Boise State 14 458 294 64.2 3698 8.1 3 40 159.52 32.7 264.1
16 SMU 13 472 286 60.6 3666 7.8 14 22 135.28 36.3 282.0
17 Texas A&M 13 509 302 59.3 3661 7.2 8 30 136.06 39.2 281.6
18 Duke 12 501 308 61.5 3660 7.3 10 24 134.66 41.8 305.0
19 BYU 13 419 282 67.3 3657 8.7 14 34 160.72 32.2 281.3
20 Central Michigan 14 478 329 68.8 3577 7.5 9 28 147.25 34.1 255.5
21 Florida State 13 437 296 67.7 3523 8.1 13 16 141.59 33.6 271.0
22 Oregon State 13 478 319 66.7 3520 7.4 7 23 141.55 36.8 270.8
23 Michigan State 13 423 251 59.3 3502 8.3 12 28 145.05 32.5 269.4
24 Miami (Florida) 13 416 246 59.1 3405 8.2 17 25 139.55 32.0 261.9
25 Florida Atlantic 12 445 257 57.8 3356 7.5 7 26 137.23 37.1 279.7
26 Toledo 12 444 270 60.8 3337 7.5 16 21 132.34 37.0 278.1
27 UTEP 12 421 228 54.2 3309 7.9 13 17 127.33 35.1 275.8
28 Western Michigan 12 528 317 60.0 3306 6.3 14 24 122.33 44.0 275.5
29 Florida 14 364 249 68.4 3305 9.1 5 28 167.31 26.0 236.1

 

Whether it was a philosophical issue,  whether it was memories of Fortson dropping the game winning TD against Miami in the endzone (we can all stop pretending it wasn't his fault entirely), whether it was confidence in the running game, or whether it was simply a case of guys getting tackled inside the five yard line, FSU's productive passing attack did not amass touchdowns the way one might have otherwise expected.

To sum up, FSU by at least two very common (albeit statistically simple and somewhat imprecise) measures of returning receiving productivity (yards lost to attrition and returning touchdowns), is arguably worse off than they were headed into 2008.  On a team that projects to be between 7-9 regular season wins, 3,000 yards passing and a handful of touchdown passes isn't going to dazzle the Heisman voters.

However, don't switch your kool-aid out for a K-Man approved, sugar-free beverage just yet.  There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the receivers, and by extension, Ponder's candidacy.

First, all reasonable expectations have the quarterback play (and the offensive line play) as strengths of this team.  There is no need to rehash in this article the expectations for Ponder and Manuel, or for the offensive line.  This could not be said about the 2008 squad, when FSU broke in both a young quarterback and an equally young line, getting away from the passing game in the process.  The yardage regression is perhaps explainable by these factors alone.

Second, FSU's sophomore receivers, Haulstead and Smith, appear to be showing as much or greater promise than their 2008 dopplegangers (true freshman Fortson, RS freshman Reed & Easterling).  Their measurables alone suggest there is no doubt they are physically ready to contribute.

Third, expectations for FSU's incoming freshman wide receiver class are high.  Even with De'Joshua Johnson failing to qualify, the 2010 class has the most talent and depth in years.  Reports out of camp include significant weight gain by Kenny Shaw, a player who many people believe would be capable of seeing significant playing time if he could add the requisite good weight.

So, will FSU experience a drop in productivity similar to the one experienced in the 2008 season (derailing Ponder's nascent Heisman hopes in the process), or is the comparison unwarranted?  Share your reactions in the comments section.

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