E.J. Manuel was a human bridge over a wide gulch. He was signed at the end of Bobby Bowden’s career, an early recruiting win for new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, before finally becoming the starter in the second year of the Fisher era. He was often called a fan favorite, a handy piece of alliteration for broadcasters seemingly paid by the word, but he was more like a casual-observer favorite for his easy smile and friendly demeanor and a record on the field that compared well to what had happened over the previous ten years. Fans are fanatics, obsessives who tend to read TN every day and to those people "patented spin move" was a phrase reflecting annoyance at a highly touted recruit who looked great as Christian Ponder’s backup, only to become a slightly maddening player as the starting quarterback and Face-of-the-Program.
Rix, on the other hand, marked the beginning of the end for Bowden’s historic run at FSU, as detailed in When the Wheels Came off: Rethinking Rix (in case you missed it). While working on that story I had wanted to compare the turnovers between two FSU quarterbacks at opposite ends of the affection scale but with similar game experiences. Ultimately, this comparison of Chris Rix and E.J. Manuel did not fit into the narrative arc of the article, but I thought the numbers would make an interesting fan post separately, and here we go.
Some notes about the data are needed here. Interceptions are easy to track because they are recorded in box scores and attributed to the offending quarterback. Not so the fumble, which is recorded by the team rather than an individual, and a fumble that is not lost is not recorded as a fumble at all (we may remember more fumbles than the data reflect because they were recovered by the ‘Noles). So I had to go through news stories for each game of both quarterbacks to determine when the QB fumbled. There is a lot of luck involved in fumbles, as we often hear, but I had to stop collecting data somewhere and since not every story mentions recovered fumbles I elected to consider only lost fumbles.
Playing time is another consideration. I counted the QB to have played if he started, had significant playing time, or came in late in an attempt to pull out the win. I did not count Manuel’s mop up duty behind Ponder as a "significant playing time," although his play in the South Carolina bowl game after Ponder was hurt certainly qualifies. Manuel going out injured against Oklahoma? Counts. Coming in for Trickett in the Wake Forest game? Definitely. If Rix came in a game late to try to get a win I counted that too (Rix entered the 2002 NC State game with with only 2:29 remaining, still enough time to throw an interception). Basically if the opponent was still in the game, I counted the QB as being in the game as well.
On to the numbers. Manuel had significant playing time (etc.) in 33 games and in those games he had a total of 34 turnovers (6 lost fumbles, 28 interceptions), just over 1 per game on average. He had 11 games with no turnovers, exactly one third, leaving 66% with one or more.
The breakdown for Rix was 13 fumbles and 39 interceptions, which works out to 1.2 turnovers per game, a little higher than Manuel. When I started on this project I thought/remembered Rix had a turnover in nearly every game. In fact, he had a slightly better percentage than Manuel on games without a turnover. He started or had significant playing time (including being put it late to attempt a rally) in 43 games and had 17 without a turnover at all, or 40%. Amazingly, one of those games was against #1 Miami in 2002, in a game where Rix’s play did not lose the game (wide left). Miami was lucky to win 28-27 in a game where their QB, Dorsey, had 2 INTs and a fumble.
What I find interesting here is that Rix had a tendency to cluster. In games with at least one turnover Manuel’s percentage was higher (66% to Rix’s 60%), but as you go up in the number of turnovers per game Rix’s percentage increases: In games with 2 or more turnovers, 24% for Manuel (8 games) and 30% for Rix (13 games); in games with 3 or more turnovers 9% for Manuel (3) and 14% for Rix (6). Manuel only had four turnovers in a single game, the 2012 loss to Florida. Here Rix really separated himself. He had four or more turnovers in four games. He had five (5!) in a win against West Virginia in the 2004 Gator Bowl—so nobody remembers those. Twice he gave the ball up four times and once a whopping six (rhymes with Rix!). Here the narrative narrows like the eye of the hurricane because there is one opponent we always associate with Chris Rix. Those 14 turnovers in just three games all came against Miami.