FIGHT OR FLIGHT: RUNNING QBS VERSUS PASSING QBS

One of our favorite sites sights (dammit) in all of college football around the turn of the '00s was watching quarterback Dave Ragone leave brain cells and soul points all over the field while playing quarterback for Louisville. Why was Ragone's energy meter getting knocked down by multiple bars as we watched pre-MSU disaster John L. Smith's Louisville teams shock FSU and begin the Cardinals ascendance from C-USA to the Big East? Because Dave didn't slide, you simpering little nancy.


I'm gonna get hit? Ok, that's cool.

As in never. Ever. Ragone went shoulder first into every hit he took, a practice which resulted in hits where visible, atomized bits of brain matter shot from his eyes, ears, mouth, and most spectacularly, his ass. Ragone would actually look progressively dumber over the course of the game--we would have paid Adrian Karsten (god rest his tax-cheatin', suicidal soul) good money to play him in Connect Four over the course of the game. First quarter: Dave wins in three moves. Second quarter: Karsten thrashes him in six moves.

Fourth quarter: Ragone's eating the chips.

This refusal to slide met its match in one of the most dismal Thursday night games we've ever watched, a 2002ish matchup versus Colorado State with Bradlee Van Pelt at quarterback for the Rams, another non-slider brain damage fiend who rocked the mullet pre-hipster revival and had a face like a disgruntled vampire bat.

Monsoon rains, zero offense, and no fewer than 15 collisions that had the NTSB investigating each one--all of that led to a 6-3 score, three hours of dismal viewing, and, shockingly, two upright quarterbacks at the end of the game.

Leading us to our thesis statement: we don't think running quarterbacks get injured any worse than drop-back guys. Knee-jerk Jerry Sportsradio guys may opine the fate of running quarterbacks like Tim Tebow all they like, but we propose that in the end, true running qbs face an overall risk of injury than passing qbs. You may not want them on your Odyssey of the Mind team afterwards, sure. But they'll probably be in better shape than your average Wooden Indian Chris Weinke-type after the game.


Contradictory point: Weinke was durable as hell! Helps to have FSU's offensive line, too.

As a test slice, we've taken the Big 12 from 2006, one of the few conferences with a really nice split between systems employing classic drop-back passers and combo, spread-option-y type run/pass threats. (We tried the ACC first, a complete failure since the ACC favors the dropback qb almost exclusively...which may be a comment on the conservatism of the league as it stands overall, and is another piece entirely. But in summary: their qbs are on couches compared to the Big 12)

Looking at the Big 12 just last year, the numbers in terms of lost man-quarters are:

Big 12 QBs:

Dropback:

Baylor: Bell, three games (ACL)
Kansas: Meier, four games (shoulder)
KSU: Freeman/Meier no games
Nebraska: Taylor, no games
Oklahoma: Thompson, no games
Texas: McCoy, one game
Texas Tech: Harrell, no games

Running:

CU: Bernard Jackson: no games (154 rushing attempts)
ISU: Bret Meyer: no games (137 attempts)
Mizzou: Daniel, no games (147 attempts)
OSU: Reid, one game (119 attempts)
TAMU: McGee, no games (146 attempts)

Yes, it's thin-slicing, as it's just one season out of a hundred or so on the books, and no indicator of anything resembling conclusive empirical truth. Yet...one game total for the runners, and seven for the dropback guys. Factors? You've got a trove of them: offensive line protection, the individual conditioning of an athlete, acts of god, etc. They all matter.

However, the physics are on the side of the running qb most of the time, since not only are they bringing momentum to the table, they have more of a choice on where and how to disperse that momentum. The dropback qb has little choice on this, with their only real options being a.) attempt "roll with it," a very difficult maneuver with a high d20 roll attached to it, or to scramble blindly and risk an even larger hit on the run, since onrushing defenders have microseconds longer to build up even more hitting power.

Ask our lawya Eric Crouch if you don't believe us:

Note that in our little micro-survey, the most durable dropback guys play in quick-toss systems: Texas Tech and Nebraska, Leach/West Coast play-calling schemes that call for the ball to be out in eyeblinks. The germ of this whole thought came from the hopes of SEC fans re: Tim Tebow, Florida's baby rhino of a quarterback who will play a full season of college ball for the first time in 2007. He's playing in a system that's not contact averse or particularly dawdly with the ball: option runs, quick passing, and misdirection are the MOs of the spread option.

If the slice of the 2006 Big 12 and our residual memory is any indication, Tebow may be safer if he runs more, rather than standing in the pocket and waiting for impact. The truth of quarterback durability at the collegiate level may be counterintuitive: it's not about avoiding punishment, but managing it intelligently at the margins. And sometime that, oddly enough, may mean seeking it out from under center rather than avoiding it altogether.

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