Which Quarterback Can Pick Up the Pace?

After their fourth loss of the season, it is clear Oregon is in a rebuilding year. The defense is currently ranked 117th in the nation. And while this accounts for a lot of Oregon’s recent woes, quarterback Dakota Prukop’s underwhelming performance might also have something to do with it.

Prukop vs. UC Davis

Gary Breedlove

Prukop vs. UC Davis

His overall numbers through his first five games have been decent, but there is a noticeable lack of speed in the usually up-tempo Oregon offense. This analysis will compare Prukop’s tempo to the tempo employed by Vernon Adams and Justin Herbert. By looking at Herbert, we can get a better idea of which QB Oregon should stick with for the rest of the season.

For this analysis, let’s use the assumption that when more plays are run, tempo increases, thus giving the offense more opportunities to score. It sounds a little too straight forward, but there are many factors that are difficult to mathematically account for. So we will be focusing on the number of plays per game and how many of those plays result in an offensive touchdown.

The first step is to find the average number of plays for our three quarterbacks. The next step is to calculate the average number of touchdowns scored by the offense in a game. From there it is easy to determine the probability of any single play resulting in a touchdown.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the numbers for each QB. The averages for Adams come from the eight games where he started in the regular season, the ones for Prukop come from his five games this season, and Herbert’s “averages” come from his one full game against Washington.

The noticeable difference is in the average total plays run per game. Six or seven plays may not seem like much, but those plays could mean starting 4-2 as opposed to 2-4. So let’s take a closer look at the numbers to see just how likely that scenario is.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2 is a visual representation of the probability of Prukop scoring a touchdown if he was given extra plays. The green bar represents the chance of scoring a touchdown if he had six extra plays (the difference in total plays between Adams and Prukop), and the yellow bar represents the chance of scoring a touchdown if he had seven extra plays (the difference in total plays between Herbert and Prukop).

Using a binomial distribution, we can determine that if Prukop was able to run six more plays per game, he would have roughly a 42% chance of scoring one or more touchdowns, and he would have a 47% chance with seven plays.

Let me briefly explain what a binomial distribution is: it assumes there are only two possible outcomes to a situation, a success (a touchdown) or a failure (not a touchdown). I realize there is a chance the offense could also produce a field goal or convert a first down on a given play, but here the focus is on touchdowns. Using the probability from Figure 1 as the success rate, I was able to calculate the probability of Prukop scoring at least once in these extra plays.

These numbers are important because it shows that if Prukop could run the amount of plays that Herbert is able to run in a game, there is roughly a 50/50 shot that Oregon could score AT LEAST one more touchdown.

Both the Nebraska and Colorado games were decided by a margin of four points or fewer. This mean if Prukop had been able to play at a faster tempo, he would have had roughly a 50% chance at winning either of those games, and Oregon could be sitting at 4-2 instead of a not-so-stellar 2-4.

And even though Herbert did not score as many points as Prukop, he was playing against arguably the toughest team on the schedule this year. Herbert was able to maintain a faster pace, and was a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy game against Washington. Based on this analysis, because the offense plays at a faster tempo with Herbert, he should be given the opportunity to start the rest of the season.

To get a better idea of how fast this offense can be, let’s look at total plays for each game from Prukop and Adams.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 3 contains the total number of plays Prukop was able to run in each of his games. He had a season high of 77 against Virginia, which is the same amount of plays Herbert was able to run against Washington. A few plays here and there may not seem like such a big deal, but as shown above, the more plays our offense runs, the more opportunities we have to score. Now let’s look at Adams’s plays:


He had a season high of 95 plays against Cal last year (the ASU total would have been higher, but I only looked at regulation time). That’s a whopping 18 more plays a game. Using a binomial distribution with the numbers in Figure 1, the probability of Adams scoring at least one touchdown in those 18 plays is 82%. And even with Washington being much better this year, Herbert was able to get in almost as many plays as Adams did against them. That shows a lot of promise for the rest of the season.

This team is in a rare position, as only four starters are graduating next year (assuming players don’t enter the NFL draft early). Herbert fits the tempo of the typical Oregon offense, and he has the added advantage of only being a freshman. He has the chance to grow as a player and create stronger team chemistry by leading the same group of guys for a couple of years.

Oregon really could be amazing next year. If you want proof, just look at Washington last season compared to this season. They were a 7-6 team overall with a 4-5 record in the Pac-12. I’m not one to give out compliments to the Huskies, but they have a serious shot at the College Football Playoff this year.

If the Huskies can make that much of a drastic change in just one season, surely the Ducks can too.  I’m confident Oregon will get over this slump; all we need is to get our groove back and find our fast-paced offense again. We are on the right track with Herbert.

Top Photo Credit: Gary Breedlove

Disclaimer: Readers: Every writer on FishDuck.com is allowed to express their opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of FishDuck.com

Charles Fischer

Amanda Brenner

Glendale, Arizona

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Amanda Brenner

Amanda Brenner

Amanda Brenner was born and raised in Eugene, OR with a great love for the ducks. At the age of 12, she moved to Phoenix, AZ where she was the place kicker for her high school football team. She also played soccer and basketball, along with running for the track team. She recently graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Actuarial Science. In the future, she hopes to become a statistical analyst for a team in the NFL or NBA.

  • DonealDuck

    It is easy to see that Herbert is Oregon’s QB now and, at this time, for the future, even without a binomial distribution study.

    Two plays are actually all it took for Prukop to win those 2 winnable games, underthrows to Nelson at Nebraska and Carrington vs Colorado. I am sure Dakota would be the first one to agree with that. Had he made those two throws, the Ducks would have won those 2 games and be 4 – 2 and Prukop would still be the starter.

    The bigger problem is still the defense, because no matter how good the quarterback is, that still only puts the Ducks at 4 – 2.

    • Amanda Brenner

      Every quarterback will miss some big plays, and the analysis just shows that if Prukop would have been able to run more plays he likely could have been able to overcome those mistakes by scoring on a different play.

      And since Herbert has only played one game, his starting spot may not be as much of a guarantee as the season continues. He is an obvious choice to start next year for sure. But the quality of his plays isn’t as good as Prukop’s since I would consider a quality play one that ends in a score. Of course he was playing against probably the best defense Oregon will face all season, so I’m sure he will improve in that area the more he plays.

      I agree with you 100% about the defense, I don’t think there’s a Duck fan alive that is happy with how the defense is playing. But at least Dye has been making the defense somewhat tolerable to watch.

      • DonealDuck

        2 of the 3 games the ducks lost with Prukop as quarterback, Dakota did not ‘make plays’, as they are the only two games since sometime in 2010 that Oregon has not thrown a touchdown pass, breaking the Ducks’ NCAA record streak.

        If Oregon runs plays slower at the end of the first half at Nebraska, instead of a 20 second ‘3 and out’, they win the game.

        Chip Kelly, the supposed Master of Tempo, knew when NOT to run tempo, as in the 2010 Cal game in which Oregon slow-played and ran out the last over 9 minutes of clock leading only 15 – 13 and not wanting to give Cal another chance with the ball.

  • DesertDuck

    Enough opportunities can overcome a few bad plays, and it prevents opportunities for the other team to score hopefully. No team or player will have a perfect game. Numbers can help reveal some tendencies and trends. I appreciate the analysis. I would hope to see an increase in our W column, whichever quarterback gets the job done. Now if we can only work on our mental team psyche.

  • DesertDuck

    Agreed that time management is important, and helps in that regard by making first downs, more plays, and more touch downs. In the Cal game, Oregon could have scored easily but chose not to as it had no impact on the game outcome.