What Can Seth Russell Do in 2015?

First year starter Seth Russell gets the keys to the Bears offense in 2015. With a different skill set than previous starter Bryce Petty, what changes could Bear fans see in the offense, and how could Russell perform in his new role?

With a new starting quarterback under center for the Baylor Bears in 2015, the biggest question of the offseason is what are the Bears going to get from the quarterback position? Right now, it looks like Seth Russell's job to lose, as he has more than held off redshirt sophomore Chris Johnson and true freshman Jarrett Stidham.

Before we can get a good idea of what Russell could do in a full season as a QB, we need to look at a few things. First, what kind of player is Russell and how does he compare to his predecessors. Second, how other Baylor quarterbacks performed and what have is a standard season both rushing and passing. Once we know those two things, we can get a better feel for what Russell might do in 2015-16.

Who is Seth Russell?

The Bears newest quarterback fits the mold from what Art Briles is looking for, at least in terms of experience and waiting his turn. Russell is going into his redshirt junior year, having spent two seasons as the primary backup to former starter and current New York Jet, Bryce Petty. He has sat at the alter of Briles and former offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery and learned.

At 6-foot-3, and 220 pounds, Russell has prototypical size for the position. However, his most appealing attribute might be his speed and agility. With a 40-yard dash timed at under 4.50 seconds at time, Russell has great speed for the position, however it is his agility that impresses me the most. He can cut on a dime and make defenders miss, as Baylor fans have seen often during garbage time blowout appearances for Russell.

Russell is just as athletic as some of the players he is throwing the ball to, such as all-american candidates such as KD Cannon and Corey Coleman.

How have Previous Quarterbacks Performed?

Art Briles has been a head coach at both Houston and Baylor. To get a better idea of how Seth Russell could perform in his role as primary quarterback, it is smart to look at what his predecessors under Briles have done. Below are all of the starting quarterbacks under Briles since 2003, not taking into account 2007 which had Case Keenum as a freshman starting just half of the games, and 2009 where Robert Griffin III was injured early in the season and the Bears had multiple starting quarterbacks.

Year Player Cmp Att Pct Pass Yds Yds/Pass TD INT
‘03 Kolb 220 360 61.10% 3131 8.7 25 6
‘04 Kolb 198 353 56.10% 2766 7.84 11 6
‘05 Kolb 254 420 60.50% 3258 7.76 19 15
‘06 Kolb 292 432 67.60% 3809 8.82 30 4
‘08 Griffin III 160 267 59.90% 2091 7.83 15 3
‘10 Griffin III 304 454 67.00% 3501 7.71 22 8
‘11 Griffin III 291 402 72.40% 4293 10.68 37 6
‘12 Florence 286 464 61.60% 4309 9.29 33 13
‘13 Petty 250 403 62.00% 4200 10.4 32 3
‘14 Petty 270 428 63.10% 3855 9 29 7
Total Average 252.5 398.3 63.13% 3521.3 8.803 25.3 7.1
Average since 2011 274.25 424.25 0.64775 4164.25 9.8425 31.33333 7.25

Under Briles, these quarterbacks averaged over 3,500 yards passing on just under 400 attempts to go along with 25 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. However, as we can see, the Bears offense took a big jump in the 2011 season. The Art Briles attack was good in Houston, and early on at Baylor. Sometimes very good. In 2011 though, it became elite.

A 10% increase in completions, an 18% increase in passing yards, and a 29% increase in passing touchdowns. Since 2011, Baylor passers have averaged 4,164 yards passing, 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

However, we can dig even further into this data just by looking at the type of player that Seth Russell is. With Russell displaying tremendous athleticism, one can logically expect there to be an increase in the presence of the zone-read attack.

Year Player Rush Yds Rush Atts Yds/Rush Rush TD
‘03 Kolb 349 139 2.51 7
‘04 Kolb 51 119 0.43 5
‘05 Kolb 200 104 1.92 5
‘06 Kolb 154 111 1.39 4
‘08 Griffin III 843 173 4.87 13
‘10 Griffin III 635 149 4.26 8
‘11 Griffin III 699 179 3.91 10
‘12 Florence 568 139 4.09 10
‘13 Petty 209 95 2.2 14
‘14 Petty 101 84 1.2 6
Total Average 380.90 142.00 2.68 8.20
Average since 2011 394.25 124.20 2.85 10.00
Just RG3 and Florence 686.25 160.00 4.28 10.25
All Other QBs 177.33 108.63 1.61 6.83

With Griffin or Florence under center, the quarterback position has been very effective in the run game. Outside of them though, it truly is an offense that doesn’t rely on the quarterback’s legs. With Kevin Kolb or Bryce Petty, Art Briles gets about 177 yards rushing per year, at a paltry 1.61 yards per rush and just under 7 touchdowns per game. The touchdowns are significantly helped by Bryce Petty’s 14 in 2013, with no other year over 7.

Focusing in on RG3 and Nick Florence years, you can expect almost 700 yards on the ground, at a very strong 4.3 yards per rush and 10 touchdowns. With Russell being much more like Griffin athletically, he will have to prove that he can make the correct decisions like Nick Florence did to be a dependable rush threat for the QB position.

Finally, how many chances will Russell get on the field. We can take a look at plays per game to get a good estimate of the passing and rushing opportunities based on historical averages of their run/pass splits. In 2014-15, the Bears averaged 90.3 plays per game. That was over 5 more plays per game than in 2013-14, and almost 10 higher than 2011-12.

Year # of plays Rush Rush % Pass Pass %
2010 72.1 36.4 50.49% 35.7 49.51%
2011 81 45.3 55.93% 33.4 41.23%
2012 84 46.5 55.36% 36.2 43.10%
2013 85.2 48.4 56.81% 35.1 41.20%
2014 90.3 47.4 52.49% 40.9 45.29%

In 2010, the Bears ranked 24th in plays per game, but since then, they have been a staple of the Top-5, never dipping lower than 5th and leading the country in 2014-15. The Bears have always been a run-heavy offense, with every year since 2010 attempting more rushes per game than passing attempts. In recent years, the Bears have skewed even more aggressively to the running game, before coming back with more of a passing look last year.

What Can Seth Russell do in 2015?

Now that we have a good baseline to judge passing and rushing stats, it is not time to speak about Russell and his ability to hit those numbers. In his young career, Seth Russell has averaged 9.9 yards per pass, and an incredible 5.9 yards per rush. He throws a touchdown pass on every 11.6 passes, and has rushed for a touchdown on every 9.33 carries. Petty has thrown a touchdown pass for every 13.62 passes he has thrown, and rushed for a touchdown on every 9.1 carries.

If we were to extrapolate the expected passes and rushes Russell will get in 2015, based on the Bears historical performance the past few years and Russell's per pass/run rates, his numbers are incredible.

4,208 yards passing, with 37 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 944 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns.

That would be the third most passing yards in Baylor history, and 101 more rushing yards than RG3 did in his best season in Waco. His 55 total touchdowns would be 9 more than Petty had in 2013, and 8 more than RG3 had in his Heisman winning season.

Needless to say, this is probably the best case scenario for Russell and the Bears, but this ceiling is in play. With a much higher tempo than what Griffin played with in 2010, Russell could have as many as 18 more plays per game. That is 9 more passes, and probably 2-3 more rushing attempts per game available to Russell.

Let's look at a more realistic projection, one where the Bears offense turns into more of a run heavy approach, and goes to a 55/45 balance, that would be 50 rushes and 40 passes per game.

With Russell having a career 57.8% completion percentage, if he keeps that up, that would be 23 completions per game. Using Russell's career 9.7 yards per attempt (Bryce Petty is at 9.6, so this is realistic to continue), that is 388 yards per passing per game, if Russell were to make every pass for the Bears. That obviously won't happen, as Russell as the backup still attempted 85 passes in 2014 and 43 in 2013. Petty himself averaged 322.2 yards per game in his two years as a starter. But with more of a run-heavy look, one can expect Russell to be just under 300 yards per game passing.

A more realistic projection then could be:

3,835 yards passing, with 30 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 825 yard rushing with 14 touchdowns.

Seth Russell will have the keys to one of the best offenses in the country, with an experienced group of skills players around him to go along with one of the best (and most experienced) offensive lines in the nation. With possibly changes to the play mix, the reintroduction of the zone-read rushing option to the offense, and a big-time athlete at the QB spot, the Bears offense should be in great hands for 2015.

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