I write occasionally about numbers here, and what they can mean and indicate, and I'll say this about Locker's numbers against Nebraska: I don't care. Yes, they're not very good. But I don't really care about a player's statistics; I care about how the player played. Statistics can be a very useful tool in evaluating how a player played, or they can be misleading. I believe Locker's statistics against Nebraska are more of the latter type.
Running through the reasons I don't care:
- I don't care about: college statistics in general. Collegiate quarterback statistics can vary heavily based on the type of offense the team runs. This is most prevalent of course with players who play in a spread, of both the run-heavy and pass-heavy types. Cam Newton had great passing stats. He spent a lot of time throwing to guys open by 10 yards because teams played the run very heavily, because Auburn was a big running team. Colt McCoy put up great college numbers at Texas. He spent a lot of time to throwing to open guys less than 10 yards downfield. Skillsets are what matter.
- I don't care because: Nebraska had a great passing defense. By our collegiate numbers at Football Outsiders, they were 4th in the country. One of the basic findings is that the same team puts up better numbers against bad defenses and worse numbers against good defenses. Against a great defense like Nebraska's, you'd expect Locker's numbers to be worse. If he had put up great numbers against Nebraska, I'd be ecstatic. Most quarterbacks didn't.
- I don't care because of Nebraska's pass rush. Washington's offensive line is none too good. Nebraska's defensive line is anchored by Jared Crick. He's not Ndamukong Suh, but he's likely to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Throwing the ball away is better than taking a sack, but the incompletion shows up in the passing stats and the sack doesn't.
- I don't care because of Nebraska's cornerbacks. Prince Amukamara went 19th overall in this year's draft to the Giants. Alfonzo Dennard was the starter on the other side and is currently projected to be a first-round pick in the 2012 draft.
- I don't care because of Washington's receivers. Jermaine Kearse right now has a 2nd-3rd round grade on him, but he's primarily a vertical threat and not a complete receiver. Beyond Kearse, there's probably not a draftable receiver or tight end on the Huskies' roster.
- I don't care because of press coverage. Locker may not have completed any of his first seven passes in the Holiday Bowl, but I don't think any quarterback in the world could've completed more than four, maybe five of those passes. Nebraska lined up their good cornerbacks against Washington's mostly mediocre wideouts in press-man alignment and forced them to beat them. Washington's wideouts miserably failed. Locker would've needed elite NFL-level accuracy to complete most of those passes. He doesn't have that. Almost nobody in college does (Sam Bradford is the only guy in the last decade I'm confident had it).
- I don't care because we can do a more nuanced evaluation of his play. For that, I point you to this analysis by former Washington and NFL quarterback Hugh Millen, or take a listen to the related podcast of his 4-for-20 performance in the first Nebraska game. By Millen's grade, Locker had 10.5 pluses, 7.5 minuses, and 2 double-minuses. That's not a great game, but nor is it the kind of disaster you'd expect from 4/20, 71, 1/2.
But whatever you do, don't cast his fate based on his stats against Nebraska last year.
Locker's passing percentage against Nebraska does concern me a bit. You can't ignore his 20% and 33% completion percentages. There is no getting around the fact that he has a bit of an accuracy issue. But the one thing about the second Nebraska game that gives me some comfort is that he won it. Despite the fact that Nebraska was a vastly superior team and despite the fact that Locker was not at his best in throwing the ball in the Holiday Bowl, he still was able to will his team to victory. That is a pretty amazing feat and that ability to pull out a win in a key game despite the odds being stacked against you is a quality that every starting QB in the NFL needs to have if he is going to be a success. I remember watching Matt Ryan play at Boston College and seeing him find a way to games that his team had no business winning. I see some of that quality in Jake Locker, and it gives me hope that Locker can be a star in this league.