Indiana football has a good, old-fashioned quarterback battle on its hands headed into the 2022 season.
In one corner you have Jack Tuttle, who’s been around the program as a backup since transferring from Utah ahead of the 2019 season. In the other you have Connor Bazelak, a transfer from Missouri who has experience as the Tigers’ starter.
Head coach Tom Allen confirmed that the competition to replace Michael Penix Jr., now at Washington, has come down to these two. We took a peek at the numbers to give you some insight into each quarterback.
It’s important to note that these are just numbers with little context. They tell you a lot, but they don’t paint the entire picture. Bazelak was a starter and Tuttle came in as a backup against Big Ten competition.
Bazelak was playing in the SEC with superior talent and coaching on offense, particularly on the offensive line. Indiana’s receiving depth was thin, especially after speedster D.J. Matthews went down with an injury prior to Tuttle seeing significant snaps.
With that being said, let’s dive in.
First up, we’ll be talking about passing depth. Know that we’ll be getting into pressure later, but it’s worth mentioning here that Bazelak’s offensive line at Missouri gave him more time to push the ball downfield than Tuttle’s.
You can see that both Bazelak and Tuttle passed at the deep, intermediate and short areas of the field at similar rates. Bazelak’s numbers from behind the line of scrimmage are mostly from screen passes (which we’ll get into later).
This tells us that they were asked to do/simply did similar things with the ball when they dropped back. That’s important because coaches understand who their quarterbacks are/what they can do.
What’s more important is what they did with those attempts, which you can see below:
This tells us significantly more. The obvious point being that Bazelak had a higher completion percentage than Tuttle across the board. This is true of every depth but behind the line of scrimmage, wherein Tuttle had fewer attempts and where passes are effectively open layups.
The numbers speak for themselves, particularly Bazelak’s completion percentages in the deep and intermediate areas of the field. Again, he had more time for that, but those are fractions of a second and those numbers are considerable either way.
Of Bazelak’s 16 touchdown passes in 2021, five were thrown deep and three were thrown in the intermediate area of the field. Conversely, six of his 11 interceptions were thrown in the intermediate area.
Of Tuttle’s five interceptions in 2021, two each were thrown in the deep and intermediate areas of the field.
Like with passing depth, there’s obviously some nuance here that numbers can’t convey. For instance, a good play-action game requires a good running game.
Indiana lacked that in 2021, which put a lot of pressure on Tuttle and didn’t fool too many defenses when he faked handoffs. Missouri had 178.9 rushing yards per game last year, good for middle of the pack in the SEC but good enough to make the play-action pass a serious factor.
Despite that, Bazelak and Tuttle had play-action called for them at similar rates in 2021:
Again, similar rates not unlike passing depth. But it’s noteworthy that Bazelak got more screens than Tuttle.
It’d make sense for Tuttle to have a few more screens to get him in a rhythm, keep the offense moving and mitigate the pass protection of the offensive line, trying something to get the ball downfield. But no, Tuttle wasn’t given that kind of help.
Of Bazelak’s 16 touchdown passes, six came in the play-action game, as did four of his 11 interceptions. It’s worth noting that four of those 16 touchdowns also came from screen passes.
Of Tuttle’s two touchdown passes, none came from the play-action game, but two of his five interceptions did.
Last but not least, we have the pressure each quarterback faced in 2021. Given the state of Indiana’s offensive line, largely unchanged outside of departures and incoming freshmen in 2022, this is front of mind for many Indiana fans.
So, let’s get right to it:
It’s not surprising that Tuttle was under pressure more than Bazelak. Yes, facing pressure on nearly half of his dropbacks is a staggering number, but Indiana’s troubles on the offensive line last season were well-documented.
They were, however, blitzed on similar rates. Somewhat surprising considering one’s offensive line was underperforming and the difference in conference, but worth noting.
Now, onto the more important business of how they each handled pressure:
Again, a higher completion % across the board for Bazelak. Also again, worth noting that Tuttle faced significantly more pressure and thus had much more room for error.
What should stick out is each’s performance against the blitz. A blitz, by nature, is a risky call for any defense. The coordinator sacrifices coverage in a gamble on the blitz getting to the quarterback before he can fully process things.
The best quarterbacks, starters and statistical leaders, recognize the weakness this creates in a defense. They move quickly, taking the blitz as an opportunity for an easy pickup.
This, of course, depends on an offensive coordinator who leaves reliable options open to counter the blitz, something Bazelak likely had at Missouri. That 66.1% against the blitz says a lot about who Bazelak is as a quarterback.
The odds are evened a bit now that the two are in the same offense behind the same line, but Bazelak takes an advantage here.
All statistics cited in this article were sourced courtesy of Pro Football Focus.