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Is Pat Narduzzi's shot at Penn State's passing accurate?

Taking a look at comparing Penn State's and Pitt's passing offenses.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I love statistics and numbers. They're great. In any type of discussion, statistics can really help prove and emphasize the point you're trying to get across. You know the flaw with some statistics? People often use some statistics to prove their point, and then ignore their context or just ignore contradictory ones that disprove their point.

The reason I bring this up is because of Pat Narduzzi's veiled, but very obvious shot at Penn State and their passing success from his Monday press conference. In case you're under a rock, you can find the exact wording here.

Now, I have to start by saying that very many rational Penn State fans saw that quote and said "Yup. He's right". Don't believe me? Here's the Reddit thread on the quote. Almost all of them said Narduzzi was right.

As with every fan base though, you get the minority of fans who reach out to take a shot back by taking a quick look at stats and then tripping over themselves to tweet how right they are, and how dumb Narduzzi is:

funny, Penn State is 106th in passing yards and Pitt is 107th. Narduzzi is an a$$

Narduzzi should google passing rankings in NCaa. One of the few worst passing games is Pitt.

Narduzzi wasn't taking a shot at PSU, he was taking one at his own coach. Had to be, since Pitt is actually ranked lower in passing than PSU

Those are all tweets with the user names and mentions removed (Shout-out to our own Jim who compiled a couple last night). That's just a sample, but trust me there were dozens like that, combined with ones on the Penn State message boards, and comments in columns on the subject. Anyway, let's take a quick look at the stats these kind folks are reciting. (Note, all my stats are from this page on 10/20/15).

Total Passing Yards/Rank Yards Per Game/Rank
Pitt 1063/109th 177.2/108th
Penn State 1242/94th 177.4/107th

So, off the bat, the Penn State fans are right! Penn State does have more total passing yards. They have, however, played one more game than Pitt has. So we go to yards per game, where they are a solid .2 YPG higher than Pitt. On the surface, you would say, "That is weird. Why would Narduzzi say what he did then?" You have to dive a little deeper. Let's take a look at the quarterbacks themselves.

() denotes national rank Completions Attempts Accuracy Yards/Game Yards/Attempt TDs Int Rating
Peterman 74(92) 111(106) 66.7 (17) 153.7 (88) 8.3 (27) 9 (55) 3 (37) 157.79 (13)
Hackenberg 94(73) 177 (59) 53.1 (97) 172.3 (81) 6.8 (83) 8 (67) 2 (19) 123.01 (86)

Christian Hackenberg has the advantage in completions, attempts, yards per game, and interceptions. Unfortunately, only one of those stats really matters in the context of this argument, and that would be interceptions. Accuracy, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating are the other important stats here. These are the the important stats as they concentrate on the efficiency and meaningful production of the quarterback. It doesn't matter if a quarterback is throwing a lot if he isn't helping his team by doing it. Out of the five important stats I just listed, Peterman beats Hackenberg in four, and destroys him in three of them. Throwing the ball more doesn't make you a better passer if you don't get completions out of them. Hackenberg's 53.1% rate is horrendous. Hackenberg has thrown the ball 66 more times than Peterman has, but only garnered 20 more completions.The QB rating summarizes all of this in the formula it uses (if you want that, it's here). Peterman even has more touchdown passes despite playing in 2 less full games than Hackenberg (though higher interceptions too). Peterman has simply been much more efficient with the ball than Hackenberg has.

You might ask, however, about the competition these two faced. Well, let's put aside the fact that Pitt's strength of schedule is already rated much higher than Penn State's. We'll look at the passing defenses each team has faced already. I'm going to leave Pitt's game against YSU out as they are an FCS team. Considering Peterman barely played in that game I think that's fair as well. Results are below

Opponent Passing YPG Defense Rank Average
Pitt YSU (Not Counted) Akron (95) Iowa (64) Virgnia Tech (17) Virginia 97th Georgia Tech (34) 61.4
Penn State Temple (44) Buffalo (69) Rutgers (125) SDSU (42) Army 78th Indiana (127) OSU (4) 70

Yards per game is certainly not the most perfect way to rate a passing defense, but for the sake of a quick comparison, I think it's a fair tool to use. So even taking YSU out of the equation, Pitt has faced tougher pass defenses than Penn State has. Remember what I said about context with statistics? Let's go through some.

Hackenberg's Offensive Line

Narduzzi's main point was taking a very talented quarterback and hurting him with play calling. Christian Hackenberg has regressed terribly after a pretty good freshman season. Penn State fans might scream "but the line is so bad!", which could be considered a reason for him regressing so terribly especially when it comes to completion percentage. You know who disproves it though? Tino Sunseri. Yes, you read that right. In his junior year, Tino Sunseri had one of the worst offensive lines that Pitt has ever had. They gave up 61 sacks on the year. Even last year, Christian Hackenberg's line only gave up 44. For his year, Hackenberg's line is on pace to give up a little more than 50 sacks. Tino Sunseri not only had a slightly better quarterback rating, his completion percentage was miles better at 64.2% compared to Hackenberg's 53.1%. Tino was far less talented, had a worse line, worse receiver talent, and his starting running back (Ray Graham) tore his ACL half way through the season, and still did better overall in one year in Todd Graham's spread offense.

Pitt's Context

Pitt has some context to their offense as well:

1. This is the first year Pitt is running their offense, and Peterman didn't officially start until the third game of the season at Iowa. Hackenberg is in his second season of Penn State OC John Donovan's system, and has started since he got to Penn State

2. One of Pitt's two best players tore his ACL less than a game into the season. Peterman does not have an unreal running back to lean on like he could have been. He's relying on a sophomore, a red shirt freshman, and a true freshman to do a running back by committee. Having a good run game keeps the opposing defense honest. Hackenberg has a very talented running back in true freshman Saquon Barkley (granted, he was injured a few games) to lean on to keep opposing defenses from just double teaming receivers.

3. Pitt has five of its first seven games on the road, and two of which were in pretty bad weather. It took until 10/17/15 for Penn State to even leave the state. Their game against Temple was also considered a virtual homegame. Pitt has won three road games to this point, and going for their fourth this weekend. Penn State will not have even played three true road games until November 7th. Their game against Maryland this week is not at Maryland's home stadium. Pitt has won more games against Power 5 teams on the road than Penn State has won at home. Pitt has even played as many ranked B1G teams on the road as Penn State has.

4. Peterman was a highly rated quarterback in high school, as he was a Rivals 4*, and ranked #8 overall for quarterbacks. Tennessee was his best offer, though he ironically did have an offer from James Franklin when he was at Vanderbilt. However, Peterman struggled a bit at Tennessee, and left there because of that .  Hackenberg was a five star recruit, and committed to Penn State early. After his freshman year, he was widely regarded as a future top 5 pick in the NFL draft. Hackenberg has been rated that way pretty much up until the last few weeks as his play has not particularly improved. Peterman, on the other hand, seems to be getting better and better with each game as Pitt gets more and more comfortable in its new offense. They're trending in opposite directions right now.

Narduzzi isn't the only one to call attention to Hackenberg's play at Penn State. Popular venues like Solid VerbalPro Football Focus, and even Penn Live all describe how badly he is playing and how bad a fit he seems in the Franklin/Donovan offense.

I've also seen a lot of "Narduzzi should mind his own team", and "Narduzzi gets his team finally ranked, and he takes a shot at his rival?" First, wouldn't the best time to take a shot at a rival be when they're down and you're up? The entire world of college football celebrated Steve Spurrier and his propensity to make fun of his rivals. Narduzzi says something without even mentioning Penn State by name, and he's told to mind his own business? James Franklin commented on how he's trying to quiet down the back and forth talk between Pitt and Penn State lately. His very first opening press conference as Penn State's head coach he took a shot at Pitt saying the ever famous, almost now a meme "Dominate the State". Now that his team isn't doing as well he is trying to downplay it. He took very open shots at Rutgers and Maryland with respect to recruiting when they joined the B1G as well, but nope, it's Narduzzi who should be quiet?

At least Narduzzi and Pitt are very open about wanting to play Penn State on the field in addition to facing them in the living rooms of recruits. Penn State Athletic Director Sandy's Barbour "We're Penn State...It's about us" continues to be the response from Happy Valley about continuing the series. How about you extend the series and we can stop talking about quote fights and we can play some freaking football on the field? Is that asking too much?

Both teams still have a long season. The story lines for both teams could completely flip flop, but up to this point, Narduzzi's point is accurate