Comparing Lopina and Lobbestael: Game One

Sometime Tuesday, Paul Wulff will get on a phone call with a bunch of reporters and announce what he intends to do with his quarterbacks moving forward. And while we all could spend a lot of time speculating how he'll decide -- you all already know that my money's on the two-quarterback arrangement continuing -- I'd rather spend a few moments examining the performance of Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael.

Everyone already knows how each guy did passing the ball; I decided to go a little deeper into the stats to see if we can learn anything else. Here are some numbers that I think shed a little more light on what went on:

Lopina Lobbestael
Series 5 5*
Plays Run 26 3
Pass 19 16
Total 45 19
Team Yards Gained 299 66
Team Yds/Play 6.6 3.5
Passing Yds/Comp 12.2 9.75
Yds/Att 7.6 6.0

* I eliminated the drive Lobbestael led that started on the WSU 4 and featured three consecutive runs for -1 yard. Not his fault, and unfair to figure that into the stats.

While each was asked to lead the same number of series, the results were vastly different. The notion that the offense seemed to move more effectively under Lopina is supported by the stats, with the offense gaining more than 230 more yards with Lopina at the helm. That is a huge margin. Additionally, Lopina was the more effective passer in both yards per completion and yards per attempt.

But it's important to note the run/pass ratio of the play calling when each was on the field. Lopina enjoyed the luxury of a balanced offense, while Lobbestael, for whatever reason, was called upon almost exclusively to pass. His first five plays were passes, and it didn't change much from there. I don't know too many quarterbacks not named Graham Harrell who could succeed throwing five passes for every one run.

Because of this, we're left once again to wonder which guy is right to lead the offense.

Lopina certainly looked better, at least in terms of leading team success. He was accurate throwing the ball, made quick and decisive reads and displayed some elusiveness in the pocket. Lobbestael, meanwhile, was hot and cold in terms of accuracy, and appeared to struggle at times to make his reads in the face of pressure.This shouldn't come as any surprise; it was basically what we heard about in camp over the past month playing out before our eyes.

But it must be asked if Lobbestael's performance was due, at least in part, to the coaches essentially giving up on the run while he was in the game, and if Lopina's success was due, at least in part, to the success of the running attack while he was in the game. Again, this is why it's so difficult to go with a two-quarterback arrangement -- trying to nail down why a particular quarterback played well, when game dynamics so often dictate what a quarterback is able to do, can often be an exercise in futility.

Which is why I'm extremely curious to hear Wulff's decision.

There were other things equally as obvious as Lopina's effectiveness leading the offense. Lopina still doesn't possess a Pac-10 arm; I'm thinking specifically of one pass where he threw a little seven-yard pass to the sideline, only to see a defender break and get his hand on the ball. If your arm isn't strong, your release better be quick; unfortunately for Lopina, he doesn't have either. By contrast, Lobbestael showed that he does have that kind of ability. You might say that it wasn't a problem for Lopina this weekend, and that might be true. However, he was facing an inexperienced secondary that could be one of the worst he sees in Pac-10 play. Will he get away with some of those throws against other teams?

Yet, Lopina clearly performed better than Lobbestael. If game one truly was a competition, it was clear who the winner was.

Because of that, if Wulff decides to go with split duty again this week, it can mean one thing and one thing alone: The coaches recognize that their best shot at winning long term is getting Lobbestael as much experience as possible, and ,barring some kind of crazy run of effectiveness, Lopina really is just keeping the seat warm for Lobbestael, who the coaches see as playing himself back into shape. If they name Lopina the guy, they really did mean what they said about the competition, and are trying to get every game they can between now and the end of the season.

I'm betting on the former, with the coaches believing they can win the next two games under split duty and Lobbestael doing enough to grab the job full time by USC in game four.

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