November 24, 2009
The most interesting aspect of the Heisman Trophy is always the players it excludes as a matter of course. With the field of favorites rapidly narrowing down the stretch, Alternate Heisman Reality looks at some of the more deserving candidates off the beaten path. Today: Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt.
Generic Profile. Junior quarterback for a one-loss, top-10 team possibly headed for a conference championship and automatic BCS bid, and trigger man of the highest-gaining and highest-scoring offense in the ACC.
By the Numbers. Time for the blind taste test -- who you got?
"Quarterback A," as you might have guessed, is media darling and omnipresent Heisman frontrunner Tim Tebow, who has the benefit of being more accurate than "Quarterback B," Nesbitt, but can't hope to match Nesbitt's penchant for big plays. In fact, no quarterback can: In Georgia Tech's overwhelmingly run-based attack -- also expertly navigated by Nesbitt on his way to a likely 1,000-yard season on the ground -- defenses are so stunned when he actually steps back to throw that almost every completion ends as a big play. More than three-fourths of Nesbitt's completions (45 of 58) have gone for first downs, slightly over half have covered at least 15 yards and almost a third have gained at least 25 yards, with a handful of 60-plus-yard bombs in that number. When Mississippi State overplayed the option in early October, Nesbitt burned the Bulldogs for 266 yards and touchdown on 11-of-14 passing.
The problem for a quarterback working in such a run-based offense is that the passing stats don't follow -- Nesbitt doesn't have enough attempts to qualify for most stat categories. But if he did, he'd easily lead the nation in yards per attempt and yards per completion and rank in the top 10 in pass efficiency, on top of being the No. 5 rusher among quarterbacks.
Intangibles Ho! The quarterback does yeoman's work in the triple option, essentially doubling as a fullback by slogging out four yards per carry and consistently converting short-yardage situations while drawing hits that serve as "blocks" on many of his option pitches when plays go outside. Because this system relies so heavily on post-snap reads, Nesbitt makes the critical split-second decision that determines the success or failure of almost every play, even in the running game, and it's not for nothing that the Jackets scored at least 24 points in every ACC game and finished as far and away the most prolific overall attack in the league.
Note, too, that Nesbitt led two long field goal drives in the fourth quarter to bring the Jackets from behind to beat eventual Atlantic Division champ Clemson, and slammed the door on Virginia Tech by immediately answering two Hokie touchdown drives in the second half, sealing up the Jackets' biggest win of the year with a 40-yard touchdown run with three minutes to play. At Florida State, he accounted for 271 total yards and four touchdowns and at one point stripped an FSU defender of a teammate's fumble to maintain possession, then ran in a crucial touchdown a few plays later in a 49-44 marathon of a win. If you want a "tough" quarterback, Nesbitt is at the top of that list.
Three Strikes. Nesbitt a) Doesn't play for a high profile program known for offensive superstars (Georgia Tech has never produced a Heisman winner); b) Doesn't put up big passing numbers; and c) Hasn't established a high individual profile.
Face it: For all his big plays downfield, the guy only completes 46 percent of his passes, and it would probably be worse if not for the sure-handed acrobatics of his lone reliable target, Demaryius Thomas. Nesbitt was 1-of-7 through the air with an interception in his team's biggest game of the year, against Virginia Tech (though that lone completion covered 51 yards), and combined to hit a dismal 9-of-29 in back-to-back Thursday night showcases against Clemson and Miami. Nesbitt runs his offense as well as any other quarterback in the country at the moment, but who wants to vote for one of the least accurate passers in the country?
Might Enter the Real Discussion If ... He goes 11-for-12 passing for 280 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 150 yards in a nationally-televised, 56-7 rout over Georgia, then lights up Clemson in similar fashion to take the ACC Championship. It would help a lot if Texas also lost and a few talking heads started floating the Jackets as potential BCS championship busters. Unless Nesbitt is clearly the hottest player in the country, pulling the strings of the hottest team at the end of the year, his name won't come up.
But he's still at least as strong a candidate as Eric Crouch ever was.