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Meet The Fast Starters And Strong Finishers Of The SEC

mrsec stat analysis newWhich running backs are ready to play at the opening whistle?  Which are more effective come crunch time?  When it comes to having a hot hand early or late, which SEC quarterbacks are best?

Examining the fantastic fourth-quarter numbers for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last week, we became interested in seeing which SEC players performed best when the game was on the line.  Naturally, we then began to wonder which players were the best right out of the gate as well.

Below we’ve listed the SEC’s 10 best rushers and passers in both the first and fourth quarters.  First, we’ll look at the 10 league running backs who most often enjoy hot starts.


Fast Starting Running Backs (minimum 22 first-quarter carries)

  Player   School   Yds/Carry 1st Q   1st Q Carries
  J. Hill   LSU   9.38   42
  R. Hansbrough   MU   9.32   22
  N. Marshall   AUB   8.76   25
  J. Manziel   A&M   7.12   25
  M. Davis   USC   6.53   43
  A. Collins   ARK   6.46   28
  T. Mason   AUB   5.72   32
  B. Malena   A&M   5.55   33
  J. Williams   ARK   5.48   33
  R. Neal   UT   5.22   41


Jeremy Hill averages nearly 10 yards per first-quarter carry, better than anyone else in the SEC.  Russel Hansbrough of Missouri ranks second, but he’s had 20 fewer carries than Hill.  To average 9.38 yards per carry on 42 carries is simply amazing.

Two quarterbacks make the list of hot starters — Auburn’s Nick Marshall and, of course, Texas A&M’s Manziel.  Auburn’s steady ground attack landed two players on this list (Marshall and Tre Mason).  Ditto Arkansas with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.  Ben Malena pairs with Manziel to give Kevin Sumlin’s offense two representatives as well.


Strong Finishing Running Backs (minimum 22 fourth-quarter carries)

  Player   School   Yds/Carry 4th Q   4th Q Carries
  A. Collins   ARK   7.10   42
  C. Artis-Payne   AUB   7.00   23
  T. Mason   AUB   6.35   37
  R. Neal   UT   5.67   24
  J. Williams   ARK   5.50   24
  J. Hill   LSU   5.22   23
  N. Marshall   AUB   4.78   23
  C. Shaw   USC   4.73   22
  M. Davis   USC   3.57   35
  H. Josey   MU   3.57   23


Arkansas’ Collins is both a fast starter and a strong finisher.  His 7.10 yards-per-carry average would (as well as Williams’ 5.50 average) would likely help the Hogs close out a game… if they ever grabbed a late lead.

Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offense actually boasts three of the strongest finishers in the league in Marshall, Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne.  Aside from Marshall, the only other quarterback on this list is South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, who forms a tandem with running Mike Davis.

Next we turn our attention to the SEC’s starting quarterbacks, specifically those 10 who consistently get off to fast starts.  Below is a comparison of the 10 best first-quarter passers according quarterback rating.


Fast Starting Quarterbacks (minimum of 22 first-quarter attempts)

  Player   School   1st Q QB Rating   1st Q Attempts
  Z. Mettenberger   LSU   198.49   60
  J. Manziel   A&M   194.23   87
  AJ McCarron   ALA   175.54   76
  J. Franklin   MU   155.41   67
  M. Smith   UK   153.23   40
  A. Murray   UGA   150.23   61
  N. Marshall   AUB   149.52   45
  C. Shaw   USC   149.02   50
  B. Wallace   UM   143.05   82
  B. Allen   ARK   142.98   38


The top two quarterbacks on this list — Zach Mettenberger and Manziel — are in a league of their own.  AJ McCarron’s numbers are very good, but the passing rating for the other two M&M boys are scintillating.

Two dual-threat quarterbacks — Marshall and Shaw — check in along with Manziel on the fast starters list.

Next, a look at the guys who put up the best late-game, fourth-quarter numbers.


Strong Finishing Quarterbacks (minumum of 22 fourth-quarter attempts)

  Player   School   4th Q QB Rating   4th Q Attempts
  J. Manziel   A&M   231.22   42
  Z. Mettenberger   LSU   189.34   40
  A. Carta-Samuels   VU   181.14   51
  AJ McCarron   ALA   175.19   23
  J. Whitlow   UK   159.71   27
  J. Franklin   MU   153.28   23
  M. Smith   UK   147.90   37
  C. Shaw   USC   144.22   33
  A. Murray   UGA   144.00   54
  N. Marshall   AUB   132.11   34


Let’s start with some surprises.  First, Auburn’s Marshall is the only player in the SEC to make all four of these lists.  That’s worthy of a thumbs up though his fourth-quarter passing numbers aren’t as good as his first-quarter stats.

Mettenberger, McCarron, Franklin, Kentucky’s Maxwell Smith, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, and Shaw are all nearly as good late as they are early.  Hats off.

Also, here’s guessing you were as surprised to see both of Kentucky’s QBs — Smith and Jalen Whitlow — on the strong finishers list as we were.

But the big story from this chart and from this entire exercise, really, is Manziel’s fourth-quarter passer rating.  It’s insanely good, jumping from a 194.23 first-quarter mark all the way to 231.22.  How extraordinary is that number?  Not only is Manziel’s fourth-quarter rating better than his fourth-quarter rating of a year ago (150.01), but it’s the best fourth-quarter number in the nation.

Further, it’s the best fourth-quarter passer rating in the nation dating back to at least 2007 and possibly beyond.  Johnny Football’s late-game performances have been the definition of clutch.  No one else with a similar number of pass attempts –either in the conference or out — can compare to Manziel’s final stanza body of work.


Gamecock in ATL
Gamecock in ATL

Very cool analysis. I wonder if it looks different if you separate the games where the team in the 4th quarter has a)essentially already won, b)in a tight matchup, or c)essentially already lost.

Reason being is that the playbook and opponent players both could change. In a game with a comfortable lead, the playbook moves to a run-oriented game, and the opponent buckles down on run stopping. This might explain why Hill drops off so much in Q4 - it's really a testament to the fact that when the playbook is wide open in Q1, he's incredible. In a game that is already lost, the opponent likely puts in 2nd string and all of the sudden it's easier to get yards in garbage time. This might explain UK's QBs in the 4th quarter.

Regardless, Manziel's stats are really incredible.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@Gamecock in ATL 

The streak is alive.  

In 5+ years of doing this site, we've never posted any kind of statistical comparison that didn't immediately draw a "Well, I wish you'd looked at it like this" response.  Every time.  Never fails.  We post it, then someone says there's some better -- often much more time-consuming -- method we could have used.

Not being ugly or a smart aleck, just laughing that that is always the response.  "This is good, but..."

Many thanks for reading the site,



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