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Historically Speaking, How Bad Was McElroy's Performance?

In my initial impressions piece yesterday, I wrote that Greg McElroy played so poorly against South Carolina that, "for all intents and purposes, we had Spencer Pennington at quarterback last night," and that I could not remember, "the last time we had a quarterback play this poorly." That was, of course, just an early survey of the South Carolina game, and I wanted to take a closer look and see exactly how McElroy's performance stacked up historically with Alabama quarterbacks in recent years.

To that end, I've looked at the game statistics in the post-Stallings era and focused on the QB ratings of the individual quarterbacks. For the purpose of this survey, I've set a minimum of 10 passing attempts in order to factor out those who just saw limited action at quarterbacks, or those who just threw a handful of passes out of gimmick formations. With all of that said, the following are the 12 lowest single-game QB ratings of the post-Stallings era:

Quarterback Year Opponent Passer Rating
Brodie Croyle 2002 Southern Miss 8.4
John David Phillips 1998 Arkansas 52.53
Andrew Zow 2000 UCLA 59.68
John Parker Wilson 2007 Mississippi St. 65.18
Freddie Kitchens 1997 Tennessee 65.88
Greg McElroy 2009 South Carolina 68.64
Freddie Kitchens 1997 Tennessee 69.62
Andrew Zow 1999 Louisiana Tech 77.56
John Parker Wilson 2006 Mississippi St. 78.73
Brodie Croyle 2002 Auburn 81.07
John Parker Wilson 2008 Kentucky 81.78


So, yes, it really was that ugly. And I actually owe an apology to Spencer Pennington. As painful as the 2004 season was to these eyes, I assumed that Pennington would have a couple of appearances on this list, but to my surprise the Fayette native never showed up. He was not good, mind you, but he was never that bad.

Either way, that notwithstanding, I'm afraid that Greg McElroy actually was that bad on Saturday night. We've played over 150 games at Alabama since Mike Dubose took over for Gene Stallings at the end of the 1996 season, and since then only six times have we had a quarterback post a lower single-game passer rating than McElroy posted against South Carolina. Ouch. And making matters even worse, McElroy has more talent around him than just about all the rest of these guys ever could dream of having. Freddie Kitchens would have killed for an offensive line this good, Andrew Zow didn't quite have a Mark Ingram to hand the football to in 2000, and obviously Brodie Croyle throwing to Dre Fulgham isn't quite the same as throwing to Julio Jones.

As for the other 11 performances on the list, let's do a few quick hitters on the background to those performances and what ultimately happened:

  • Brodie Croyle had probably the single worst game a 'Bama quarterback will ever have -- God I hope so, anyway -- against Southern Miss in 2002, but in all fairness he was the back-up in that game and was forced into a tough situation when Tyler Watts went down with a foot injury early in the game. The following week, he played a great game in Fayetteville to help us get a big win over a good Arkansas team, and you know the rest of his story.
  • John David Phillips' terrible performance came in Arkansas' 42-6 thumping of us in Fayetteville, which is still easily the worst loss I've ever seen in a 'Bama game. He basically lost his job for good after this game, Zow took over, and Phillips spent the rest of his career with a clipboard in hand.
  • Andrew Zow's showing against UCLA helped the Tide lose in the season opener in Pasadena, and I don't think I need to remind anyone on how the rest of the 2000 season played out.
  • John Parker Wilson against Mississippi State, of course, was capped by that god-awful interception return for a touchdown that I don't have the heart to look up right now. He played poorly in losses the following two weeks to Louisiana-Monroe and Auburn, but had a decent performance in the bowl game against Colorado and rebounded as a senior in 2008.
  • Freddie Kitchen's performance came a week after the loss to Louisiana Tech in 1997, and LSU basically thumped us. Kitchens was a senior during this game, and capped the year the following two weeks with Mississippi State and Auburn.
  • Freddie Kitchen's performance against Tennessee was just another thumping. The Vols were a good team, we were a bad team, you do the math. This game was the week after the loss to Kentucky in Lexington at the hands of Tim Couch, and this loss pretty much was the death knell in a terrible season. We rallied to beat Ole Miss the following week, but lost the final four games of the year to finish 4-7.
  • Andrew Zow against Auburn in 2000 probably needs no recollection. We were shut out in Dubose's final game, losing to Auburn 9-0 in Tuscaloosa.
  • Andrew Zow's poor showing against Louisiana Tech in 1999 was one of the biggest reasons we lost to the Bulldogs that year. Fortunately, we rebounded the following week with a big upset of Florida, and went on to have a good year.
  • John Parker Wilson and the 2006 Mississippi State game needs no real recollection. It was the end of Shula...
  • Brodie Croyle's second appearance on this list is much like his first. He came into the Iron Bowl as the back-up, but Dennis Franchione put him into the game in the second half to try to find a spark for the offense. Unfortunately, it didn't work and the streak began.
  • John Parker Wilson's performance against Kentucky in 2008 rounds out the list, and it was ugly. Fortunately, though, the running game was dominant and that mixed with a great defensive performance that included a defensive touchdown powered the Tide to victory -- just like what happened Saturday night against South Carolina.

All in all, that's just not a pretty list, plain and simple, and it's hard to put a positive spin on an appearance on this list. McElroy just played poorly on Saturday night, despite having a great running game at his disposal. He made bad decisions, he was uncomfortable in the pocket, he held onto the ball too long, and frankly he just made a lot of bad throws to some open receivers. It was ugly, bottom line.

Of course, though, this is far from a death knell for McElroy, and no one should be treating it as such. He has played great at times this year, and he can play great again. All rational observers knew some struggles would come at some point, and I've personally been saying that for weeks. And though I didn't expect it would be this bad, I imagine he'll work hard to overcome it and I imagine we'll see better play from him in the coming weeks.

As a closing point, though, I will say this: If we are really going to get to where we want to go, McElroy is going to have to play a lot better. If your passing game is struggling that mightily, I don't care how great your running game is or how great your defense is, you're going to get beat against the ultra-elite competition that you have to overcome in order to get where we want to go.