Danny O'Brien just won his third ACC rookie of the week award and has become the frontrunner for ACC Rookie of the Year. He's becoming a fan favorite in College Park and is the brightest spot on a team that's actually out-performing expectations.
It's not hard to see that Danny's been pretty great (he's quarterbacked a team that went 2-10 last year to 6-2 this year). In a lot of ways, he's the football team's Jordan Williams. But just how good has he been? Let's look at a few useful stats:
- Danny's 13 TDs on the year are good enough for 38th in the nation and 3rd among freshmen...even though he essentially didn't play in two of Maryland's games.
- In that same vein, he's currently on pace to hold the second-highest single season TD total in Maryland history, behind just Scott Milanovich's 26. If he started the Navy and West Virginia games and threw TDs at the same rate he is now, he would've broken that record. That's substantial, because some thought that because Milanovich played in a high-flying offense under Duffner that no one would break that record unless there was a scheme change.
- His 3 interceptions - all of which came in the fourth quarter against Clemson - are 6th in the country among eligible passers and tied for 1st among freshmen (with Taylor Martinez and Rutgers' Chas Dodd).
- His QB rating is 136.72, 42nd in the nation and 4th among freshman.
- His TD-INT ratio is a spectacular 4.33:1, 1st in the country among freshman (for whatever reason, there's no site to easily track those stats nationally). Ditto for his INT percentage.
- His yards/attempt (6.9) is 64th in the country and 6th among freshmen.
So yeah, at least taking into account those metrics, Danny seems like a top 10 freshmen and, stats-wise, one of Maryland's best pure QBs in a long time. Considering many of those above him are either not playing right now (Robert Bolden at Penn State) or are playing in minor conferences (Corey Robinson at Troy), he's probably a top 5 freshman QB in the nation. That bodes well for Maryland's future.
It's worth mentioning that the one thing O'Brien hasn't done is take over a game like a QB superstar. He doesn't appear, at least yet, to be a young version of Jake Locker, Kellen Moore, Ryan Mallett, or, for a freshman version, Aaron Murray. This certainly isn't a criticism of him in the least (see below), but I was surprised when I saw a few stats:
- Completion percentage is 83rd in the country, 11th among freshmen.
- Attempts/game is 93rd, 10th among freshmen.
- Most telling, his yards/game is 95th in the country, 10th among freshmen.
There's a perfectly good explanation, of course. And brace yourself, because I'm about to give James Franklin and Ralph Friedgen credit.
Maryland's coaching staff hasn't allowed or forced O'Brien to take over games, and O'Brien hasn't tried to move outside of what's in front of him. This isn't a criticism at all, mind you: it's a commendation, both of O'Brien and Maryland's coaching staff. Forcing a young QB into tough situations is a recipe for disaster, as we saw in the Clemson game. He threw 45 times there, and it hurt Maryland's chances and O'Brien's stats. They've avoided that since and Danny's instead taken advantage of easy throws, poor defenses, and short fields. That's why, in a nutshell, he's been able to throw so many TDs and so few INTs.
Danny's biggest skill has always been his mind and work ethic, and those lend themselves more toward the "game manager" role than the "QB superstar" role. The scouting reports out of high school all said the same, and his arm has never been lauded as strongly as Tyler Smith's or C.J. Brown's. But don't think the former is particularly better than the latter; even if Danny "just" does what he's done this year for the next three seasons, he'll probably be Maryland's all-time TD leader.
In fact, he's sort of a rich man's Sam Hollenbach, and that's not a bad thing. Hollenbach led Maryland to two bowl games and a nine-win season by doing what Danny O's doing: being smart with the ball and making the throws that the defense gives him.
And this isn't to say that O'Brien won't develop into a guy that can take over a game. He has the potential, definitely: he's doing this in his freshman year, after all. He might not be controlling games to the extent that Murray or Martinez are, but few can. Either way, Maryland has a good one (obviously).
Like we looked at earlier, the ACC title is a longshot, but the fact that it's a possibility at this point speaks volumes considering Maryland's expectations. O'Brien is a big reason Maryland's doing as well as they are.