Coming off a cathartic win over South Carolina, most Florida football fans are feeling the vibes for at least one week before the Gators have to gear up to face a gauntlet of a schedule to close out the season’s final five games.
Yet, coming off a big win, there has been a ton of squabbling over whether Florida actually ran new concepts and whether Graham Mertz has been more lucky than good.
The former is an interesting topic and worthy of a deep dive, but what caught our eye is the latter notion that Mertz only has two interceptions this season, both of which bounced off his receiver’s hands, because of luck.
How legitimate is this thesis?
Florida Football: Better good than lucky
We’ll first start with a stat no one can dispute: Mertz is 9th in the country in interception percentage (interceptions thrown divided by the total number of passes thrown. He has only had the ball wind up in the hands of the opposition on 0.9% of his passes in games against FBS competition (sorry McNeese State).
Here is where more squabbling comes in. According to Pro Football Focus, Mertz has had only one play this season worthy of a turnover. In other words, PFF claims that only once has Mertz thrown a ball that in reality, should have been intercepted.
Enter Clark Brooks, who runs the website SEC StatCat, to challenge the notion that Mertz has only thrown one pass worthy of an interception.
His claim is that three passes could have been intercepted in the South Carolina game alone.
Based on what we can tell, the three passes he is referring to are:
- 2:02 left in the 1st quarter. 1st and 10 from Florida’s 25. Mertz goes deep to Tre Wilson, and it hits the South Carolina DB in the back.
- First play of the 2nd quarter, 2nd and 10 from the South Carolina 30. Mertz tries to find Wilson on a wheel route in the endzone.
- 9:11 left in the 4th quarter, 1st and 10 from Florida’s 25. Mertz takes a deep shot to Aidan Mizell. Coverage is tight, and the defensive back does get a hand on the ball.
When we think “clear dropped pick,” we think of Jason Marshall’s one against Kentucky. Claiming any of these should have been intercepted is a bit of a stretch.
On the first two, the defensive back is probably more concerned about not getting beat by Wilson over the top that it would take a top-level play to have actually turned around to find the ball in time to pick it off.
Yes, the third one does hit the defensive back in the hands, but that again would have been a tough play for any corner running at full speed to make.
And knowing that South Carolina had a terrible secondary is probably half the reason why Mertz was willing to take more deep shots during the game than we have seen him take.
So, depending on how one wants to determine what constitutes an “interceptable” ball, Mertz has only had 28% of passes that could have been intercepted actually wind up as one. That makes him the sixth “luckiest” quarterback in the SEC.
Essentially, Mertz has had seven passes deemed “interceptable,” and only two have actually wound up as an interception.
Considering both of those interceptions bounced off Florida’s hands, combined with the three previously mentioned passes deemed “interceptable,” there are only two other passes Mertz has thrown this season that could maybe have been picked off.
What does it all mean?
It’s squabbling over data, but the final conclusion shouldn’t surprise Florida football fans.
Mertz hasn’t had many balls that can be intercepted in large part because Florida has stuck more to an east/west passing scheme. Whether there are better routes open down the field is for others to argue about; all we know is the actual receiver Mertz throws to is generally a low-risk throw.
And as Mertz hopefully starts to take more shots down the field, then yes, there is the possibility of a defensive back making a play on the ball.
But based on what we saw on Saturday against South Carolina, that seems like a chance that most Florida football fans would like to see Mertz take more than he had the first six games of the season.