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September 14, 2010

Persa is passing the test

Northwestern players talked all summer about how good quarterback Dan Persa looked in workouts and at camp. But it's safe to assume that no one expected him to be quite this good.

How efficient has the redshirt junior been over the first two weeks of the season?

  • He leads the nation in passing efficiency with an ungodly quarterback rating of 212.1. To put that into perspective, a guy named Tim Tebow led the nation last year with a rating of 164.2 and the all-time best rating over a full season is 186.0, by Colt Brennan of Hawaii in 2006.

  • He has completed 86.4 percent of his passes. That's more like a hockey goalie's save percentage than a QB's completion rate. For quarterbacks, 60 percent is good, 70 percent is outstanding and 80 percent is pretty much unheard of. There's only one other quarterback in the nation with a completion percentage in the 80s -- Nick Foles of Arizona, with 83.1. But Foles' TD-to-interception ratio of 3-to-2 pales in comparison to Persa's 5-to-0.

  • He completed 19-of-23 passes last Saturday (82.6 percent) and his completion percentage went down. That's what happens when you hit 19 of 21 passes (90.5 percent) in the opener -- which also happened to be Persa's first career start.

  • One of Persa's four incompletions against Illinois State was a sure touchdown that was dropped by wide receiver Sidney Stewart, so his statistics could be even better. He also was lifted after just one series of the second half to give backup Evan Watkins some reps in what eventually became a 37-3 blowout.

    Quarterback ratings, for the uninitiated, are based on a complex formula that must have been derived by a calculus professor. If you want to figure out for yourself, it's:

    a+(3.3*b)-(2*c)+(8.4*d), where:

    a = (Comp/Att) * 100
    b = (TDs/Att) * 100
    c = (Int/Att) * 100
    d = Yards/Att

    Got that? There will be a test on Friday.

    You can use that formula to see that Persa has been more accurate than a polygraph test, or you can just watch him play. He has thrown well in the pocket and well on the run. He completed passes to seven Wildcats in the opener and eight last week.

    As Stewart said last Saturday, his quarterback has been "on the money." And he didn't even mention that Persa also leads the team in rushing.

    Persa, a serious, hard-working sort, has downplayed the ridiculous numbers he's accumulated. He credited his receivers and offensive line after Saturday's game, and yesterday he talked to NUSports.com about the impact that former NU quarterback Brett Basanez has had on his effectiveness.

    That's about as much as you're going to get from a player that's more concerned about the numbers 2 and 0 (the Wildcats' won-lost record) than he is about yards per attempt.

    Those are the numbers that coach Pat Fitzgerald cares about, too, but he wouldn't mind seeing Persa stay at the top of the nation's passing list.

    "It's not about (being) perfect, it's about execution and he's done that," Fitzgerald said at his Monday press conference. "You look at his passer rating, No. 1 in the nation, and I'd like it to stay there. Why not? We ask our players to play to their strengths.

    "For (offensive coordinator) Mick McCall and our offensive staff, it's players, formations and plays. Danny is a perfect fit for our offense, he's done a great job managing things, spreading it out. We have a number of young men with receptions and it's tough to stop."

    Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has thus far gotten most of the publicity on the Big Ten and national stage this season, and with good reason. The sophomore leads the nation in total offense (442.5 yards per game, compared to Persa's 278.5) and was spectacular in the Wolverines' win over Notre Dame last Saturday.

    But Persa's sizzling start has fans in Evanston talking about things like completion percentage and quarterback ratings, and not on the number they were most fixated on to start the season: 6. As in, 6-feet tall.

    Funny, but you're not hearing too many questions about Persa's height anymore.





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