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Nebraska’s Quarterback Performance: Heinrich Haarberg vs Jeff Sims - Who Earns the Best Grade?

What does the Film Tell Us?

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Despite Nebraska being 3-3 on the season, there is still some uncertainty around the quarterback position. Jeff Sims was brought in to be the starter but six turnovers in two games along with an injury forced Heinrich Haarberg into the starting lineup. Haarberg responded by helping the Huskers win three of their next four games.

While Haarberg contributed to the Huskers’ three victories, his journey has been a mix of success and challenges, making it difficult for him to secure the starting position.

As Nebraska entered the bye week, I took the initiative to review the game footage of both Jeff Sims and Heinrich Haarberg. I analyzed every pass and run executed, assigning grades and calculating their adjusted completion percentages.


The first thing that I wanted to look for was the adjusted completion percentage for each quarterback which accounts for dropped passes, throwing the ball away and balls tipped at the line of scrimmage.

(Completions + Drops) / (Attempts - Throw Aways - Passes Tipped)

Haarberg’s adjusted completion percentage is 69% (54/78). Sims had a much smaller sample with just two games completing 23 of 30 passes, with an adjusted completion percentage of 77%.

Next I graded each pass and run from both Sims and Haarberg giving a +1 for a positive play, -1 for a negative play and a 0 for a neutral play. Most completions or positive runs were given a +1, while bad throws or poor decisions on a run were given a -1. For an exceptional play I did give a +2 and for a horrendous play I gave a -2.

Haarberg - he had 158 total plays over his four games and ended up with a positive 47. Roughly means 30% of his plays have been positive. Haarberg did not earn a -2 score in any of the four games but did receive two +2 scores, once for a run against Louisiana Tech that went for a long touchdown and then for the 4th down completion to Bullock against Illinois.

With a limited sample size, Sims had just a total of 64 plays. He finished with a positive 26 which works out to be 41% of his plays being positive. Sims did not receive any +2 grades but did earn -2 grades on five different plays.

Quarterback Grades

Quarterback Game Score
Quarterback Game Score
Sims Minnesota 0.45
Haarberg Nothern Illinois 0.38
Haarberg Illinois 0.37
Sims Colorado 0.35
Haarberg Louisiana Tech 0.23
Haarberg Michigan 0.17

With all this data, let’s take a look at each quarterback’s case to start and also the case against them.

Case for Haarberg to Start

Plain and simple, the team has been winning with Haarberg as the starter. In his four games as the starter Nebraska has gone 3-1 with their only loss being to National Championship contender Michigan. The team has rallied behind Haarberg and replacing him could run the risk of Rhule losing the team.

Since taking over as the starter, Haarberg has given the team a physical runner who has reeled off some long runs on both zone reads and option runs. As a passer Haarberg is able to distribute the ball underneath while also developing a strong connection to tight end Thomas Fidone.

Haarberg has also done well in not turning the ball over at. Haarberg has thrown two interceptions and lost a couple of fumbles. But those interceptions or fumbles didn’t cost Nebraska games nor swing the momentum in the opponent’s favor. Yeah Haarberg threw an interception on the second offensive play against Michigan, but that wasn’t the reason Nebraska got steamrolled in that game.

Case Against Haarberg

Winning games aside, Haarberg has encountered his share of challenges. This season, he’s had more than five fumbles and even experienced a few dropped snaps. Fortunately, except for the Northern Illinois strip sack, the Huskers managed to recover all of these fumbles.

Haarberg has thrown two interceptions on the season but there have been countless times that the defenders should have had more. Against Louisiana Tech a deep ball early in the game was dropped by the cornerback. Against Illinois he didn’t see a defender underneath but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

And there have been stretches of games where the team cannot move the ball. Against Northern Illinois they went most of the second quarter without scoring any points and against Louisiana Tech they only scored 7 points in the first half. Not to mention they only scored 3 points in the second half against Illinois.

Case for Sims to Start

For all the hate that Jeff Sims got in the Colorado and Minnesota games (he did have three turnovers each game), he actually played pretty well. According to my grading his Minnesota game was the highest grade of the six games while his performance against Colorado was .04 away from being the second highest graded game.

Everything that Haarberg has done to have success in this four game stretch; you could argue that Sims could do it better. As a runner Sims has shown the ability to reel off big runs but is also more decisive and better in short areas. As a passer Sims has more experience and shows more ability to read the field while also showing better anticipation. The passing attack could expand with Sims than what they’re doing with Haarberg.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider that Sims faced two formidable opponents at the start of the season, while Haarberg had the opportunity to compete against the two least challenging teams on the schedule, along with potentially the second weakest team in the Big Ten that Nebraska will face.

Case Against Sims

Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. Three each game. You cannot ignore that. Something that everybody feared heading into the season. Two of his three interceptions were killers against Minnesota while his three turnovers in the first half against Colorado allowed the Buffalos to build up their 13-3 halftime lead.

My Thoughts

Even though Sims has graded out higher, I still believe that you continue to ride with Haarberg. While Haarberg isn’t perfect, the team is winning. If the offense starts to stall out for a stretch, like it has the last four games, you could insert Sims and see if he can jump start it. From there you ride with the quarterback that is giving Nebraska the best chance to win. That could change multiple times this season.


Who Should be the Starter?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Heinrich Haarberg
    (416 votes)
  • 22%
    Jeff Sims When Healthy
    (123 votes)
539 votes total Vote Now