If you watched Alabama in 2016, you saw the Tide throw a lot of passes behind the line of scrimmage. It made sense. The Tide had a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts at the helm. Teams had to worry about the deep ball not due to Hurts’ success in throwing it, but because of receivers like Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart, the latter of the two now departed for the NFL. And they had to worry about the run.
So short passes made a lot of sense, and Alabama’s roster being by far the most talented roster in college football means that pretty much anyone who caught those passes made good plays with them. Lane Kiffin was also obsessed with throwing them, and long has been.
But Hurts was not a great downfield passer, and as the season wore on, teams started to hone in on that fact, and started to take more chances against the Tide, while focusing more on the shorter passes.
For good reason. Alabama threw more passes behind the line of scrimmage than any team.
By a ton. Have a look, via David Hale of ESPN.
Highest % of passes thrown at/behind LoS last year, P5:— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 22, 2017
1 Bama, 42.9%
2 AzSt, 34.8%
3 WashSt, 34.3%
4 UMd, 34%
5 Iowa, 33.2%
10 Cuse, 30.9%
43 percent is a full standard deviation ahead of any other team. And most other teams on the leaderboard are not loaded with good receivers like the Tide.
In fact, Alabama threw more passes behind the line of scrimmage than any team in the last six seasons. That’s astounding.
Highest% pass at/behind LoS since 2011:— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 22, 2017
1 Bama, 2016 - 42.9
2 Clem, 2014 - 42.4
3 Bama, 2015 - 40.4
4 Aub, 2011 - 39.7
5 Clem, 2013 - 39.4
Like, really, really astounding. The highest percentage only.
Teams who played Alabama better seemed to take away these easy throws, not only in 2016, but also in 2015, which was also coached by Kiffin.
Alabama passing game, 2015-16— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 22, 2017
80.1% comp on throws at/behind LoS
60.6% comp on throws at/behind LoS
Clemson did this particularly well, and Hurts did not have a good day throwing down the field.
Perhaps most amazing stat on Bama passing game at/behind/LoS…— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 22, 2017
2015: 10-11 for 114 yds, 81.6 QBR
2016: 8-14 for 15 yds, 8.8 QBR
David Hale thinks this is worth noting for FSU, but it is also worth noting that Lane Kiffin is no longer the OC. We don’t yet know what new OC Brian Daboll will run.
Have to assume all that creates interesting game plan for FSU. But worth noting, Bama '17 offense essentially = Clemson 2013. BV was ready.— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 22, 2017
Some teams got burned, but LSU and Clemson, two of the more talented defenses Hurts faced did a strong job of limiting him through the air.
It’s also not known whether Hurts will improve as a passer, or by how much.
But still, it makes sense to make Hurts prove it, and then adjust.
One of the ways Florida State could do this is to put its best defensive weapon, Derwin James, closer to the line of scrimmage in the star (nickel back) position. FSU has shown this look before, and it also makes sense to have James that close to deal with Hurts’ running, since the QB is a fantastic runner, and isn’t actually asked to throw all that much. He did, after all, rush for what would have been the winning touchdown against Clemson had the Tigers not gone down the field and scored with no time remaining.