Passing yards is a tricky stat to make sense of.
If a quarterback throws a screen pass to a receiver one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, and the receiver takes it 50-yards from there to the house, then the quarterback gets credit for a “51-yard” passing touchdown.
As such, it’s often a good idea to take passing yards with a grain of salt, especially if an offense is predicated around the short passing game.
In order to gain a better understanding of Florida State’s passing game, I will be tracking every pass thrown by the Seminoles this season. This will help us better quantify Jimbo Fisher’s passing attack and how the ’Noles move the ball on offense.
When I first had the idea for this project, the thought of sophomore Deondre Francois throwing to a talented group of receivers made me think that we could see the true potential of Fisher’s offense.
But with Francois sidelined for the year due to a knee injury, true freshman James Blackman is the first man up at quarterback. Blackman is a huge unknown, and we won’t know much about his game until Saturday’s matchup against Louisiana-Monroe.
For now, we have the data of Francois’ performance versus Alabama before his injury. This will give us a good insight as to how FSU planned on attacking the Crimson Tide and perhaps a sneak peak at how it might have looked throughout the season had Francois not gone down.
Francois finished the day 19/33 for 210 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Overall, it was a pretty decent performance against Alabama’s defense, which is famed for snuffing out most passing offenses. Even though Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are replacing a bunch of draft picks, it still has All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick and a host of contributors in the secondary.
As you can see from the graphic above, the majority of Florida State’s passing game against Alabama was predicated on short passes. Of the 33 passes that Francois threw, 16 were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, including an additional six that were behind the line (two passes that were batted down at the line were included in this).
We mentioned before the game that a key to beating Alabama is getting big plays down the field from your receivers, but it seems that Florida State was either content with the short passing game or could not get receivers open deep. Of course, Alabama’s incessant blitzing as the game wore on didn’t allow a lot of time for the FSU WRs to get downfield. Auden Tate caught a 38-yard pass down the field early in the ball game, but after that the deep passing game was non-existent.
In the second half, after Alabama capitalized off of FSU’s special teams errors, Francois started pressing and threw interceptions on back-to-back drives. Both passes were fairly telegraphed, with the sophomore signal caller staring down Tate each time. This led to easy interceptions for the Crimson Tide.
As the above graphic shows, the ’Noles failed to get a downfield passing game going. Francois was fairly efficient in the short-to-intermediate passing game, but the offense did not generate enough big plays down the field.
Alabama started a bit slow on defense, but turned it on as the game dragged on. The ’Noles failed to score on their last 11 possessions of the ball game. Eventually, Alabama’s four and five-star recruits on defense are going to make plays and provide good coverage.
This was also the first week of the season, typically when teams are still shaking off rust and developing a rhythm on offense. Francois and the receivers have been practicing timing on routes throughout the offseason, but it’s a whole different ballgame when the lights are turned on. Alabama’s own offense was fairly pedestrian throughout the game as well.
Unfortunately, we’ll never get to know if this passing game would have improved under Francois.
With a true freshman at the helm, expect to see a lot of short passes going forward, especially as Fisher tries to get Blackman accustom to the speed of the college game. With big contests against Miami and NC State looming large, the ’Noles thankfully get Louisiana-Monroe next week, which will help Blackman get his feet wet before the true tests begin.