Francois’ Passing: A Heroic Start vs Ole Miss

On paper, the offensive game plan for Florida State’s season opener against Ole Miss looked solid.

Run the ball with Heisman-contender Dalvin Cook and allow freshman Deondre Francois to ease himself in at quarterback with some easy throws close to the line of scrimmage. Nothing to difficult for the freshman quarterback making his first career start against the defending Sugar Bowl champion Rebels.

But things rarely ever go according to plan.

With Cook surprisingly contained by the Rebels defense and Florida State’s own defensive unit getting shredded by Chad Kelly, it was up to Francois to play hero ball in his first real game action.

When the dust had settled, the Seminoles had mounted the largest comeback in school history on the arm of a first-time starter at quarterback. Francois officially threw the ball 52 times that night, which was by far the most he attempted in a single game during the season. He took some big hits, most notably right before halftime after throwing a laser across the middle to Travis Rudolph for a touchdown.

It was pretty clear to see the shift in offensive strategy during the game. With Cook contained on the ground, Francois dropped back to pass more. Florida State’s receivers were creating separation from their defenders and Florida State was able to dink and dunk its way down the field for several scores. They also found creative ways to get Cook the ball in space and the athletic running back was able to display his receiving skills to a national audience.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Francois’ passing chart from Florida State’s season opener and see what conclusions we can draw from it.

Dots are placed in spots nearby the receiver or intended target.

First and foremost, the most obvious aspect of this chart is how many passes were thrown close to or behind the line of scrimmage. Despite Jimbo Fisher being a coach who wants to chuck the ball down the field, it is clear that they were content with letting Francois work with the short passing game against Ole Miss. Against an Ole Miss defensive line that routinely whipped Florida State’s offensive line, Francois often only had time to hit those short passes.

Let’s take it a step further and break down Francois’ passing by distance:

  • Behind the line of scrimmage: 6-10
  • 0-10 yards: 18-26
  • 11-20 yards: 6-11
  • 20+ yards: 4-8

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that a total of 36 passes were thrown within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. For a team that was in a big hole early in the game, they were content on utilizing the short passing game instead of just chucking it deep. Give credit to Fisher for sticking with the short passing game with a new freshman starter rather than going deep in Francois’ first game at the helm.

But Francois was also fairly efficient throwing the deep ball as well in this game, completing over 50% of his passes that traveled more than 10 yards through the air. These are also some of the throws that changed the tide of the game. The deep ball to Cook down the sideline early in the game, the throwback to Ryan Izzo down the opposite sideline, and Rudolph’s touchdown right before halftime are all throws that traveled more than 10 yards through the air.

Most Impressive Throw

There are several throws to choose from in this game. The throw to Cook on the wheel route traveled about 20 yards through the air and Francois fit it right between two defenders. The throwback to Izzo down the opposite sideline produced one of Florida State’s biggest gains on the night.

I decided to go with the throw that Francois makes to Rudolph for the touchdown right before halftime.

On third and long, right before halftime, Francois connects with Rudolph across the middle for the touchdown. The throw itself, which is a little behind Rudolph, travels around 15 yards through the air. Perhaps more important than the throw itself is the momentum it gave Florida State heading into halftime. After the half, the Seminoles were able to use that momentum to keep carving into Ole Miss’ lead until they were able to break through.

Take a moment to look at Francois immediately after the throw. The Ole Miss defensive end bulldozes over Roderick Johnson (whose feet actually got tangled with Derrick Kelly, the left guard) and absolutely destroys Francois. The freshman quarterback is pretty clearly dazed and confused after the hit, only briefly glancing up to see if his pass connected with Rudolph. Center Alec Eberle literally drags Francois off the field after this play. If this doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the season, then I don’t know what does.

Least Impressive Throw

To be honest, there weren’t really many throws that Francois made in this game that were bad or worthy of this title. For the most part, Francois was on point in this game. There was a dump-off to Cook in the backfield that he threw in the dirt and a low throw to Rudolph on the goal line, but no single play where he totally misread the coverage or overthrew a wide open target.

After much debate, I chose to go with the play below.

For the first three or so seconds, this might be the single most impressive pocket movement we see from Francois in this game. He drops back, reaches the apex of his drop and immediately senses the rushers which are breaking free. Francois steps up in the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and fires…

… And misses Izzo across the middle. The throw is too far out in front of the tight end for Izzo to make a play on it.

For as awesome as Francois’ pocket movement is at the beginning of this play, he has to hit this throw or at least give Izzo a chance to get his hands on this. But for a freshman quarterback making his first career start, this being the least impressive throw of the game is certainly saying something.


Without charting the rest of the games from the season, this might be the most impressive performance that Francois had as a freshman in 2016. He throws 52 passes on the night, completes 33 of them and leads Florida State back in the largest comeback in school history. All in his first game as a starter on a neutral field.

He was efficient near the line of scrimmage (6-10 behind the LOS), in the short passing game (18-26 in 0-10 yards) and surprisingly accurate in the deep passing game (10-19 in 10+ yards). While he took some big hits in this game, this might be the only time that we see Francois before he is truly beaten up towards the end of the season. For a guy that was billed as having accuracy issues, Francois sure made a name for himself on the national stage in this game.

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