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Alabama vs. FSU: Jalen Hurts, Deondre Francois Possess More Similarities Than People Think

By: Stats Perform

The Seminoles know Jalen Hurts will run, but X-Info data shows the Crimson Tide should prepare to see Francois use his feet nearly as much as his counterpart Saturday night.

It seems crazy to believe now, but Jalen Hurts wasn’t supposed to see the field in last season’s opener. Alabama coach Nick Saban pegged Blake Barnett the starter and Cooper Bateman the backup prior to the matchup with USC.

That plan didn’t even last a full quarter before the then-true freshman Hurts threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in a 52-6 thrashing of the Trojans. It’s those rushing stats from the quarterback spot that helped Hurts secure the starting job and made him so dangerous last season, and they’re also part of the reason many are picking Alabama to beat Florida State and its fellow sophomore Deondre Francois.

Saturday night’s showdown in Atlanta is being billed as a matchup of two completely opposite QBs – Hurts and his read-option abilities vs. Francois and his pocket-passing approach. Basic statistics present little argument.

Hurts ran for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns last season compared to Francois’ 198 rushing yards and five TDs. Francois tossed for 3,350 yards, which were 570 more than Hurts. And that margin likely would’ve been greater if Florida State’s offensive line didn’t allow Francois to be sacked 34 times, tied for the most among Power 5 quarterbacks.

But there’s a reason Alabama has been open about preparing for Francois’ running ability, his paltry rushing numbers from last season aside. STATS X-Info helps dig deeper beyond the simple numbers to see that Francois’ efficiency running the ball isn’t far off from Hurts’.

Ignore Francois’ 1.8 yards per carry on a very-misleading 108 rushes, a number that counts sacks as rushing attempts in the college game. Check out last year’s numbers compared to Hurts’ when Francois took the ball on a designed running play in the chart below, which only accounts for plays designed for QB runs.

Francois’ averages were better than Hurts’ across the board, along with him running for half the touchdowns on fewer than half the carries. Hole percentage, which calculates the percentage of rushes a player gained at least two yards prior to contact, is nearly identical.

Yes, it’s still true that Francois would rather pick apart defenses from the pocket, and Florida State coach – and former Saban assistant – Jimbo Fisher will have Francois throw plenty. But if the Seminoles’ offensive line springs some leaks, Francois is more than capable of escaping and gaining yardage.

Below is a STATS X-Info chart separating scrambles from any other type of rush.

It’s no wonder the Crimson Tide have some concern about an overzealous pass rush. Francois averaged nearly 10 yards every time he pulled the ball down and took off. Just because basic statistics make it appear Francois is a one-dimensional quarterback doesn’t make it so. Advanced metrics tell the true tale.

They similarly complicate the notion of Hurts being the most dangerous on the ground. That’s right – Hurts can throw the ball extremely efficiently, too.

STATS X-Info divides the field into five sections – left sideline, left, middle, right, right sideline. Hurts finished with a better QB rating than Francois in three of those sections last season. It should be noted that Hurts threw 128 passes behind the line of scrimmage compared to Francois’ 63, but Hurts also completed 4 of 7 deep balls (21-plus yards) to the left side and 7 of 10 intermediate passes (11-20 yards) over the middle.

Although Alabama must be aware of Francois’ ability to run, that’s not going to make the Tide play conservatively on the defensive side. They’ll be coming full force at Francois and attempt to blanket the Seminoles’ receivers to make the redshirt sophomore uncomfortable.

As the next graphic indicates, Francois was not as his best when throwing short, quick passes. His 60 percent completion rate in the range of 0-10 yards was below the national average by more than two percent, and he also tossed four of his seven interceptions within that range.

Rather than forcing a short throw under pressure, Francois appears to be best served pulling the ball down and running for yardage, especially given his success in those situations last season. And if he produces results on the ground, it’ll make clear that Hurts and Francois shouldn’t be pigeonholed to their perceived strengths when they each have more to offer than previously thought.