Francois, James could push Seminoles toward playoff

ACC analyst John Breitenbach breaks down the play of FSU's key young stars.

| 10 months ago
(Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

(Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Francois, James could push Seminoles toward playoff

FSU was surpassed last season by both North Carolina and Clemson, and in order to avoid falling further behind, the program couldn’t afford to lose their season-opening game. A tough looking matchup with the Mississipi Rebels appeared far from ideal, especially with a freshman forced to start at quarterback after an injury to incumbent Sean Maguire.

However, judging by Deondre Francois’ performance, he would have won any competition. He managed one of the most impressive debuts we’ve seen for a first-time starter. Sophomore Derwin James, meanwhile, may have already achieved a high level of performance, but early signs suggest he’s have elevated his game to another level.

Let’s take a closer look at the Seminoles’ young stars:

No doubting the debutant

Circumstances were far from favorable for the freshman Francois. Staring at a 22-point deficit, he rallied a Seminoles offense that could not run the ball and could not pass protect effectively. In fact, Francois was pressured on 25 of 58 dropbacks (42.4 percent of plays, fourth-most), much of it unblocked up the middle; or effectively unblocked because of the incompetence of FSU’s interior. Francois’ timing was particularly impressive, as it had to be to avoid the rush. Amongst Power-5 quarterbacks, his time to throw of 2.71 was tenth-best. He threw well on the move, tossing a couple of perfect strikes along the sideline into tight windows.

Francois out strike

Francois roll strike

Down the field, Francois connected on a number of shot plays. He completed four of eight attempts for 113 yards on 20+ yard throws against an impressive Ole Miss defense. As well as his arm, Francois used his legs effectively. He rushed six times for 84 yards, breaking contain only after all his receiving options had been exhausted.

Francois long run

Credit the coaching staff for throwing out the stabilizers, before even removing them from their box. The confidence placed in him was matched by Francois’ own self-belief. He always looked to stretch the defense, before taking the simpler, shorter option. Testing tight coverage wasn’t a problem for Francois. On one long yardage conversion, he threw Dalvin Cook open down the sideline, even if the safety played it poorly. Incompletions even illustrated the kind of confidence he possesses, challenging the top of the defense as frequently as possible. The throw below highlights the aggression in his game.

Francois aggressive mentality

Realistically, his debut could not have gone better. The Seminoles look a different proposition with Francois at the helm.

Derwin James must sustain All-American level 

Much like Francois, James did not get a ton of help. While all around him collapsed, James raised his game. Three quarters of the starting secondary graded negatively. In contrast, James managed an 86.3 overall grade. He made an impact all in three facets, eliminating plays around the line of scrimmage as well as blanketing receivers down the field. Early in the game, FSU’s defense suffered a number of coverage busts. The momentum changed, however, with James picking off Chad Kelly. He ran the route better than the opposing receiver, running stride for stride with Quincy Adeboyejo.

James pick

James is anything but one-dimensional, acting as a true defensive weapon. His versatility ensures he make an impact from a range of alignments. James simply never appears overmatched physically, coupling rare athleticism with intelligence. On the play below, he keeps contain, but also has the quality to make the stop around the line of scrimmage. He totaled three tackles on plays that put Ole Miss’ behind the chains.

James shed stuff

As a pass-rusher, James registered a pair of hurries in just eight blitzes. Displaying expert timing, and the aforementioned block-shedding ability, James knifes into the backfield to hurry a throw late in the fourth quarter, with the Rebels chasing the game.

James rush

Bottom line

Assuming nothing expected happens next week againstCharleston Southern, the Seminoles’ matchup with the Cardinals looks like a key, season-defining game. Both teams have young and exciting quarterbacks in Francois and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. With holes on the offensive line and in the secondary, FSU’s pair of young stars will have to deal with added pressure, literally in Francois’ case. Judging by the opening game of the 2016 season, that shouldn’t be a problem.


| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Mike J.

    Er, that would be Charleston, not Georgia, Southern.