TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Trash the box score from Florida State’s spring game now. It offers no insight into the Seminoles’ second-year starting quarterback.
Deondre Francois was behind an injured offensive line cobbled together. He was throwing to one scholarship receiver against a secondary Derwin James was leading. That the redshirt sophomore Francois was 13-of-28 passing with one touchdown, a pick-six and 133 yards in that environment is immaterial.
Entrenched as the Seminoles starter, Francois said this spring was about tuning his game in preparation for the season, not lighting up his own defense with walk-on receivers in the public scrimmage.
“It’s hard when there’s a lot of guys you’re not used to,” Francois said of his spring performance, “but it’s all good and I feel comfortable with how the spring ended. ...
“I’ve been focusing on consistency and doing a better job of managing the game and situations,” Francois said. “I feel like I have gotten a lot better from experience. I made some mistakes last year, and this spring I am getting the opportunity to improve.”
Those improvements come following a season in which he was ACC offensive rookie of the year. In his debut season, Francois threw for 3,350 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Only four Power 5 starters threw at least 20 touchdown passes with fewer interceptions.
But based on numbers, the areas in which Florida State’s passing game needs to improve most is in quarterback protection and completion percentage.
The lasting images of Florida State’s 2016 season are of Francois sprawled across fields up and down the Atlantic Coast. Miami’s flurry of hits nearly knocked him from the game momentarily. Clemson battered Francois, especially late in the game. Seared into the memory from the Ole Miss game isn’t the frantic comeback as much as the visual of a motionless Francois after he was planted into the turf following the touchdown that ignited the rally.
Only two Power 5 quarterbacks were hit on more dropbacks than Francois. He was sacked 35 times. Francois said there were situations the team worked on in spring practices that force him to get rid of the football as the defense is bearing down. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said sometimes Francois needs to throw the ball quicker, but sometimes it’s not his fault.
“It’s [the offense’s] job to play well around him,” Fisher said. “If those guys don’t do their job, I don’t care if you got Joe Montana or Tom Brady back there, he’s not going to do it. There’s a standard they got to be held to. ...
“Backs gotta pick up blitzes. Tight ends gotta pick up blitzes. A guy runs a route at the wrong depth or breaks a route off too quick and gets covered and makes [the quarterback] freeze. Sometimes it’s hard to find the throwaway.”
Francois finished the season having completed 58.8 percent of his passes, which ranked 66th among FBS quarterbacks. Against Louisville and Michigan, he completed less than 40 percent. Against Clemson, he connected on 17 of 35 attempts.
However, Florida State beat Michigan and nearly knocked off Clemson on the back of a few great throws from Francois. The game-winning touchdown in the Orange Bowl came on a third-down toss, and Francois converted a third-and-23 against the Tigers to get in field-goal range.
Few coaches are as demanding of their quarterbacks as Fisher, but he’s quick to support Francois, who went 10-3 against the country’s second-toughest schedule. “There’s levels you say you go to, but it’s not always the numbers, it’s presence,” Fisher said. “We get so caught up in numbers. Numbers don’t decide how well you play. It’s situations you were put in and how you handle it. Sometimes numbers come and sometimes they don’t. It’s making smart plays and big plays.”
Despite there being no challenger for the quarterback job, Francois said there was no spring respite. He competed against his own standard throughout camp, critiquing his throws with the goal of an error-free practice.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better this spring, but there are always things that I can improve on,” he said. “I will never be pleased with myself internally, but as a team and as an offense, I am very pleased with how we’ve been doing.”