With Jalen Hurts entering the transfer portal yesterday, I decided to go back and chart every FBS play he was involved in over the last two years. Every designed QB run and every drop-back whether it resulted in a throw away, tipped passed, completion, incompletion, interception, or scramble. It totaled up to 499 plays.
Hurts has been mentioned as a possibility for UCF so I wanted to look at how his passing game fits into Josh Heupel’s offensive system based on his last two offensive seasons passing data. This includes his final season as OC at Mizzou as well as this season as the HC at UCF. It includes all throws from Mack, Milton, and Drew Lock.
None of this has anything to do with my opinion of Jalen Hurts as a quarterback. He obviously is like 26-2 as a starting QB which almost no quarterback can put on their resume. However, I think it’s important to understand Hurts’ situation as a whole.
- At Alabama, he was surrounded by insane NFL talent at just about every position.
- If you’re not an elite QB, the system you play in drastically impacts how you are going to perform. I would put Milton in the category where it does not matter. See, Nick Foles without Jeff Fisher, Jared Goff without Jeff Fisher. Crap, I guess you can just throw any QB who has played for Jeff Fisher in there, but those are the two off the top of my head I can think of, and they both just happened to play for Fisher.
- Hurts isn’t going anywhere where he’s not going to be the starter, that is just common sense. So, the bring in experience/competition crew that thinks Hurts is going to have to “win” the job, that isn’t going to happen.
Lets just look at Hurts accuracy chart. Again, this includes only passes thrown to an intended target.
67.81% is not really an awful accuracy rate at all, but it’s nothing to be jumping off bridges to go after either.
Look deeper into this. 38.64% on deep passes is not good. He also missed 10 open receivers in this area.
27.4% of his passes didn’t even travel past the line of scrimmage.
A 53.06% accuracy rate to the left sideline and a 46.38% rate to the right sideline is atrocious. Combine those two with his down field passing numbers and it leads you to question his arm strength. This does not make him a bad QB!!
Now, between the numbers, he thrives. All I can say is UCF better hope they don’t play him next year, because this is where they can’t defend. On the other hand, maybe if he was at UCF, destroying UCF in this area in practice might actually cause a change on the defensive side.
Middle of the field, downfield passing he was 9/11. That’s remarkable. (Middle of the field I chart as between the hashes).
The chart is self explanatory, it’s based off intended air yards, by direction. Those are the major points I wanted to make, but you can examine the rest for yourself.
Now, let’s look at the passing distribution of Heupel’s passes over the last two seasons. It’s just total attempts, obviously I don’t care about the accuracy of the 3 quarterbacks. I’m not trying to compare Hurts to either of the 3.
First thing I’ll note is just the total number of passes. 605 to 292. There are a couple factors to this.
One, Jalen didn’t start this season, so he didn’t get close to as many attempts as he did as a sophomore.
Two, Hurts looks to run a lot when he drops back and doesn’t have a guy right away. I’ll look a little at his scrambling numbers later.
Three, even when he did start, Alabama didn’t throw the ball more than 25 times a game.
Where did Hurts struggle? Throwing to the sidelines. Well, just under 50% of Heupel’s throws go to the sideline. Compare this to the 40% of Hurts’ that did.
Where else did he struggle? Throwing the ball deep when it wasn’t between the hashes. Well, 73 of Heupel’s 123 deep shots have come along the sidelines. That’s almost a 60% clip and if you watched his offense over the last two years, you’ll know how important this throw is.
Hurts threw a ton of passes behind the LOS, 27.4% as noted above, for Heupel, this is rare air as only 15% of his pass play designs end with a pass at or behind the LOS.
Really, Hurts struggles on any throw 11+ yards downfield. 42% of Heupel’s throws come at this DOT. Hurts combined accuracy on all throws farther than 10 yards downfield? 52.22%.
This is really a pretty basic breakdown of the Hurts’ system fit vs. Heupel’s system. There is obviously a ton more that goes into it. Do I think Hurts could make the throws that Heupel and UCF needs him to make, game in and game out? No, he just hasn’t proved it over the last two seasons, so there is no reason to think he will next year.
Again, this is not a knock on Hurts’ game, he’s just not mean to play in a downfield passing offensive system.
Has he made some really nice throws downfield? Of course, you can pick out some games he did really well downfield, but the majority of games, he struggled and this is an area Heupel needs every game. 1 in 5 passes, you’re throwing downfield if you’re a QB for UCF, that’s a lot of quarterbacks dreams and you better believe you better have the arm strength to throw opposite hash to opposite sideline.
Intended Air Yards:
Again, taking out all throw aways, tipped passes, and spikes here. I chart every throw away and tip (unless downfield) as 0 intended yards, so obviously that will skew the data.
Intended air yards or average depth of target (aDot) tells you how far the pass travels in the air from the line of scrimmage to the intended target. So, if the LOS is the 25 and the QB throws a pass and it’s touched at the 33, but bobbled and caught at the 35, it’s still 8 intended air yards.
It’s a great idea to put some context behind some quarterback numbers. A guy could have a ton of yards, but if 80% come after the catch, that’s not exactly on the QB being great. Also, if a guy has a 63% completion percentage, but an aDot of 12.21 (I believe this was Milton’s numbers from this year off top of my head) vs. a guy who has a 69% completion percentage and aDot of 9.91 (Milton again, from Frost in 2017), it puts some context behind it. Obviously, throwing the ball on average 2.3 yards downfield more per attempt, you’re making harder throws, thus a lower completion percentage. If you adjust the completion percentage for a QB’s aDot, those numbers are pretty equal (don’t panic over Milton’s lower completion % this season).
The top is Hurts, the bottom is Lock, Milton, Mack combined.
So, on average, Heupel’s passes travel 2.85 yards downfield farther than Hurts’ throws.
On completions, Heupel’s throws average 3.58 more yards in the air than Hurts’. This speaks to the amount of completions he has behind the LOS.
And net air yards per attempt (not sure if I worded this right) is air yards on completions divided by total attempts. So, Heupel’s offensive system averages 5.93 actual air yards per attempt while Hurts only averaged 4.23 net air yards (this is very low).
Pressure/Throwing on the Run/Outside of Shotgun
This is something I don’t really have anything to compare off of because it’s not something I charted when I began doing this last season, but I do have Hurts’ numbers
*This will include throws aways*
65 of Hurts 316 total pass attempts, came outside of the pocket (20.57%). Some of this is by design and some of it isn’t.
He’s been accurate on 25 of these throws out of the 49 non throw aways.
He also likes to throw on the run. 52 of 292 attempts with an intended target, he has done so.
He’s been accurate on 27 of them.
These are two things that if you’ve watched any of Heupel’s offense, which I’m assuming you did, rarely happens.
Alabama had numerous designed roll outs, but it’s also what Hurts is comfortable doing. If you look at his scramble attempts, all 53 of them, over half (27) of them have come where he wasn’t he even pressured. That speaks volumes to his style as a QB.
And look, Heupel emphasized about Milton becoming more of a pocket passer when he got to UCF, if he’s going to be adamant about it with the 8th place heisman finisher as sophomore, he’s going to be adamant about it with Hurts, who clearly likes being outside the pocket as much as possible.
Another thing I noticed, is Hurts going in the pistol and under center. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I don’t believe UCF utilized the pistol once all season.
Hurts did this on 53 pass attempts. If you take away the 8 throw aways/tips/sacks, it leaves you with 45. He completed 28 of 39 pass attempts (6 scrambles) and had a 10.85 ypa on these throws. His net intended air yards was 4.41 so barely above his season average.
But, it’s a part of his game, that doesn’t translate over to Heupel’s system.
Hurts is a fantastic runner, there is denying that. From a UCF perspective, so is DJ Mack. I have no idea who will be the QB for UCF next season. My guess/hope is Mack, but regardless if it’s Quadry or Gabriel or obviously Milton who we all want, but I don’t believe/think it will happen till 2020. In my opinion, Hurts doesn’t take UCF to a higher ceiling than Mack. I think UCF will succeed regardless who is under center because they’re that talented, but I think getting Hurts should not be in the conversation because in my opinion, the way he fits the system, will not elevate UCF’s performance.
Yes, getting the Alabama transfer, who won a national championship and is 26-2 as a starter sounds amazing, but look at it from a pure football perspective and it’s not as nice.
If I was Hurts, I’d go play for Lane Kiffin. I charted FAU’s offense in 2017, he obviously played for Kiffin and I can see exactly why he was recruited to play in that system. It fits him perfect, he’ll 100% be the starter, and it gives him the best chance to succeed individually on the field.