This season, James Franklin won 10 games for the fifth time during his 10-year tenure at Penn State. He did it with his third different quarterback, first Trace McSorley, then Sean Clifford, and in 2023, Drew Allar.
Still, the Nittany Lions couldn’t beat the two teams on their schedule that really matter, Ohio State and Michigan. More than enough people are asking if James Franklin is good enough to keep his job, but with an offense that ranked 69th in the country, maybe it’s worth wondering if the former five-star quarterback is the answer.
As a true sophomore, in his first season as the starting quarterback, Drew Allar completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,336 yards, with 23 touchdowns to one interception. He also got his offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, fired in the process.
Allar showed flashes of excellence and most importantly some growth in the final two games of the year without Yurcich calling plays. He went 17/26 for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season finale against Michigan State.
Penn State only managed 12 points against Ohio State and 15 points against Michigan which led to Yurcich’s dismissal after 2+ years running the offense. Franklin will likely try to find an offensive coordinator who is a better fit for Allar’s strengths but did the sophomore show enough to dictate long-term decisions going forward?
The answer to that question is complicated. It first requires us to identify exactly what Allar did well in 2023.
The first thing that jumps out is the lack of turnovers. He protected the ball incredibly well for a young player and that gave Penn State’s great defense a chance to win every game. Another aspect that goes hand-in-hand with turnovers is avoiding negative plays and Allar was one of the best in the country at this. His 10.5% pressure-to-sack rate was the 22nd lowest in the country.
He was also an accurate passer, ranking 50th in the country among 173 quarterbacks in adjusted completion rate at 74%. Allar only completed 61.3% of his passes, but that was largely due to 25 drops, the eighth most any quarterback dealt with in the country. Penn State’s drop rate of 10.5% was the 29th highest.
So, he’s an accurate and decisive quarterback who protects that football and doesn’t take sacks. That sounds like every football coach for the nineties wet dream, but he’s far from a perfect quarterback for the 2020s.
Playing quarterback in college football now is about taking on more risk as a passer and it’s about pushing the ball downfield. Drew Allar is 124th in the country in yards per attempt at 6.6. Even in just 2014 and 2015, 6.6 YPA would rank in the top 100 nationally. It’s not a huge jump, but that number illustrates the change in college football. Offenses continue to get more efficient and continue to stretch defenses vertically.
Allar ranks 136th in average depth of target with an ADOT of 8.0, and only 9.4% of his targets this season traveled over 20 yards in the air downfield, which ranks last among 149 quarterbacks with a minimum of 75 deep attempts.
Flat out, Allar does not throw the ball downfield. There are plenty of reasons for that, and his receiving corp is a huge culprit, but the question becomes, can a quarterback win that way?
The answer is a resounding yes because two quarterbacks with similar play styles are currently fighting for spots in the college football playoff. One is even the Heisman trophy favorite.
The first is Bo Nix. He only attempts 11.1% of his passes over 20 yards and for the season his ADOT is 7.0, a full yard lower than Allar’s. His 85.7% adjusted completion rate certainly helps the Oregon offense rank No. 2 in the country. Nix averages 9.7 yards per attempt in large part because his wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends have generated 2,572 of his 3,906 passing yards, after the catch. That’s 65.8% of his passing yards.
For comparison, Drew Allar’s skill players have generated 1,296 YAC, which is 55.4% of his passing yards.
Quinn Ewers is the other quarterback with a similar play style and huge success. Only 11.8% of Ewers’ passes travel over 20 air yards, yet he averages 8.8 yards per attempt with an 8.8 ADOT. His adjusted completion rate is 76.4%, and Allar’s is 74%.
Where Ewers excels isn’t necessarily with yards after the catch, it’s on play-action throws. Texas uses play-action on 54.3% of Ewers’ dropbacks, and highest rate in the country and he averages 10.3 yards per attempt on those throws despite an ADOT of 7.8. He has thrown 13 of his 17 touchdown passes off of a play-action fake.
Penn State on the other hand, only utilized play-action 27.8% of Allar’s dropbacks. Allar averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, compared to 6.2 yards on straight dropbacks. Allar was almost exactly as accurate as Ewers on those throws with a similar ADOT (7.7). Yet, Yurcich and Penn State refused to help out their quarterback.
Allar’s play style is completely different from what Franklin got used to with McSorley and Clifford. Those were athletic playmakers who liked to give their receivers a chance downfield. Allar is a pocket-passer who can be deadly accurate and efficient. He wants to go on long methodical drives and only hit the occasional deep shot. He’s good enough to win that way, and if Penn State adjusts its play style and personnel on offense to fit his needs, then next year should be the year that the Nittany Lions finally knock off the Buckeyes and Wolverines.