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Alex Hornibrook Creating Competition at Florida State

By Dave Holcomb
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Hornibrook arrives in Tallahassee as the most accomplished college quarterback on the roster.

Not much has gone as planned over the last couple years for Florida State football. Other than perhaps the departure of coach Jimbo Fisher, nothing has thrown a wrench in the program’s plans more than the dismissal of quarterback Deondre Francois.

Of course, it had to be done. Francois had been in off-the-field trouble multiple times because of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, and her video on Instagram alleging Francois abused her was the final straw. He had multiple chances to change and made no attempt to show any remorse following numerous allegations.

From a football perspective, the dismissal of Francois left Florida State with just one scholarship quarterback -- sophomore James Blackmon. Coach Willie Taggart rectified that issue landing two transfer signal callers -- Alex Hornibrook and Jordan Travis.

A redshirt freshman coming from Louisville, Travis is not eligible for this season. Florida State is still fighting to change that, but as of now, Hornibrook is the only immediate help the program found this summer.

Hornibrook, though, arrives in Tallahassee as the most accomplished college quarterback on the roster. Florida State making a surprise run at the ACC Atlantic crown could depend greatly on how quickly Hornibrook learns the Seminoles spread offense.

As a three-year starter at Wisconsin, Hornibrook posted a 26-6 record, which is the most career wins of a quarterback on the Florida State roster since Jameis Winston. His .788 win percentage is also the best for a Seminoles signal caller with at least 10 starts since Winston.

Hornibrook started only nine games last season because of injuries and didn’t perform as well as expected, completing under 60 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But in 2017, Hornibrook was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

That season, he averaged 8.3 yards per pass with a 62.3 completion percentage, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, leading the Badgers to a 13-1 mark. He threw four touchdowns and won Orange Bowl MVP in a victory against Miami to cap off the terrific season.

With that amount of success, it begs to wonder whether Hornibrook was simply a desperate midsummer addition for much needed quarterback depth or if he can earn the starting role and help Florida State begin a new bowl streak.

How he fits schematically points to the former. Taggart has always run the spread offense, and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has emphasized tempo this offseason. That’s not exactly what Hornibrook is used to from his tenure at Wisconsin.

Florida State averaged nearly three more plays per game than Wisconsin last year, which isn’t a huge difference, but Briles wants to run even more offensive plays in 2019. Furthermore, in Hornibrook’s most successful season with the Badgers (2017), Wisconsin averaged about 23 pass attempts per game. Last season, Florida State posted almost 38 passes per contest.

Even if Hornibrook learns Briles’ offense quickly, he also lacks the mobility that Blackmon possesses that Florida State is looking for from its signal caller. Sure, Blackmon is also entering his first season in Briles system, but Taggart has told the media it isn’t all that different from his own scheme the team ran last year.

For those reasons, it would be a surprise to see Hornibrook start instead of Blackmon. The rising sophomore was forced into a starting role as a true freshman in 2017 because of Francois’ knee injury in Week 1 against Alabama. Blackmon experienced a roller coaster first season, but he’s performed well in his last two starts. During his lone opportunity as a starter last fall, he posted 421 passing yards and four touchdowns against N.C. State.

Still, Hornibrook transferred to Florida State knowing full well the offensive scheme and the competition in Tallahassee. At the ACC Kickoff last week, Taggart and a couple Florida State teammates raved about how Hornibrook has performed in practice and what he brings to the table.

Would the Seminoles have added Hornibrook to the roster if they were completely confident in Blackmon? That’s a tough question to answer because Florida State was truly desperate to find another scholarship quarterback as a backup.

The starting quarterback role is Blackmon’s to lose, but he’s a poor training camp away from Hornibrook starting in Week 1. Should Florida State get off to a rocky start offensively like last year, Taggart shouldn’t be hesitant to turn to a signal caller, regardless of schematic fit, that’s won 26 games.