James Blackman has faced some great defenses since taking over as Florida State’s starting quarterback. He lined up against Bradley Chubb and NC State’s defense in his first career start and faced Miami later in the season.
However, nothing compared to what Blackman faced in Death Valley.
Even without a few starters, Clemson’s defense dominated Florida State in the Seminoles’ 31-14 loss to the Tigers. The Tigers were all over the field, stuffing Cam Akers in the backfield and routinely administering punishing hits on Blackman.
As expected, Blackman struggled in the high-intensity environment of Death Valley. The true freshman finished 13/32 for 208 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Clemson came after him early and often, driving the beanpole into the ground and making him pay for holding onto the ball too long.
We knew Florida State would need to hit some big plays against Clemson if the ’Noles were to have any chance. After all, it would be nearly impossible to ask a true freshman quarterback to routinely drive down the field against Brent Venables’ squad.
Those big plays occurred in the form of a 39-yard pass to Nyqwan Murray (which set up a Jacques Patrick rushing touchdown) and a 60-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Izzo on a beautifully-designed trick play.
While those two passing plays sparked the offense, they were the only ones Florida State was able to hit on the day, leading to the only scores from the FSU offense.
Against Clemson’s ferocious pass rush, Blackman struggled to get the ball to his receivers. Murray caught four passes for 73 yards, but Blackman also missed him on a few longer passes during the game. Blackman’s interception also came on a pass targeting Murray over the middle.
Auden Tate was blanketed for most of the game and only contributed four catches for 33 yards. Blackman targeted him the most out of any receiver (eight times), but the two struggled to connect. Keith Gavin finished with a meager 17 yards on two catches. Both Tate and Murray had opportunities for touchdown grabs in this game, but Blackman could not quite get the ball to them, and in the end, it could’ve been the difference between a win and another disappointing loss in a season full of them.
The run game was non-existent, as Akers finished with 40 yards on 12 carries (3.3 yards per carry). Patrick returned from injury to rush for the aforementioned touchdown, but his impact was minimal besides that score, rushing for three total yards on five carries.
Florida State’s struggles in the run game weren’t surprising, though, as Clemson’s defensive line features several players who will be suiting up on Sundays in the near future. All-world DT Dexter Lawrence missed the game with an injury, but it didn’t matter, as Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant were paying rent in FSU’s backfield throughout the game. Florida State’s offensive line was simply unable to hold up to the constant assault by the Tigers’ front seven.
The first half was especially ugly, with Florida State running 26 plays for a grand total of 46 yards (1.8 yards per play). However, the ’Noles came out firing after halftime and scored both touchdowns after intermission, the first of which was the Seminoles’ first third quarter touchdown of the season.
Overall, Florida State finished with 229 yards on 56 plays for an average of 4.1 yards per play. Not exactly elite, but probably what you’d expect from an offense run by a true freshman quarterback experiencing Death Valley for the first time.
Coming into this game, Clemson boasted the No. 4 defense in the country per the updated S&P+ rankings. Next week, Florida State takes on Delaware State, an FCS team, before heading to Florida. The Gators’ defense currently ranks 83rd in the country. FSU’s final opponent, Louisiana Monroe, has the 128th ranked defense.