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James Blackman excels in FSU’s dominant Independence Bowl win over Southern Miss

The true freshman saved his best performance of the year for the Seminoles’ season finale.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-Southern Mississippi vs Florida State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Not only did Florida State keep its winning seasons streak alive on Wednesday, it did so in extremely convincing fashion.

Playing in its first non-BCS/New Year’s Six in six years and doing so without a number of key defensive veterans, the Seminoles rose to the task, thoroughly dominating Southern Miss en route to a 42-13 victory. The win completed an epic finish to the season which improved FSU’s impressive streak of consecutive winning seasons to 41.

Florida State’s defense and special teams got off to a rough start, giving the Golden Eagles 30 yards off personal foul penalties on their opening drive which they converted into points on a five-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Kwadra Griggs.

From there, the Seminoles defense took over, allowing no more points for the remainder of the first half and holding USM to four yards per play after the opening drive through the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, FSU’s offense was moving the ball at will, scoring on four of its five first-half possessions while racking up a 23-6 halftime lead behind drastically improved play from true freshman quarterback James Blackman.

In all, the Seminoles rattled off 33 unanswered points after USM’s opening drive, putting the game away before the Golden Eagles were able to score again.

For Blackman, it was the best game of his career at FSU so far. He looked significantly more comfortable running the Seminoles’ offense while racking up three first-half touchdowns, tying his previous career high in the first 30 minutes alone. He finished Wednesday’s game completing 18 of 26 passes for 230 yards and four passing touchdowns, an Independence Bowl record.

With junior wide receiver Nyqwan Murray not dressed out for FSU’s bowl matchup, Blackman relied on one of his usual targets, Auden Tate, especially in the red zone. In what could be his final game in a Florida State uniform, Tate caught a career high three touchdowns, all in the red zone, as part of his five catches for 84 yards.

Cam Akers led the Seminoles’ on the ground, finishing with 94 yards. In the process, Akers went over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, marking the fifth consecutive year FSU has had a running back go for 1,000 yards. Early in the second half, Akers broke the FSU freshman rushing record set by Dalvin Cook in 2014 (1,008 yards), finishing his freshman season with 1,025 yards.

Although Akers was the leading rusher, he was not the only effective running back. FSU’s Independence Bowl victory allowed the team to display a new three-headed rushing attack. Along with Akers, junior running back Jacques Patrick tallied 61 yards on the ground and added his seventh rushing touchdown of the season. The surprising contributor on the ground was Blackman, who took advantage of a number of designed quarterback runs to rack up a career high 29 rushing yards on six carries.

Before Blackman was pulled for J.J. Cosentino early in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles were averaging 6.8 yards per play against a USM defense that entered Wednesday ranked 25th in the S&P+ rankings.

The win marked the conclusion of the Odell Haggins era at Florida State, ending his head coaching career with a 2-0 record. It also completed a strong finish to the season which saw the Seminoles win five of their final six games to keep their lengthy winning season streak intact.

Now, the wait begins. 250 days separate us from the official beginning of the Willie Taggart era, a Labor Day matchup against Virginia Tech in Doak Campbell Stadium. Although this surely feels like an eternity to the Florida State fanbase at this moment, the team’s strong showing to wrap up what has been a vastly disappointing season could lend hope of what could be coming in Tallahassee.