It had been a long time— 28 years to be exact, since Florida State started a season 0-2. However, after a 27-21 loss to NC State, Florida State’s 2017 campaign is off to an 0-2 start.
Florida State was already entering Saturday’s home opener with a true freshman quarterback who had yet to take a collegiate snap and a 21-day layoff since its last game. If those obstacles weren’t enough to overcome, the ’Noles were in a 10-0 deficit early.
James Blackman struggled through the air, starting 1-4 which led to two quick FSU three-and-outs. NC State capitalized with a field goal and then added a touchdown on fourth down.
However as the ancient proverb goes, third time is the charm.
On that third drive, No. 3, freshman running back Cam Akers, started the drive with two rushes for 30 yards and FSU was in NC State territory for the first time all game.
Blackman stepped up, converting a fourth and third down later on that drive. Blackman would finish that drive throwing his fist career touchdown pass to Auden Tate. Just like that, the FSU deficit was cut to 10-7.
After forcing NC State to punt for the first time, James Blackman was cruising down the field, getting all the way to the NC State 33 yard line. On a scramble in which he performed, and executed a nice spin move, the true freshman quarterback fumbled the ball away.
NC State would earn four yards before being forced to punt. FSU’s ensuing drive would begin just a few yards from where its prior drive ended. This time, Florida State would wind up empty handed after a missed field 30-yard field goal from Ricky Aguayo.
It took NC State just four plays and one 71-yard pass to go back up by double digits.
With 1:29 left in the opening half, FSU had to get points before heading into the locker room and kickoff off to the Wolfpack in the second half. Blackman led an 39-yard FSU drive that would end with a 38-yard Ricky Aguayo field goal. This time it was good and the ’Noles would head into the locker room trailing 17-10.
After having zero false start penalties vs. Alabama, the FSU offensive line committed three in the first half alone. Despite those blunders, its pass protection was pretty good all day for the true freshman quarterback. After the first two FSU drives, Blackman settled in and finished 14-16 with 135 yards.
Did you notice a trend from above? The lack of any highlights from the defensive units? That was no mistake. FSU gave up 6.2 yards per play and six plays go for more than 10 yards— That was over 20% of NC State’s first half plays.
Well, things were looking up coming back from the locker room as FSU forced an NC State three-and-out. James Blackman took over and threw a 51-yard dime to Auden Tate who made his ninth catch of the game but was injured, holding his shoulder, and would walk off the field with the training staff making sure that left arm did not move. FSU would settle for another field goal from 36-yards out, making it a 17-13 ball game.
At the point of Tate’s injury, Blackman had completed 16 passes with nine going to Tate for 136 yards. There was obvious chemistry being made and Blackman would have to finish the game without his favorite target.
On the ensuing drive, Derwin James thought he came up with a big interception until the referees rules otherwise and called pass interference on Tarvarus McFadden. The drive would continue and NC State would put together another long 63-yard drive together and a field goal would push the Wolfpack’s lead back to seven, 20-13.
And the struggles would continue.
Already without Matthew Thomas and Auden Tate, linebacker Jacob Pugh was ejected for targeting late in the third quarter and will miss the first half at Wake Forest next Saturday as well.
The defense for Florida State continued to let NC State drive into Seminoles territory before forcing stalling its drives. Once FSU got the ball back, Blackman connected with George Campbell on a 60 yard pass, setting FSU up in the red zone and a chance to tie the game.
It was the fifth time FSU was in the red zone. After another Ricky Aguayo field goal made it a 20-16 game, the ’Noles just had one touchdown to show for all those attempts.
NC State then jumped out to its largest lead of the game, 27-16, after a Jaylen Samuels rushing TD capped a 10 play, 75 yard drive.
With 6:26 and down 27-18, Derwin James brought back the free kick into NC State territory. Suddenly, momentum was shifting toward Florida State.
FSU forced a safety but that did essentially nothing to the deficit as FSU was still down two possessions, however, the ball was theirs. With 5:21 left, FSU was facing 4th and 11 outside of field goal range in what was likely its last chance for any comeback. The pass from Blackman was well off as he was scrambling for his life. Jacques Patrice was WIDE open, but unfortunately, the true freshman didn’t see him.
NC State would run down the clock to 3:31 and have its punt blocked by Brian Burns.
Blackman would only gain six yards before Ricky Aguayo converted a 35-yard field goal, his fourth of the day, to make it a one possession game 27-21 in favor of NC State.
In the end, the stat sheet wasn’t pretty looking at the Florida State defense. 357 total yards given up, no turnovers made, and 5.3 yards per play.
But was it really the defense that was the main factor in the loss for Florida State? Or was it FSU’s inability to punch it into the end zone when in the red zone?
The offense performed more than satisfactory on paper, averaging 5.9 yards per play. James Blackman had himself a nice debut going 22-38 with 278 yards and a touchdown and Cam Akers led rushers with 56 yards on 12 carries.
Even with all that success, there were just 21 points to show.
Florida State will look for its first win of the season next Saturday at Wake Forest. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM.