Before this game was even played, it should have been apparent to anyone who pays even a pedestrian-level of attention to FSU football that, win or lose, James Blackman would be the main focus of this analysis. But the freshman’s play certainly wasn’t our only takeaway from the Seminoles’ home-opening 27-21 loss against the NC State Wolfpack.
Still, it’s definitely where we’ll begin. The first true freshman to start for FSU at quarterback since 1985, Blackman began rather inauspiciously— but then again, so did the entirety of the Seminole offense, facing a stout NC State defensive front. Blackman hit his first pass, to the flat, but then struggled for a bit, sailing a few throws when trying to go downfield. This is far from rare for an amped up, inexperienced QB. Florida State did not collect a first down on its first two offensive possessions, despite using a number of looks, including pony sets, two-TE personnel, and working in freshman running back Cam Akers quite early.
Blackman messed up a snap count. The OL jumped. Akers missed a pickup in pass protection. Early on, the FSU offense was both slow and sloppy. Then Blackman established a connection with WR Auden Tate, and the two looked they had been playing together for far longer than a couple of months. We’d lauded Blackman’s deep-throw ability, and he certainly proved us right. He tossed a beautiful post-corner route to Tate on Florida State’s third possession, and the pair reconnected to cap the drive when the former found the latter on a crossing pattern in the back of the end zone. Blackman threw a fantastic ball, above a defender and to a spot, for the Seminoles’ only touchdown of the day.
FSU was poised to take the lead on its next drive. The highlight — and death — of the drive came when Blackman worked through his reads quickly, took off, and threw a video-game spin-move on a defender that achieved a first down. However, as he was being tackled, the ball came lose, and NC State recovered. Whether or not it was a fumble remains up for debate, but Florida State didn’t really get any of those calls on Saturday afternoon anyway, including several shots to Blackman that could have been called either targeting or late hits. Regardless, it was an electrifying play by Blackman, who just got a little unlucky with the strip, fumble call, and how NCSU somehow recovered a ball that FSU seemed to pounce on mere yards from the end zone. And this is what we told you about Blackman— he’d present more extremes than Francois, greater highs and lows.
And there were certainly plenty of highs. The problem was that they almost all required Tate. As we covered in a separate piece, Blackman (and the FSU offense as a whole) looked much less effective after Tate left with a shoulder injury and did not return, including his underrated blocking, which helped extend some quick hitters to the flats that helped Blackman develop confidence and rhythm.
As far as a target goes, Tate accounted for 138 of Blackman’s 278 yards. Every other player on the FSU roster combined for 140 yards, not one of which came to a tight end. And if TEs are going to be kept in to secure a clean pocket on passing plays, the Seminoles absolutely need to do better than they did against NCSU, in which they allowed four sacks. Blackman played with plenty of promise, but that promise will be short lived if he continues to take shots like the ones he did from the Wolfpack’s Bradley Chubb.
About half way through this game, I began communicating with the rest of our staff about how, offensively, this game reminded me of the Georgia Tech loss in 2015: too many scoring chances, not enough points. And so it went: in six red-zone possessions, FSU managed just a lone touchdown.
But it’s not all just about missing Tate— Blackman missed some big plays all on his own, despite the fact that the OL fell apart around him as the game wore on, and even appeared to be arguing with each other late in the contest. Down 11 with about 9 minutes left, Blackman was well short of a wide-open Amir Rasul on a backside route that would have scored. On FSU’s next possession, down 9, Jacques Patrick was wide open in the flat and would have walked in for the score.
Through two games, the Seminoles have a grand total of two touchdowns. Yes, Alabama and NC State have some studs on defense. But Florida State has some on offense too, along with the offensive pedigree of Jimbo Fisher, and a QB in Blackman who more than passed muster in his debut and can be beyond serviceable moving forward.