In a year where Florida State is in real danger of not making a bowl game for the first time since 1979, it’s not surprising that they are still searching for answers. For the first time this season, head coach Willie Taggart did not call the plays on offense, handing them off to offensive coordinator Walt Bell. That wasn’t the only first— sophomore James Blackman got the start in replacing redshirt junior Deondre Francois.
The process was noticeably better, but unfortunately the result was largely similar to what FSU fans have been familiar with this season. They played all the hits: awful blocking, poor field position, and self-inflicted mistakes. The offensive line continued to struggle a great deal, and it predictably continues to handcuff everything this offense is trying to do. This team is frustrating to watch— it felt like fans had already seen this game several times already this season. They have a hard time getting out of their own way, but they also can’t seem to catch a break.
For example, Florida State’s first drive of the game started with horrible field position, again, this time on their own four-yard line. Blackman found his rhythm early, leading the Seminoles to midfield before running back Jacques Patrick fumbled the ball, which NC State promptly recovered. FSU’s second drive also started with poor field position inside their own ten-yard line, and went three-and-out.
On Florida State’s first drive of the second half down two scores Taggart felt the offense needed a spark, likely believing FSU needed 30 points to have a chance to win the game. Taggart chose to go for it on FSU’s 34-yard line on fourth-and-one. Bell called a run from shotgun, and the play was there, but offensive lineman Mike Arnold and tight end Gabe Nabers both whiffed on their blocks and Cam Akers was crushed for a three-yard loss. The Wolfpack would add a field goal, making it a three-score game. In the end, Florida State just couldn’t muster enough offense to keep up in its 47-28 loss.
Still, James Blackman was something of a revelation. His pocket presence and movement were good, and Florida State was able to roll the pocket with Blackman, which helped negate poor blocking. He threw with anticipation over the middle and the offense looked its best when it was aggressive down the field. Blackman was able to find Tamorrion Terry deep down the sideline several times, including two in a row in the second quarter that finished with a well-placed throw for a touchdown. Blackman later drove the offense down the field 75 yards with just a minute to work with before halftime. He connected with Cam Akers for the score on a strike off of his back foot falling away from the pressure. Blackman also did a great job executing tempo, finding Terry for another score again in the third quarter.
Terry showed great technique and body control all day. He made an especially great adjustment to his first throw from Blackman, catching the ball away from his frame while falling down and still getting a foot down for the catch. Terry finished with 142 yards and two touchdowns on just five receptions, a whopping 28-yard average. With Nyqwan Murray suspended for the first half, D.J. Matthews stepped in and collected 133 yards and a touchdown on ten receptions.
Akers also seemed to run more confidently than he had for much of the season, but he only managed 29 yards on 10 carries.
Blackman was still sacked five times, but he evaded several more and threw for a career-high 421 yards and four touchdowns. Before garbage time Blackman was averaging over 11 yards per attempt, not including sacks. Overall, Florida State finished with 6.5 yards per play. The offense was far more consistently explosive through the air than it had been all season, and Blackman added a couple first downs on the ground.
Blackman still made mistakes, of course. There were missed reads, some missed throws, and he threw an interception underneath to a Wolfpack defensive linemen on a well-executed zone blitz. But even if Deondre Francois is healthy it seems clear Blackman should be the starter going forward.