The biggest question surrounding the Florida State football program heading into its game at North Carolina State on Saturday involved who would get the starting nod at the quarterback position: the incumbent, redshirt-junior Deondre Francois or the starter for every game but one last year, sophomore James Blackman.
Blackman got the nod, and although the Seminoles fell 47-28 to the Wolfpack, it was hardly Blackman’s fault. The Belle Glade, Fla. product went 29-46 for 421 yards, four touchdowns, an interception, and a passer rating of 164.3. Francois’s average rating this season? 132.09. Blackman completed 63% of his passes vs. NC State, a number Francois topped just once in his last nine games against Power-5 competition. However, one full game is a terribly small sample size, especially against a secondary as suspect as NCSU’s. But there’s still a compelling case to be made for No. 1 remaining QB1. Let’s examine a few reasons why.
Without question, the most glaring deficiency of the FSU offense is its woeful line play. A unit that wasn’t deep to begin with was ravaged by injury almost immediately, and the ’Noles have struggled to maintain offensive effectiveness all season.
Francois compounds the OL issues by being essentially a statue in the pocket. Head coach Willie Taggart has already addressed how Francois needs to learn to climb the pocket, but it’s just not come to fruition. Blackman may have been sacked five times in Raleigh, but if that were Francois, the number could have realistically reached double digits. Blackman did a nice job navigating the pocket, escaping sacks, and extending plays. He displayed a feel for pressure that Francois often lacks, made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s been on the bench all season. And as much as Florida State fans don’t want to hear this, while FSU’s offensive line should improve some next season, it’s still not going to be a strong point. The quarterback who functions better amid chaos makes more sense.
Because of the OL’s ineptitude, long, sustained drives have been few and far between for the Seminoles. Penalties and sacks are drive killers, and this ’Nole OL authors plenty of both. Hence, explosive plays take on even more importance, and Blackman definitely showed off his ability to hit longer vertical routes against North Carolina State. He was particularly effective in hooking up with Tamorrion Terry, who torched the Wolfpack for five catches, 142 yards, and a pair of scores.
The Blackman-to-Terry connection’s longest reception was 40 yards, but Blackman also had long completions of 32 yards to Tre’ McKitty, 31 yards to D.J. Matthews, and 26 yards to Nyqwan Murray. He not only throws a better deep ball than Francois, his placement was better on intermediate throws, which affords receivers that much more of an opportunity to do something with the ball after the catch. FSU has explosive weapons, but if players are continually adjusting to balls thrown low or behind them, their momentum is destroyed and their athleticism diminished significantly.
And while Terry stole the show against NC State, D.J. Matthews was Blackman’s favorite target, hauling in 10 receptions on 12 targets for 133 yards and a score. Terry, Matthews, McKitty: what do they have in common? They’re all young players with multiple years of eligibility remaining after this season. They’re the future, not Francois’ preferred target, Murray, who’s done after this year.
In his postgame presser, Taggart discussed how this team is sticking together. That didn't happen during the debacle that was the 2017 season, and the Seminoles will have enough to work on in the offseason without having to address a rift in the locker room. Players flock to Blackman, who’s the natural leader that Francois simply is not. Win or lose — and additional losses seem more likely than Ws in finishing out the season — this team needs a leader they can get behind, someone who will help them remain as one, now and moving forward.