Caulton Tudor

Pack has to keep the pressure to win on new Seminole QB

Posted September 21

The quarterback set to face NC State on Saturday will more resemble a basketball player, even in shoulder pads, to the Wolfpack’s big defensive front.

New Florida State starter James Blackman is scheduled to make his first start in relief of injured veteran Deondre Francois, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Seminoles’ 24-7 loss to Alabama way back on Sept. 2 in Atlanta.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 169 pounds, Blackman was playing high school ball at Belle Glade (Fla.) a year ago and hardly arrived as one of the hottest prospects in Jimbo Fisher’s recruit class.

In fact, Blackman didn't show up on most of the national top 100 lists and was rated a modest (by FSU standards) No. 33 among the 2016-17 Florida senior players. Fellow frosh quarterback Bailey Hockman (6-2, 203, Powder Springs, Ga.) was deemed a slightly better prospect when the two were signed.

And yet Fisher didn't hesitate when Francois, a redshirt sophomore, was ruled out for the season. Along with Hockman, the coach’s options are redshirt junior J.J. Cosentino (6-5, 247) and redshirt freshman Jake Rizzo, a former walk-on.

But if Fisher has a Plan B in mind for the Wolfpack (2-1) in the ACC opener, he’s doing a great job of keeping it quiet. Just the opposite, in fact: Fisher has spent a lot of time talking up Blackman’s durability and talent.

“He’s been hit,” Fisher said. “He’s been knocked around and beat up. He’s tough guy, and he can play (at) a high level.”

Playing at home and coming off the long storm delays, the Seminoles are an 11-point favorite even though State’s defense has its share of NFL prospects, heavy hitters and frontline experience.

Without question, most of the pressure Saturday will be on Fisher’s team and the coach himself. An 0-2 start likely would eliminate any hope of a national title run and that’s with games against Clemson, Louisville and Florida still ahead.

And it’s understood going into any given season, and regardless of the injury list, the Seminoles aren't paying Fisher $5.5 million annually just to perk up the Tallahassee economy. The fans and the school probably will never view a team from any North Carolina-based program as an understandable loss, even though the Pack has won twice in the series during Fisher’s seven previous seasons and was competitive in a 24-20 FSU win last year in Raleigh.

It’s not as though Blackman is the first-ever freshman quarterback starter for the Seminoles, either. He’ll be the 10th to do so, and only two didn't engineer wins – Chip Ferguson in 1985 against Miami (35-27) and Clint Trickett in 2011 at Clemson (35-30).

History, as it usually does, again favors FSU where football is concerned, but the delay between games and the Blackman’s inexperience should combine to provide Dave Doeren and his staff with a rare opportunity to keep it relatively simple in what could be a signature trip for the Pack.

State’s primary objective Saturday has to be to force Blackman to win the game largely from the passing pocket.

Under no circumstances can the Pack afford to let the Seminoles’ defense, special teams and running backs dictate the game flow. That won’t be easy, of course. FSU runners Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick didn't show much pop against Alabama, and Francois was intercepted twice on 33 passes. But the Tide defense may be the best in the nation, and that was a neutral playing site.

State’s defenders will have a tougher test in the Tallahassee heat and humidity inside Doak Campbell Stadium's echo canyon, but at least an opening is there for the Wolfpack to explore. Fisher is convinced he has found another big-game quarterback in Blackman, but the Wolfpack needs to force the freshman to prove it in live time.

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