TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher met with the media Monday to address the status of quarterback Deondre Francois, reflect on Florida State’s 24-7 loss to Alabama last week, and also look forward to Saturday’s home opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
Here are highlights from that conversation:
FSU fans’ worst fears were realized Monday, when Fisher confirmed that Deondre Francois suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee near the end of the Alabama game.
Francois, a redshirt sophomore and the reigning ACC offensive rookie of the year, is scheduled to have season-ending surgery tomorrow.
Fisher estimated Francois’ recovery time at 4-7 months, and is hopeful to have him back for spring camp next year.
The injury is difficult blow for Francois, who had spent the last year preparing to take the next step after a promising first year as a starter.
“He’s very disappointed,” Fisher said. “Because he wants to play, be he (also) wants to be there with his teammates. And I think that’s one of the things that people don’t really (realize): You become so connected as a team and when you’re a quarterback, when you go through the work habits and the things you have to do to play at this level.”
Losing Francois also increases the degree of difficulty for Florida State, which still has designs on a run to the College Football Playoff despite last week’s loss to Alabama.
While FSU is of course better with Francois than without him, Fisher still believes the Seminoles have enough pieces in place to reach their goals.
“You’ve got to take the hand that your dealt and go play,” he said. “Listen – we’ve got plenty of ability, we’ve got plenty of good players. Now we’ve got to go coach, get the cobwebs out and play better. … I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I think they are, too.”
A few months ago, James Blackman arrived on campus as the least experienced of four quarterbacks on the depth chart.
Come Saturday, he’ll be the first Seminoles’ first true freshman to start under center in more than 30 years.
“As of right now, James Blackman will be our No. 1 guy going in,” Fisher said.
The decision comes at first as a surprise, but makes more sense viewed in context of Blackman’s fall camp. The Belle Glade, Fla., native might have been the most consistently praised quarterback throughout August, having impressed with his strength, poise, arm strength and decision-making.
It seemed then that Blackman would make a fine quarterback of the future. Turns out that the future is here.
“He has presence and poise,” Fisher said. “I’ve always said the No. 1 thing (quarterbacks) have to have, barring anything, I always look at it very early on, I say the No. 1 thing is presence. … They just have presence. When they talk, there’s a natural command to what they do and how they carry themselves.
“And I think James does that.”
If Blackman does start Saturday, he’ll be the first FSU true freshman to start at quarterback since Chip Ferguson in 1985, and Fisher’s first freshman starter since Gabe Gross at Auburn in the early 1990s.
Blackman took three snaps at the end of the game Saturday but has yet to throw his first pass. Fisher said that, despite having a freshman under center, he doesn’t expect to change much about the way he coaches or his offensive philosophy.
“No,” Fisher said. “You coach what the guys can do. You don’t change the way you coach. You coach the same way. … And you have to remember, (in camp), we had 1s on 2s and 2s on 1s, he was throwing on 1s in every scrimmage. So, he went against that and produced and made a lot of good plays against a very good defense.”
While no one at Florida State is pleased with the final score of last week’s game, Fisher said that he did see plenty of positives on which the Seminoles can build.
“I feel good about our offense,” he said. “That game, five out of the first seven drives, we moved the ball up and down the field, had an opportunity to really move it.
“We threw it, ran it. Even though we didn’t run it as well – people said we didn’t run it well – that wasn’t the plan. We wanted to throw the ball early, on early downs, get good down and distance, spread the field a little bit. Then we started to run the ball and have success. Then we just lost the momentum in the game and got behind.”
A look at the box score confirms Fisher’s beliefs. The teams were fairly even in total yardage, and while Alabama had much more success on the ground, the Seminoles heavily outgained the Tide through the air.
Fisher will no doubt look to improve special teams and ball security – both of which led to points for Alabama – but, otherwise, he feels that the Seminoles more than belonged on the field with the No. 1 team in the country.
“Again, I came away from the game very encouraged in a lot of areas and disappointment overall,” he said. “Disappointed that we didn’t dot our I’s and cross the T’s and finish some things. But I’m not discouraged at all. Very encouraged, believe it or not.”
Miscues on special teams helped swing the game toward Alabama in the second half, which Fisher said was “a shame” and “very disappointing.”
On Alabama’s blocked punt, Fisher said that players on the punt unit lined up a foot too wide, which allowed a Tide defender to break through the line.
“We had done it (correctly) 29 days in a row,” Fisher said. “… And it’s something we do every day. The guys made a mistake.”
Same goes for return man Keith Gavin, who caught a kickoff that seemed headed for the end zone and later fumbled to give the Tide the ball at FSU’s 11-yard line.
“Keith just made a poor decision where he was on the ball,” Fisher said. “I think he thought he was more around the 4-, 5-yard line, and should have let the ball go through.”
The special-teams troubles are particularly bothersome for Fisher, as he has long preached their importance and taken pride in having the best specialists in the country.
He said that the best way to get back to that point is to keep working at it in practice.
“We’ve led the country in special teams at times,” Fisher said. “Or been the top two or three. And coaching is very well. We have to make sure we hold the kids accountable and we show them the right way again — go back and reteach it, fundamentally, the importance of (special teams).”
Amid all the talk of the Tide and the quarterbacks, it took nearly half an hour for Fisher to field his first question about Saturday’s opponent, the ULM Warhawks.
Fisher actually has some familiarity with ULM, as its defensive coordinator, Mike Collins, served on staff with Fisher at LSU in 2003 and 2004.
“A very good team as far as different looks on defense,” Fisher said. “…A lot of different looks, blitz packages. A lot of ‘bear’ and ‘double-eagle’ fronts.”
Fisher’s time at LSU gave him a healthy respect for the state’s high school football talent. And while ULM might not carry the same weight as LSU, he still expects the Warhawks to bring plenty of athletes on Saturday.
The Seminoles beat ULM, 34-0, to open the 2011 season.
“Louisiana is a state that always has great skill guys,” Fisher said. “And all those schools – for a state to have four million people, they have more schools that have more good players. …
“Go back in the history of guys that played in the NFL, players from those schools, it’s amazing. Very skilled and very big offensive linemen. And we’ll have to play a real good game. And we need to.”