TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A tough start to Florida State’s football season became that much tougher on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a promising effort from freshman quarterback James Blackman, the No. 12 Seminoles were undone by a combination of penalty flags, missed chances and an opportunistic North Carolina State offense in a 27-21 defeat at Doak Campbell Stadium.
After starting the season in unusual fashion – FSU was playing for the first time in 21 days due to Hurricane Irma – the Seminoles now find themselves in unusual territory: 0-2 for the first time since 1989.
That 1989 team then reeled off 10 straight wins and finished ranked No. 3. This year’s Seminoles will begin their quest to replicate that feat next week at Wake Forest.
“(We) still have a chance to have a nice football team,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s been done around here before, this kind of start. And we’ve just got to line up and go play and don’t hang your heads now. Get ready to go to work and get ready to go play Wake Forest and win a game on the road, hopefully.”
Blackman, the first true freshman to start at quarterback for FSU since Chip Ferguson in 1985, started slowly before heating up in the second quarter.
After starting 1 of 4, Blackman connected on nine of his next 11 passes and finished 22 of 38 with 278 yards and no interceptions.
He also became the first true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown for the Seminoles since Adrian McPherson in 2001. Blackman connected with junior receiver Auden Tate for an 11-yard score that cut an early NC State lead to 10-7 in the second quarter.
“For the most part, I thought the guy did a heck of a job,” Fisher said. “Got the ball down the field, made big plays at times. We’ll evaluate the film and look at all the little details, but game management, his presence, his poise – the moment didn’t seem to overwhelm him.”
That touchdown, however, was the only one the Seminoles would score. Sophomore Ricky Aguayo made four of five field-goal attempts, including a 34-yarder that provided the final margin with 3:01 to go.
For a few moments late in the game, it appeared that momentum might be turning and that, perhaps, FSU could escape with a dramatic victory.
An NC State safety followed by a blocked punt from Brian Burns gave the Seminoles the ball at the Wolfpack’s 23-yard line with a nine-point deficit and 3:31 on the clock.
But FSU advanced just six yards on the ensuing drive and, after kicking deep following Aguayo’s field goal, surrendered a 15-yard run on third-and-7 to seal the game.
“We were going to get it back with a minute and a half (to play),” Fisher said. “… The odds of getting an onside kick aren’t that great, and still with three minutes to go, I think it was the smart thing to do with who we had on defense. We had third and 7 … and they popped a run.”
FSU outgained NC State 382-365 but was severely hindered by 11 penalties that cost 93 yards. Among the penalties were a pass-interference flag that erased an FSU interception, a targeting foul that caused starting linebacker Jacob Pugh to be ejected and several pre-snap penalties that hurt field position.
The Wolfpack was flagged just six times for a total of 41 yards.
“Penalties were tough,” sophomore defensive end Brian Burns said. “But there was a lot that we caused ourselves. Putting ourselves in bad situations that we shouldn’t have been in.”
A struggling red-zone offense didn’t help, either.
The box score shows FSU converted 5 of 6 red-zone attempts, but four of those were field goals. And the Seminoles missed another opportunity to score when Blackman scrambled for a first down, kept running and then fumbled away a ball that NC State recovered at its 2-yard line.
It was somewhat reminiscent of the Seminoles’ opener against Alabama, when they saw three trips deep into Alabama territory end without points.
“Our guys played well at times, in sections,” Jimbo Fisher said. “(But) when the defense would get going, the offense couldn’t finish off a drive. When the offense would get going, the defense couldn’t get the next stop. Just mixed up some things.”
Ryan Finley threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns for NC State, which has won three straight after starting the season with a loss to South Carolina.
And Jaylen Samuels, the Wolfpack’s do-everything H-back, finished with 100 total yards (64 receiving, 25 passing, 11 rushing) and two touchdowns after posting just 60 yards against the Seminoles a year ago.
“Our players came here with a dream three and four years ago … and that was to help me and our staff elevate our program and be competitive and be a contender in this conference,” NC State Dave Doeren said. “Today was a great step in the right direction.”
The Seminoles, meanwhile, can take a first step in the right direction next week.
“There is no panic,” Fisher said. “But there’s an urgency. You’ve got to correct some things and get better. I mean, we’re going to line up and play next week. Whether we’re 1-1 or 0-2, we’ve got to play one week at a time, one game at a time. That’s all we can control.”