TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There were jitters and growing pains, but also poise, toughness and a few of the prettiest passes that Doak Campbell Stadium has seen in a while.
All told, it was an encouraging debut for freshman James Blackman, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown, and otherwise gave Florida State what it needed to have a chance to beat North Carolina State on Saturday.
The sting of a 27-21 defeat at the hands of the Wolfpack may have overshadowed Blackman’s performance, but no one in Florida State’s locker room placed much blame on their new quarterback.
“James is going to be a great quarterback,” junior receiver George Campbell said. “He makes the right reads. He’s smart. He played his (tail) off today. We’ve got to give him credit for that.”
Blackman in the early goings had the look of a freshman playing in front of the largest crowd he’d ever seen.
After connecting on his first career pass attempt – a 4-yard screen to Nyqwan Murray – Blackman misfired on his next three while the FSU offense searched for its rhythm.
But Blackman found his way soon after. Starting with a short pass to Murray near the end of the first quarter, Blackman hit on 15 of his next 19 throws, a stretch that included conversions on fourth-and-3, third-and-8 and third-and-goal.
It was on the third-and-8 throw that Blackman flashed his first “wow” moment. Facing down a 10-0 deficit and a relentless NC State pass rush, Blackman stood in the pocket and lofted a pass toward the left sideline that hit Auden Tate in stride for a 24-yard gain.
Three plays later, Blackman found the end zone for the first time, threading the ball to Tate through an NC State defender for a touchdown that made it 10-7.
“He showed a lot of poise,” junior running back Jacques Patrick said. “He never got flustered as a true freshman in his first start. It was very intriguing and something you can build off of. I’m really proud of him and the way that he came out and stepped up for our team.”
Blackman wasn’t finished.
With the Seminoles chasing the Wolfpack throughout the second half, Blackman delivered a 51-yard pass to Tate and later a 60-yarder to Campbell, both of which were placed in perfect locations and led to field goals.
Both Tate (nine catches, 138 yards) and Campbell (three, 85) set new career-highs for receptions and yardage.
“I thought he did a great job in the game, for a young guy, making throws and (the) decisions he made, for the most part (were good),” Fisher said. “I thought he prepared himself very well.”
That’s not to say there isn’t still some room to grow.
Blackman’s potential and inexperience were both on display late in the second quarter, when he took a third-and-3 snap, scrambled to his right and, after executing a beautiful spin move, slipped past an NC State defender to gain first-down yardage.
Blackman, however, kept going, and in his effort to gain more ground lost a fumble when he was hit by Wolfpack nemesis Bradley Chubb.
Replays showed that Blackman’s knee hit the ground at nearly the exact instant that the ball popped loose, but officials upheld the call and NC State took over possession at its own 2-yard line.
And for as much as he heated up in the second and third quarters, a deeper deficit allowed NC State to fully commit to pass defense and, as a result, Blackman completed only four of 12 attempts in the final period.
That Tate missed most of the second half with a shoulder injury didn’t help, either.
Still, Fisher felt that the positives of Blackman’s outing far outweighed the missteps, which is good news for a Florida State team that will play its first true road game next week at Wake Forest.
“Not a bad job for the first time going out there,” Fisher said. “…He kept playing and competing. I told you, he’s a competitor now. They’ve got a really good front and a good defense, and he did a really nice job.”