WATCH: Kendal Briles, Oct. 8
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart wasted no time answering the biggest question facing the Florida State football team as it prepares for Saturday’s visit to No. 2 Clemson.
And that, in turn, has led to even more questions.
After two weeks of quarterback uncertainty, James Blackman will return to the starting lineup for his first appearance since suffering an injury in FSU’s win over Louisville on Sept. 21.
But Alex Hornibrook, the senior transfer who had already taken a handful of snaps at the time of Blackman’s injury, and who proved to be more than capable while Blackman was sidelined, is part of the game plan and will play against the Tigers, too.
So, for the first time in a long time, the Seminoles are openly going into a game planning to use two quarterbacks.
What exactly will that look like? How will the rotation work? And what is the plan to maximize Blackman’s and Hornibrook’s different abilities?
Taggart wasn’t inclined to share during his Monday press conference.
“We’ll see on Saturday,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s something I want to give (Clemson coach) Dabo (Swinney) or anyone else, what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a tough challenge as it is. I don’t want to give out anything other than ‘They both will play.’”
The sample size is limited, but the Seminoles did have some success with a two-quarterback approach earlier this season.
Against Louisville a few weeks ago, Blackman started and helped guide the Seminoles on an early scoring drive before giving way to Hornibrook on FSU’s third possession. Hornibrook then introduced himself in a big way, throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass on his first throw as a Seminole.
A little while later, Blackman took the reins again and guided another touchdown drive that gave the Seminoles a 21-0 lead after just one quarter.
How long that rotation might have continued, or how well it would have worked, is hard to know. Blackman took two of FSU’s three series in the second quarter, then was hurt on the fifth play of the second half. Hornibrook has been the Seminoles’ quarterback ever since.
One thing that both Taggart and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles are sure of, though, is that each quarterback can lead the offense. And each has earned an opportunity to give the Seminoles their best chance to win on Saturday.
Briles referred to both as starter-caliber players.
“We feel comfortable with both of them on the field,” Briles said, “and know both of them can get the job done.”
The differences between the two are maybe a little subtler than most two-quarterback scenarios – it’s not as if one is simply a pure passer and the other a running specialist – but Blackman and Hornibrook do bring different qualities to the field.
And, Taggart said, they bring different mindsets as well.
Neither is necessarily better than the other, but both might be necessary for the Seminoles to be successful.
“I think Alex is more business-like,” Taggart said. “James, again, he’s going to inspire you to do some things out there – (inspire) his teammates.”
As for those teammates, none of FSU’s receivers or offensive linemen seemed to have much preference toward who is taking snaps on Saturday.
Both of FSU’s top receivers – Tamorrion Terry and Keyshawn Helton – have caught touchdown passes from both quarterbacks and, aside from differences in the way the ball spins (Blackman is right-handed, Hornibrook left-handed), their job doesn’t change much based on who is throwing it.
“We have two quarterbacks who can come in and take control of the offense,” Helton said. “Two great guys who work hard, two guys who come to practice every day and show leadership. Two guys who understand this offense.”
Added tight end Tre’ McKitty: “We are all on the same page with both quarterbacks, and both of them get the job done.”
Saturday will be somewhat uncharted territory for both Taggart and Briles, as neither have extended experience with rotating quarterbacks.
Both, though, downplayed the significance of that, and prefer to think that having two capable quarterbacks is a positive for the Seminoles, both on Saturday and potentially moving forward.
“There’s always change, you know,” Taggart said. “…But if it works and it works out for us, it’s good.”
Regardless of who plays when, both Blackman and Hornibrook will be in for their biggest challenge to date when they line up across from the Tigers.
Despite losing five defenders to last year’s NFL draft, including three first-round selections on the defensive line, Clemson still ranks in the national top 10 in passing defense (fourth), total defense (sixth) and scoring defense (ninth).
“Those guys, they’re good,” Briles said. “Coach (Brent) Venables (the Clemson defensive coordinator) knows what he’s doing. He’s been there a long time. Those players have been in that scheme for a long time. … He does a lot of things as far as pressures. He brings a lot of exotic things that he can do. Since they’ve been there, they’ve had a system that the guys know. He’s one of the top DCs in the country and does a great job.”