Late in the fourth quarter of Florida State’s opening game against Alabama, Seminole fans knew they were about to go 0-1. Truth be told, so too did the FSU bench.
At the same time, they knew, Jimbo Fisher and the staff knew, and the players knew, the season was far from over. They could still regroup, correct shortcomings (with special emphasis on special teams) and still win the ACC title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Then came “The Injury.”
Confidence within Seminole Nation ebbed precipitously as the cart carrying the damaged Dondre Francois slowly made its way off the field. Among the faithful, uneasiness turned to panic, despair and even surrender a day later when it was confirmed Francois was done for 2017.
Stepping into the breach is true freshman James Blackman, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 185-pound youngster from Belle Glade. Fisher describes Blackman as having “really good arm talent.”
Few, if anyone, reading this has seen Blackman play because he has yet to compete above the high school level. He was not an early enrollee, so he wasn’t around for the Garnet and Gold Game this past spring.
There is a recent example of why Seminoles’ supporters should not throw in the towel. We saw that example leading the Alabama offense.
Jalen Hurts was a true freshman as he lined up under center for Alabama a season ago. Like Blackman, Hurts came on in the second game, just a month after turning 18.
Sure, he had limitations in both experience and sometimes in his throwing accuracy, but he had something only a select few had. The Tide possessed a championship defense, combined with playmakers and a good offensive line. FSU has that, too.
With the true freshman at quarterback, Alabama was just seconds away from yet another national championship. Hurts did his part in the 35-31 loss to Clemson.
Blackman will have the additional advantage of a team rallying around him. Look for the defense to get after it just a bit more and for the offensive line to work harder to protect their young quarterback.
On September 2, we saw that Blackman has a quality receiving corps at his disposal. If either Jacques Patrick or Cam Akers, another true freshman, step up to provide a strong running game, it will take even more pressure of Blackman.
And, yes, the special teams unit must show fundamental competence and avoid putting Blackman, as well as the defense, into tough situations.
Fast forward three weeks. Fans have calmed down some.
Blackman has had three weeks of practice with the first unit. Fisher says he is doing great and “likes to be coached.” Star defensive back Derwin James predicts Blackman “will be ready” on Saturday for his first start against North Carolina State in Tallahassee.
The coaching staff and those watching will likely see rather quickly what Blackman can, and can’t, do and make adjustments accordingly. A major point of concern: Blackman is listed as a “pro-style” quarterback, which means a pocket-passer.
That means, like Francois, he is not a running quarterback. The FSU faithful should hope the line is his protector, or he at least has the ability to scramble and be accurate while throwing on the run.
Think back to the vicious hits the 205-pound Francois took in the pocket last year, especially against Mississippi and Miami. How many of those can Blackman take with his underdeveloped frame?
Don’t expect to see Jameis Winston or even Deondre Francois, but FSU faithful should not give up on having an outstanding season, either. Stranger things have happened.