James Blackman doesn’t play like a freshman during Florida State loss

James Blackman didn’t look or perform like a true freshman. He had pre-game jitters, of course, but the Florida State quarterback played with composure and was able to piece together drives in the 12th-ranked Seminoles’ 27-21 loss to North Carolina State Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

FSU may be 0-2 for the first time since 1989 and, while there is frustration and disappointment, there is also optimism over what the former Glades Central star brings to the team.

“James is going to be a great quarterback,” receiver George Campbell said. “He makes the right reads. He’s smart. He played his (butt) off today.”

The Seminoles (0-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) looked rusty after a 20-day layoff due to Hurricane Irma that forced the cancellation of the Louisiana Monroe game and the postponement of the Miami game. Blackman had extra time to prepare for his first college start and completed 22 of 38 passes for 278 yards, a touchdown and a fumble on a long run.

He may be 18 years old, but Blackman played with poise, showed a strong arm and displayed plenty of play-making qualities despite constant pressure from the N.C. State pass rush.

“His demeanor was kind of disappointed because of the loss, of course,” Rick Butts, Blackman’s guardian, told the Palm Beach Post after watching the game from the stands. “But he’s confident in what he’s doing. He’s getting more comfortable, more acclimated.”

Blackman made an early connection with Auden Tate, who caught eight passes for 87 yards in the first half – including a 4-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter that cut the N.C. State lead to 10-7. He showed the most chemistry with Tate, who caught nine passes for 138 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury in the third quarter.

The Seminoles started slow as the offense went three-and-out on its first two drives. But then Blackman led FSU on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that finished with the TD strike to Tate. And FSU’s second drive also looked like it would produce points, but Blackman fumbled after a spin move and long run and the Wolfpack defense recovered.

He was at his best in the middle of the game, completing 12 of 14 passes for 121 yards in the second quarter and then 3 of 6 passes for 111 yards in the third quarter. Once FSU fell behind late, trailing 27-16 with 9:16 left in the game, Blackman was forced to throw often and was just 4 of 12 for 26 yards in the fourth quarter.

At first, the game plan appeared to include Blackman throwing short, high-percentage passes, but the quarterback was at his best when taking shots down field. He had five passing plays of 15-yards or more.

“His presence, his poise, the moment didn’t seem to overwhelm him,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’d come off and he could communicate what was going on and why it was going on and what he was doing.”

After Blackman went three-and-out on his first series, Fisher made it a point to talk to his young QB on the sideline.

“He was really prepared for this game. … We gave him a great look in practice, the best look we could have gave him. I feel like he was making all the calls,” FSU safety Derwin James said. “He was loud out there. He was making the checks to receivers.”

Blackman’s touchdown pass was the first by an FSU true freshman quarterback since Adrian McPherson had a pair of TD passes in 2001 vs. Virginia. And Blackman certainly had a few more opportunities as the Seminoles pushed into the red zone six times but came away with one touchdown and four field goals from Ricky Aguayo.

The result leaves a sour feeling for the Seminoles, who were projected as ACC champions and a potential playoff team before starting quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in the opening loss to Alabama.

Butts feels Blackman’s mindset will remain positive as FSU pursues its goals.

“To them, it’s better to lose in the beginning of the season than to wait to the end,” Butts said. “They’re a little disappointed in the loss but they’ll pull together. It’s not a loss, it’s a lesson.”

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