- Associated Press
James Blackman was throwing the touchdown passes while fellow true freshman Cam Akers was gaining big chunks of yards on the ground.
Florida State might still be a little melancholy after a season that started with national championship hopes ended Wednesday with an Independence Bowl win. But the performances from young players like Blackman and Akers in the 42-13 rout of Southern Mississippi are a solid hint that the Seminoles could be a powerhouse again in a hurry.
Blackman — a former Glades Central star — threw for 233 yards and an Independence Bowl-record four touchdowns, including three to junior receiver Auden Tate. Akers led the Seminoles with 94 yards rushing and also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Blackman started the season’s final 12 games after sophomore starting quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. He’s had some ups and downs since the promotion, but saved the best for last against Southern Miss.
“It’s pretty impressive, he had to grow up really fast,” Florida State interim coach Odell Haggins said of Blackman. “He had to take the diapers off and go to work.”
Florida State (7-6) ended the season on a four-game winning streak and avoided its first losing season since 1976. Now new coach Willie Taggart takes over and appears to have plenty of talent on the roster to work with going forward.
Southern Miss took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter after a 63-yard touchdown drive that was aided by two 15-yard Florida State penalties, one for unsportsmanlike conduct and the other for roughing the kicker.
But the Golden Eagles couldn’t keep the momentum, mainly because of their own mistakes, including four defensive offside penalties on Florida State’s opening drive.
“If you can get a little momentum going, you’ve got a chance to get this thing into the third quarter or the fourth quarter and we’ll see what happens,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “But give (Florida State) credit, they deserved to win. They made plays, but I thought we fought hard. Just a tough loss today.”
Blackman matched an Independence Bowl record with three touchdown passes in the first half to help FSU take a 23-6 lead.
The Seminoles pushed the advantage to 33-6 late in the third quarter before Southern Miss finally responded with a touchdown. By then, the game was out of reach.
Southern Miss (8-5) was led by Ito Smith, who ran for 92 yards. Kwadra Griggs completed 13 of 25 passes for just 86 yards and a touchdown.
Akers milestone: Akers finished his freshman season with 1,024 yards rushing after running for 94 yards on just 13 carries. The 5-foot-11, 213-pounder broke Dalvin Cook’s program record for the most yards rushing by a freshman in a season. Cook had 1,008 yards in 2014.
Neon Deion on Noles staff? Former Seminoles legend Deion Sanders and Taggart are reportedly discussing a coaching role for “Prime Time,” according to Noles247Sports.
According to sources close to the situation, both have expressed mutual interest in Sanders coming on as FSU’s defensive backs coach.
Taggart on Wednesday posted a photo of he and Sanders on Twitter ahead of the Seminoles’ Independence Bowl game. Taggart posted: “It was great catching up with the G.O.A.T. @DeionSanders Go Noles! #DoSomething”
Sanders was also on hand for the Independence Bowl, where he could be seen on the sidelines. When asked about the possibility of him coming back to help coach the Seminoles, he responded by saying, “You never know. I’ve been known to make big plays with these colors on. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Although he hasn’t coached at the college level, he did coach at Prime Prep Academy, a Texas charter school he founded, from 2012-15 and last season was offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill and helped the Tigers to a Texas private chool championship. He has also coached the Under Armour All-American Game.
Defensive coordinator out: According to Tomahawk Nation, Charles Kelly will not return as FSU defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Kelly was at FSU for five seasons, the past four as defensive coordinator.
The move was anticipated when Jimbo Fisher resigned on Dec. 1 and Taggart was hired to take over the Seminoles.
Kelly reportedly has another job lined up and will be announcing his plans soon.