James Blackman expected to compete for Florida State’s backup quarterback job in his first season on campus. But he was forced to play immediately — and perform well — in pressure situations.
The former Glades Central star was thrust into a starting role after Deondre Francois went down with a season-ending knee injury in FSU’s season-opening loss to Alabama. Blackman stepped in and has had moments of success and failure but has consistently displayed toughness and stayed resilient in the face of a constant pass rush.
“He’s definitely learning a lot,” said Blackman’s guardian, Rick Butts. “I know he’s getting it — probably doesn’t seem like it because he can’t really operate because of the pass rush. Even when he’s not getting sacked, he’s getting hit.”
Blackman is completing 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,672 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions entering Saturday’s noon game at Florida (ESPN). He has often put FSU (4-6) in a position to win in eight of his nine starts, with the one exception a dysfunctional 35-3 loss at Boston College on Oct. 27, where mistakes snowballed on offense, defense and special teams.
One sore spot has been Blackman’s turnovers — notably a fumble in the final minutes of a loss to Louisville and an interception late in the defeat at Clemson. The turnovers are a normal part of the progression for Blackman, a true freshman who has battled adversity and keeps bouncing back.
“He’s made mistakes,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That guy gets up, he’s been hit, he’s fumbled, he goes right back in the action. But he’ll grow. He’ll grow and mature and get better and better.”
The 169-pound Blackman has also been sacked 30 times and frequently has taken shots as he throws. FSU has played more than half the season without its top offensive lineman, guard Landon Dickerson, who had season-ending ankle surgery. Wide receivers Auden Tate (shoulder/foot) and Keith Gavin (foot), along with running back Jacques Patrick (knee), also missed games because of injuries.
Blackman has had to adapt to the depleted list of playmakers but has built a strong chemistry with Nyqwan Murray (36 receptions, 563 yards, three touchdowns), Tate (31 receptions, 422 yards, six TDs) and Gavin (24 receptions, 254 yards). Tate said he has seen Blackman’s grasp of the playbook and understanding of the offense improve with each week.
“He’s definitely progressing game by game,” Tate said. “You can see it. His maturity. Stepping up. He’s been doing a real good job.”
The offense has been inconsistent as a result, but the Seminoles are in position to salvage a bowl berth during a disappointing season by finishing with wins at Florida and then back home against Louisiana Monroe on Dec. 2. FSU is looking to extend its bowl appearance streak to 36 seasons.
“The players don’t want it to be on them that the streak has ended,” Butts said. “It is something that they’re fighting for. They want the bowl, they want the extra practices.”