Clark column: Give Blackman the keys to finish out the season
RALEIGH, N.C. -- There really shouldn't be any debate at this point.
James Blackman should be Florida State's starting quarterback for the rest of the 2018 season.
Even in defeat, and it was another embarrassing one on Saturday, the sophomore quarterback played well enough to at least provide a glimmer of hope for the FSU offense. Right?
The Seminoles scored 28 points. He threw for 421 yards. He extended plays with his legs. And he threw the ball up to Tamorrion Terry -- which every FSU quarterback should be required to do at least 10 times a game as long as Terry is here.
It wasn't great. It wasn't Ward or Weinke or Winston.
But it was better. And when you're as far down in the dumps as Florida State is right now, well, that's something.
"I was encouraged by the way James threw the ball," FSU head coach Willie Taggart said. "He did a great job. Terry had a great game catching the ball. D.J. (Matthews) did a good job. I thought James spread the ball around a little bit, too."
For long stretches of Saturday's game, with Blackman at the helm, this looked like an actual competent FBS offense. That's a positive step, right?
That's something to write about!
When you're 4-5 and coming off back-to-back losses by a combined score of 106-38, there aren't a lot of positives. So give me a break here ... I'm doing my best!
The negatives -- inexplicable penalties, horrid defense, the worst special teams these eyes have ever seen -- are obvious. And will be addressed plenty in the coming days and weeks as the Seminoles try to somehow fight themselves to bowl eligibility.
But for now, as we look forward, it's obvious that James Blackman should be taking the snaps in this offense.
Is he a better overall QB than Deondre Francois? I don't know.
He is healthy, though. And he doesn't ignore No. 15. Those are two reasons alone to put him on the field for the final three games.
Another reason is how much his teammates truly love him. You'd think he was a blood relative of every single Seminole you talk to. They just speak so glowingly about him that you would think he's Santa Claus. Or Tom Hanks (admittedly my references to describe someone who's universally beloved might need a little bit of work, but you get the point).
He's their guy.
So make this his team. At least for the time being.
The reality is there is so much to fix on this roster that it's not going to matter all that much in these final three games. And I don't know if Blackman is the future moving forward. I do believe that he gives this team -- for the reasons mentioned above -- a better chance of competing.
And as we look to 2019, with virtually every offensive player returning (that's not necessarily a good thing, obviously), Taggart needs to know where he stands at quarterback. He got eight games with Francois. He should have four (or maybe five) games with Blackman. And then he can decide who is his guy, assuming Sam Howell won't come in and start as a true freshman.
The offense looked better on Saturday. Blackman had the one interception -- on a terrific play by that defensive tackle dropping back in coverage -- but he was really sharp for much of the game.
And I loved, loved, loved that during that one drive of the second quarter, he simply looked to his right, saw that Terry had single coverage and thought, "You know what? I'm just going to throw it up to that freak and let him go make a play." And when it worked for a 40-yard gain, he said to himself, "Self, why not just throw it up to the big boy again?" And he did. And it was a touchdown.
It ain't rocket science, folks!
Blackman seems to understand that.
As the game went on, he also started to understand what Francois knows all too well -- the offensive line is a problem. And he got battered and bruised the final quarter and a half. But he kept getting up and he kept slinging it, finishing his day off with a 31-yard TD pass to D.J. Matthews.
To cut the lead to 19!
That's the problem with a column like this, right?
I can sit here and write about how well Blackman played, and he did play well. I can write that Terry is legitimately one of the most talented wide receivers this program has ever had. But at the end of the day, Florida State is 4-5 and just gave up 106 points in back-to-back games.
That's a school record for most points surrendered in consecutive games, by the way.
So I can only go so far with the praise. Because this thing isn't close to being close. And this team isn't close to being well-coached.
Thirty-one penalties in two games is beyond absurd, even though a couple of those pass-interference calls were ridiculous (especially considering the play where Terry had his arm pulled back on what would have been another touchdown, but a flag wasn't thrown).
This roster isn't great. It's not this bad either. Florida State continues to run the ball at the pace of a dying elephant. I don't blame the offensive line for all of that. I don't think Taggart and Walt Bell, who called the plays in this one, have done this offense any favors by not figuring out some how, some way to get a ground game going. Even if it means going with the "Wild Cam" at least once a quarter.
Averaging less than 2.3 yards per carry through nine games is astoundingly bad.
But that gets me back to Blackman. As long as this running game is THIS running game, as long as the offensive line is THIS offensive line, then go with the kid who just threw for four bills.
Give him the rest of the month to see what he's got. He ran for a first down in this one to keep the chains moving, and he also scrambled to his left and made a terrific throw on third down to keep the Seminoles' second TD drive going.
He didn't pull the ball at all on the zone-read, which is a problem with these FSU quarterbacks, but he was able to avoid pressure enough to put up 28 points and over 400 yards of offense anyway.
He's also, by all accounts, a great teammate. A guy that didn't moan or whine (or transfer) after losing the starting job to Francois. He just came out and worked every day.
Willie Taggart didn't want to address the starting QB spot after the game, saying he'd "evaluate that later in the week." Blackman was then asked about potentially earning the starting spot back with his career-high performance.
Now read his subsequent answer. And tell me a mindset like this, an attitude like this, doesn't have a positive impact on a program, on a culture. Especially one you're trying to rebuild.
"I really don't (care)," Blackman said. "I've done accepted my role. Just because I had this performance, that doesn't mean anything. We still have to find a way to win games. That's the biggest thing: Winning games.
"All of the other things? It don't matter. The stats? It don't matter. Who's playing? It don't matter. As long as we win games, we'll be all right."
Again. Is James Blackman the best option for 2019? I don't know. But it was obvious on Saturday, he's the best option for the rest of this season.
There was, at the very least, a glimmer of hope in this offense. Florida State actually out-gained N.C. State on Saturday by the way -- 445 yards to 417. Suck it, Wolfpack! You got owned in your home stadium!
Hey, I told you guys I was trying to stay positive for this one. Just to stay sane. Because I truly am trying to project where this program might be in 2020. We all know 2018 is a nightmare. One that will be hard to forget.
Maybe, just maybe, if Taggart can find a quarterback to run this thing, then the offense will look like a real offense next season. And this program can start to climb the mountain again.
So with that in mind, see what you've got in No. 1. See if he should be the No.1 guy.
And for heaven's sake, tell him to keep throwing it up to No. 15.
Contact senior writer Corey Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.