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With new head coach Willie Taggart having wasted little time etching himself into the Florida State culture, the big topic of the 2018 offseason has become the quarterback competition.
Most believe the battle will be between the 2016 ACC Rookie of the Year, Deondre Francois and last season’s starter James Blackman. Redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman, however, is another player who cannot be slept on.
In what will be a 3-part series, we’ll be making the case for and against each of three FSU signal callers. We started with Deondre Francois on Thursday. We now move on to the most recent quarterback to start in sophomore James Blackman.
The Case For
James Blackman didn’t put up the numbers in 2017 that Deondre Francois did in 2016, but Blackman may have more upside. The first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Seminoles since 1985, Blackman has the ability to develop into an elite passer.
Blackman was forced into action last season despite not having a college-ready body. This offseason, Blackman has put up considerable weight and should be able to absorb hits better this season. It should also be noted that the sophomore’s 6-foot-5 frame allows him to see over the offensive line better than either Francois or Hockman, who stand at 6-1 and 6-2, respectively.
When it comes to Taggart’s offensive system, all three scholarship quarterbacks are starting from zero. Some tend to associate the “Golf Coast Offense” with a dual-threat quarterback because of the success that South Florida’s Quinton Flowers had in it, but Oregon also excelled with a less mobile Justin Herbert captaining the ship last season.
The passing in Taggart’s offense requires accuracy and precision, which is an aspect where Francois has struggled, although he does boast a better career completion percentage and more yards per attempt. It should be noted that Blackman was thrust into action without getting the redshirt like Francois or enrolling early like Hockman.
With that said, Blackman was a victim of a lot drops from the pass catchers last season, including two potential would-be touchdowns in a 31-14 loss at Clemson. Blackman was also quick to win over his teammates last season. That was an area where Francois seemed to be lacking last season, but has seemingly righted that ship this offseason.
Unlike Francois, Blackman isn’t coming off a serious injury and was at full strength for the spring while Francois was limited. Hockman also dealt with a foot injury last season. When it came to the spring game, Blackman had the same completion rate as Hockman and for more yards despite having fewer scholarship receivers on his roster. The fact that Blackman is younger than Francois could also make him a better long-term choice if the competition is close.
The Case Against
Compared to Deondre Francois, James Blackman pales in comparison statistically in just about every way. Regarded as a pure passer, Blackman had fewer yards per attempt, a lower completion percentage and more turnovers in 12 starts in 2017 than Francois had in 13 starts in 2016.
Turnovers weren’t just an issue for Blackman, but it was the untimely turnovers that hurt the most. Although Blackman did lead a last-minute victory over Wake Forest and nearly did likewise against Miami, his fumble on the last FSU possession of a tie game against Louisville allowed Lamar Jackson to lead the Cardinals down the field for a game-winning field goal as time expired. After FSU cut a 17-0 deficit at Clemson down to three in the fourth quarter and forced a fumble in Tigers’ territory last year, Blackman’s first pass of the ensuing possession was picked off.
Although the ability to run isn’t a requirement for Taggart’s offense, it does expand the capabilities. Of the three scholarship quarterbacks for FSU, Blackman is arguably the worst runner of the bunch, but he is hardly a statue. As the most experienced quarterback to be fully healthy this past spring, it may also hurt Blackman’s case that he was unable to put considerable distance between himself and everyone else.
While conservative play-calling bears much of the blame, the Seminoles’ offense last season with Blackman at the helm ranked just 13th in the ACC in total offense and 12th in passing. In conference, FSU averaged just 19.5 points per game with Blackman under center. With Francois in 2016, the Seminoles averaged 30 points per game against ACC foes.
Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson
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