It seems like the only way to go for the Florida State offense in 2019 is up.
The Seminoles were dismal on that side of the football last season, ranking 12th in the ACC in yards per game and 13th in scoring. FSU was held below 10 points twice last season and to 14 points or fewer in five of its 12 games.
Head coach Willie Taggart made a bold move this offseason with the hiring of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. Manning the offensive ship on the field will be redshirt sophomore quarterback James Blackman.
After a season-ending injury to Deondre Francois in 2017, Blackman was forced into action and started 12 games for the Seminoles. In the process, he became the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for FSU since Chip Ferguson in 1985.
Blackman made just one start last season, but in that start, passed for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a 47-28 loss at NC State. The 421 passing yards was the most for an FSU quarterback since Jameis Winston passed for 444 yards in a 51-14 victory over Clemson during his 2013 Heisman Trophy season. As the start of the 2019 season nears, there is reason to believe that Blackman could and will have the best season for any Florida State signal-caller since Winston’s Heisman campaign.
Blackman wasn’t the most highly-sought quarterback when he arrived at FSU in 2017, but no one has questioned his ability to throw the football. Teammates on the other hand, have raved about his leadership ability.
The sample size is small, but Blackman has shined in limited reps since his true freshman year. Aside from the aforementioned start last season against the Wolfpack, Blackman went 3-for-4 with 88 yards and a 73-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Helton to get the Seminoles their only touchdown of the day in a 59-10 loss to Clemson last season. Although he probably threw into tight coverage too often, Blackman finished with 415 yards passing and three scores to lead his Gold team past the Garnet in last month’s FSU spring game.
The offensive line will be a huge question mark for Florida State this season, which is working against Blackman, but the 6-foot-5, 185-pound signal caller does a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly. Blackman looks to have improved from 2017 when it comes to movement in the pocket and his ability to throw the ball down the field could negate some of the lost yardage as a result of sacks.
Randy Clements, the new offensive line coach who worked with Briles at Baylor and Houston, was brought along to help improve perhaps the worst Power 5 position group in the nation. It’s unlikely that the big guys up front will be a strength for the Seminoles, but if they’re not a noticeable liability, that would go a long way in making the FSU offense more lethal and less simple.
While the offensive line will serve as the biggest question mark, there’s no shortage of talent around Blackman. Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn, both third-year players, are home run threats in the backfield. At receiver, Tamorrion Terry is coming off an All-ACC season and finished as the team’s leader in both receiving yards and touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. D.J. Matthews and Keith Gavin will provide a veteran presence while youngsters Helton, Tre’Shaun Harrison, Warren Thompson and Jordan Young all have the ability to be game breakers. At tight end, Tre’ McKitty and Cameron McDonald should both be mismatches in the passing game.
The offensive line is still a concern — as is Blackman’s lean frame — but given the track record of both Briles and Clements, a healthy Blackman will enjoy the best season for a Florida State quarterback since 2013. That includes Winston’s 2014 campaign, which was his last before being selected first overall in the NFL Draft, and Francois’ 2016 season, in which he earned ACC Freshman of the Year.
The best season since 2013 is probably Winston’s 2014 campaign in which he passed for 3,907 yards and 25 touchdowns, but also threw 18 interceptions. Everett Golson’s 67.1 percent completion rate in 2015 is the best since 2012 and Francois’ 8.4 yards per attempt as a redshirt freshman is the best since 2013. Golson also has the highest passer rating for an FSU quarterback since Winston’s Heisman Trophy season.
Putting up nearly 4,000 yards, as Winston did in 2014, seems like a tall task, but 25 touchdown passes aren’t out of the question. Although he threw just 51 passes last year, Blackman’s 177.1 passer rating would have been the best since. If that falls by less than 28 points as a starter this season, that would still be the best since 2013.
In his only start last season, Blackman enjoyed the best day for an FSU quarterback in more than six years against a good NC State team and earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week. With an invigorated coaching staff and a talented group of skill players, Blackman will carry much of the burden of improving a porous offense on his strong right arm. His teammates seem to like those prospects.