Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher said he’s not overly concerned about how true freshman quarterback James Blackman will respond on Saturday when he makes his first career start against Louisiana-Monroe at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The reason: Blackman, as a back-up during preseason camp, went against the Seminoles’ first-team defense more often than not, including two scrimmages. That was the same defense that held top-ranked Alabama and 2016 All-SEC quarterback Jalen Hurts to 269 total yards and only 13 first downs in last week’s 24-7 loss in Atlanta.
Blackman, a four-star recruit from Belle Glades Central High School, is the first true freshman to start at the position for FSU since Chip Ferguson in 1985. Starter Deondre Francois went down in the fourth quarter with a knee injury when being sacked by Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison and was diagnosed with a torn patella tendon in his left knee.
Francois will undergo surgery on Tuesday and Fisher said he could be back for spring practice in 2018. In the meantime, FSU’s season is riding on Blackman, a skinny freshman who threw for 2,511 yards and 14 touchdowns as a high school senior.
Fisher said Monday that Blackman may have already practiced against the toughest defense he’ll see all season.
“Going against our 1s in every practice and scrimmage, he produced and made a lot of good plays against a very good defense,” Fisher said. “He’s very strong-willed, very independent and confident. He’s not arrogant, but he has a great presence.”
Fisher said he doesn’t plan on any major changes to the offense or his play-calling to accommodate a freshman.
“You coach what they can do,” Fisher said. “There’s nothing in the rule book that says he can’t go play well and our team can’t go play well. He has presence and poise, he likes to be in the huddle, has good mobility and arm strength. We will continue to do what we do as an offense, whatever we feel gives us the best chance to win the game.”
Fisher said Francois’ injury, which does not involve either of the major knee ligaments (MCL or ACL) is rare from his experience.
“I’ve never had one like that as a coach,” he said. “[Francois] is very disappointed. He’s a guy who wants to play but also wants to be there with his teammates. You become so connected when you’re the quarterback, you want to be there with your brothers. He feels like he let them down. He’s very down, not for himself but for his teammates.”
Fisher said he’s pleased with how his defense played against Alabama, with the exception of a 34-yard run by Damien Harris and the big offensive play of the game, a 53-yard TD pass from Hurts to Calvin Ridley. It was a big step for the Seminoles to hold Hurts to 96 yards passing and 55 running after having problems containing dual-threat quarterbacks in the past two seasons.
“We leveraged the ball very well and kept great eyes on the ball,” Fisher said. “Our defense kept us in the game, the pressure they got on the quarterback, the way they tackled in space. When someone broke, we rallied.”
Fisher said FSU has to clean up the special-teams mistakes that turned the game in Alabama’s favor: a blocked punt, a blocked field goal and a fumbled kickoff return.
But he said he was not discouraged with the effort.
“I’m very proud of our physicality and toughness,” he said. “We competed very hard, played very well at times and we have a heck of a team in front of us. We can do great things.”