BTP: What should NC State fans know about FSU's new quarterback? What does he do well, and what about his game concerns you?
DK: His name is James Blackman and he is a 3-star true freshman who did not enroll early at FSU, so he’s been on campus for about 9 weeks now. He was the second quarterback FSU took in last year’s class along with Bailey Hockman, a 3/4-star recruit who did enroll early. Blackman was thought to have a higher ceiling, while Hockman had a higher floor. Both freshmen immediately passed the only other scholarship QB on FSU’s roster not named Francois, JJ Cosentino, without much difficulty because he is not good at football. By the end of camp, Blackman had passed Hockman for the backup spot. That is somewhat encouraging, although Hockman may have been battling injury. Basically everything we know about Blackman can be found here: (https://www.tomahawknation.com/florida-state-football-fsu-noles/2017/9/3/16250602/analyzing-fsu-quarterback-james-blackman-strengths-weaknesses-quarterback-deondre-francois-injury)
I think the most important things for y’all to know are: 1) he has an excellent arm; 2) he throws a beautiful deep ball; 3) he played well behind a garbage offensive line in high school; 4) his footwork wasn’t real pretty in high school; 5) he is very tall and very skinny; and 6) he has a plethora of nicknames (I have taken to calling him Baby Groot, but another one of our writers lists Gumby, The Slim Reaper, Black and Mild, Long Tall and Finna Ball, Slim Jim, Slenderman, and The Terrifying Twig). To be honest, though, we just don’t know what to expect from him until we see it. Jimbo has been very good at paring things down for young quarterbacks in his system and I expect him to be with Blackman, but we can’t know until we see him in live action.
Things that give me the most hope about Blackman: his supporting cast and how much the coaching staff likes him.
Things that concern me most: he’s a 3-star recruit who seemed to be a project player take, did not enroll early, and is now thrown into the fire of FSU’s complicated system.
BTP: Florida State's defense is flat out terrifying. What about them in your opinion makes them so good?
DK: It’s a boring answer, but it’s how much talent they’ve amassed to create incredible depth. The defensive tackle position is as deep as it’s ever been at Florida State, which is a remarkable thing to say given the program’s history of success at that position. I think the backup DT duo of Fred Jones and Wally Aime would start on the vast majority of teams across the country, and #1 overall defensive tackle Marvin Wilson sits comfortably on the third string. Josh Sweat and Brian Burns are a scary end combination, and they’re spelled by guys like ultra-productive Jacob Pugh and star recruit Josh Kaindoh.
The linebacking corps thankfully got Matthew Thomas back after a prolonged absence during camp and now starts two fifth-year seniors. The proven depth at linebacker is a little shaky after that, but there are plenty of talented bodies.
The secondary features two of the top players at their positions in America, as Derwin James could be a top-10 draft pick in May, and Tarvarus McFadden is your prototypical NFL corner. Levonta Taylor starts opposite McFadden and the Seminoles shuffle guys around at the safety positions, which includes the star (SAM linebacker/nickel corner hybrid) that Derwin played against Alabama. For example, you’ll see Kyle Meyers on passing downs and more of Trey Marshall on run downs (as long as he hasn’t been ejected for targeting), along with former receiver Ermon Lane. The depth and versatility both up front and in the secondary allows FSU to deploy some really interesting looks and pressures on passing downs, as well as to have answers for most of what an opponent throws at them. At least in theory.
BTP: What Wolfpack player provides the most challenging matchup for Florida State?
DK: It’s hard not to say Jaylen Samuels because of his versatility. I like the way the Wolfpack moves him around and he’ll be a tough match-up for a linebacker in coverage. NC State always seems to hit a big play or two against the Seminoles on a fast flow throwback type of play, and he’d be the guy I’m worried with on that. He can also provide a security blanket for Finely if the ‘Pack gets into passing downs, which are normally a scary proposition against the ‘Noles.
I’d have to go with a defender, though, and there are plenty to choose from on this NC State roster. Bradley Chubb has been difficult for FSU to deal with over the years. Then again, so has Kentavius Street. Okay, really the whole defensive line was a problem last year in Raleigh. The size, speed, and experience combo these guys have is worrisome in a match-up featuring a freshman quarterback. If the Wolfpack front shows up in the form they were expected to take in 2017, this could be a pretty tough first start for the young guy. Last year the ‘Pack stifled Dalvin Cook and the FSU run game for the most part, and a similar effort on Saturday would put a lot on Blackman’s shoulders.
BTP: What part of Florida State's Roster concerns you the most?
DK: It has to be the quarterback. Florida State will not be able to hide him. I expect NC State to commit numbers to the box and make Blackman beat them, as the ‘Noles were a running team to begin with. Jimbo Fisher will not run into an 8-man box. Blackman will have to throw early and often, and he’ll have to be accurate on early downs. That means the FSU receivers will have to win their match-ups and make things easier on Blackman. I think they showed that they’ve taken a step in the right direction against Alabama, but they need to continue to improve against NC State. My biggest concern is that he’ll miss throws on early downs, resulting in obvious passing downs against a really good Wolfpack front. That would spell a long day for the ‘Noles on offense and would require another herculean effort from the defense.
BTP: Who is one player the NC State defense absolutely needs to contain if the Pack is to win Saturday?
DK: I think it’s Keith Gavin. The sophomore receiver looks like an NFL guy from a size and speed perspective, and I was glad to see him step up in his season debut against the Tide. He has the ability to make life easier for Blackman and as I mentioned, I think that’s the key to the game. If Gavin and the other wideouts, Tate and Murray, are consistently getting open against what will probably be softer or island coverage on early downs, and Blackman makes these throws, that’s bad news for the ‘Pack. If FSU is ahead of the chains, it opens up so many options and increases the effectiveness of the run game. What you don’t want to see as an NC State fan are second-and-shorts, Cam Akers and this offensive line coming downhill at you, and play action shots for Blackman in favorable situations. Gavin is FSU’s top receiver and he’ll be instrumental in making that FSU fan dream a reality on Saturday.
BTP: Besides the unfortunate injury to Francois, any major injuries to report?
DK: The one major benefit of not playing for two straight weeks is that it allows the team to get healthy, and any injury issues FSU had after Alabama have been alleviated, aside from the obvious one. There’s also the idea that the layoff served as kind of a second fall camp for this team with Blackman. Maybe? We can hope.
BTP: Let's get a prediction. What do you think happens Saturday in Tallahassee?
DK: I told our staff that you could tell me FSU wins by 21 or loses by 7 and I’d be equally unsurprised. For all the good things we hear about Blackman and as optimistic as we are about his supporting cast, we do not know what this team is until we see him at its helm. I can see NC State stonewalling FSU with its defensive front again and making the day a slog for the FSU offense, benefitting from turnovers and/or poor special teams play, and doing enough to pull the road upset. I can also see NC State’s defensive backs being unable to hang with FSU’s skill guys and Blackman having early success through the air, leading to a snowball effect where the Seminole ground game gets going against fewer men in the box and the ‘Noles cruise at home. Overall, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 26-17 FSU.
Thanks again to Dylan for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find my answers to his questions over on Tomahawk Nation.