Scouting Florida State

Jacey Zembal, Editor
The Wolfpacker
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Five Florida State Players To Watch

Redshirt sophomore free safety Derwin James — Few players in the ACC this side of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson entered this season with more hype. James had a terrific freshman year with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, but he then suffered a season-ending left knee injury two games into his sophomore campaign. The 6-3, 215-pounder had six tackles and half a sack against Alabama in the season opener. Both ESPN and Sports Illustrated named him the top player in the country going into the season.

Junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden — The cover corner had eight interceptions during his breakout sophomore year, to go along with 20 tackles and six passes broken up. McFadden won the Jack Tatum Award and was named a first-team All-American by both FWAA and Phil Steele, along with being first-team All-ACC by the coaches and media. He had an interception against the Wolfpack last year. The 6-2, 205-pounder had a career-high five tackles against Alabama. He was named preseason first-team All-ACC and was tabbed as a preseason All-American by the Associated Press.

Senior nose guard Derrick Nnadi — The 6-1, 310-pounder anchors the defensive line and had six tackles in the opener. He had 59 tackles, 10.5 tackle for loss, six sacks and one forced fumble and earned first-team All-ACC by the coaches as a junior. Nnadi had a season-high eight tackles against NC State last year.

Junior defensive end Josh Sweat — The former Rivals.com five-star recruit was ranked No. 1 at one point, but he suffered a knee injury that wiped out his senior year and fell to No. 34 in the class of 2015. The 6-5, 253-pounder had 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. He had five tackles and a sack against Alabama.

Junior wide receiver Auden Tate — The 6-5, 225-pounder is an imposing wide receiver that oozes big-play potential, but he has yet to put it all together. He caught two passes for 41 yards and a touchdown against Alabama. Tate flashed his potential last year when he had 25 receptions for 409 yards and six touchdowns.

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Three Keys To The Game

Challenge FSU’s rookie quarterback: Florida State freshman quarterback James Blackman was preparing for an eventual 38-28 win for Belle Glades (Fla.) Glades Central over Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central High at this time last year.

Blackman has been tasked with trying to replace redshirt sophomore starting quarterback Deondre Francois, who suffered a season-ending patella tendon injury with 5:29 left in the game against Alabama Sept. 2. The accomplished Francois threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, and won’t be easy to replace.

FSU ended up thin at quarterback because 2015 signee De’Andre Johnson was kicked off the team for hitting a woman at a bar, and subsequently ended up at junior college and is now attending Florida Atlantic. He recently had surgery for blood clots in his arm and his long-term playing future is in doubt.

Class of 2016 quarterback signee Malik Henry arrived with a lot of fanfare from Long Beach, Calif. Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country and No. 34 overall. He ended up being a one-and-done for the wrong reasons and transferred to Independence (Kan.) Community College. Both Johnson and Henry were in the last two editions of “Last Chance U” at their respective junior colleges.

The washouts of Johnson and Henry led to Blackman becoming second-string quarterback going into this season for Florida State.

Rivals.com ranked the 6-5, 169-pound Blackman as the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback and No. 220 overall prospect nationally in the class of 2017. He picked the Seminoles over Louisville and West Virginia, and both Florida and South Florida made late runs at him leading up to National Signing Day.

Blackman operated out of the shotgun and played with four receivers with Glades Central. The pass rush and potential blitzes from the Wolfpack could make a young quarterback’s head spin a bit, though it does seem easier for true freshman signal-callers to adjust to college football than in years past.

Special teams: Florida State’s special teams weren’t ready for the big moment in its lone game against Alabama Sept. 2.

Alabama’s Rashaan Evans blocked sophomore kicker Ricky Aguayo’s 37-yard field goal attempt, which would have tied the game 10-10 with before halftime.

Damien Harris busted free for the Crimson Tide to block a punt that was recovered at the Seminoles’ 6-yard line. The defense came through but Alabama got an easy three points to extend its lead to 13-7.

The blocked punt was followed by sophomore Keith Gavin botching a kick return and Alabama recovering it at the FSU 11-yard line. The aforementioned Harris sprinted in for a 11-yard touchdown run and Alabama converted on the two-point conversion to take a commanding 21-7 lead late in the third quarter.

Punter Logan Tyler was also less than ideal, averaging 31.5 yards on six punts with two inside the 20-yard line.

NC State has had its own issues on special teams — namely field goal kicking and kick return coverage — but if FSU leaves some points on the field, the Wolfpack will need to take advantage.

Finish: NC State has talked about that mantra for nearly the last year, and part of that is what happened last year against Florida State.

NC State senior H-back Jaylen Samuels ran 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 20-10 lead with 3:05 left in the third quarter in Raleigh. NCSU could smell a victory, but then couldn’t come up with the key play to put the game away.

Current Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had a 10-yard touchdown run to end the third quarter to cut the lead to 20-17. The Wolfpack offense mustered 48 yards on 14 plays over the next two series, opening the door for the Seminoles.

Francois needed just three passes to cover 83 yards, capped with a 19-yard toss to former wide receiver Travis Rudolph. However, the pass right before the score was a huge opportunity for the Wolfpack. Then junior strong safety Shawn Boone dropped an interception in the end zone that would have thwarted the series with 3:16 remaining. Instead. FSU led 24-20 seven seconds later. NC State marched down to the FSU 24-yard line, but eventually turned it over on downs.

NC State had a handful of “ifs” plays last year and Boone’s near pick was near the top of the list. The Wolfpack feel as if it has unfinished business from last year’s loss to the Seminoles.

Three Questions With Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher

Your offensive line obviously had a great challenge against Alabama and another one against NC State. How do you feel like they played in that first game?

“I thought we played a very solid game offensively on the offensive line. I thought we ran the ball when we did run it, and I thought the pass protection for the most part was really good. We gave him [quarterback Deondre Francois] time to make plays and make throws and I think the experience really helps.

“I'm looking forward to them playing well. Any team on offense, when the offensive line plays well, it’s a much easier game to execute and let your skill guys do the things they do.

“So, hopefully they are going to continue to play well, but again, they have a huge challenge in front of them.”

What can the running game with Jacques Patrick do to help James Blackman in his first start?

“Well, I mean, one, it’s a calming effect to have somebody out there that’s been through this. Hopefully our running game, we’re blocking well. We can run him and get him in great down and distances and stay ahead in the clock — I mean, the chains, as far as being able to be positive and not put yourself in long yardage situations.

“And the experience he has in pass pickups, all the different things as far as his experience in running and playing in games. I mean, just overall experience in general really help him.”

You talked about the 21-day layoff and not really having the frame of mind. Have you treated this like a bowl game or another experience?

“Well, we didn’t know we had 21 days. So we couldn’t do that. We didn’t know we had 21 days until up until the end of it. It wasn’t a thing like you knew this was a planned out deal. We had to prepare.

“We were all the way up till Thursday night before we were going to play ULM. We had game planned and practiced, and then we realized — we didn’t know until the beginning of the next week we weren’t going to play Miami. So we had three or four practices there and did some things and had to get ready for a game.

“It’s not like a bowl game. It’s nowhere close because of you know what’s going ahead of you. You’ve been through a whole season where your team is at, what it does well, what it doesn’t do well. At the beginning of the season and not knowing you are having a 21-day layoff, it’s totally different.”

Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren

With FSU playing only one game, do you rely on game film from previous matchups?

“We always go back and look at how they played us. It’s the same coordinators, both sides of the ball, for a number of years. You can see how they game planned us in the past, how we game planned them, things we think we should have done differently, things that work, didn’t work. You do go back and look at film of teams that are similar in your approach, see if there are things you can gain from that.

“I think the two sides of the ball are a little different. Defensively, there’s nine returning starters. You can go back and look at a lot of film on their defense. Offensively, obviously the running back load with Dalvin Cook last year, so you don’t truly know the style of these two guys. There’s not a ton of film.

“In the pass game, the receivers only have one game of film. The quarterback has none. There will be some adjusting. You just have to kind of go off of what Jimbo has done in the past, and if it gets different, make good adjustments on the sideline.”

Ryan Finley has 192 straight passes without an interception, which is the longest streak in the country. What goes into a streak like that?

“A lot of it is the timing and the accuracy and the judgment, just not making dumb choices. A lot of interceptions, you see guys are trying to force a ball, be Superman. He understands if it’s not good, he can get us out of a play with a throwaway or a scramble on the next play, maybe a touchdown. I think he’s very mature that way. Some of it’s luck. You’ll see plays on TV where a quarterback throws a great ball, receiver drops it, bounces up and it's a pick. That happens.

“Our guys have done a nice job, knock on wood, of catching the football for him. The offensive lineman keeping the defensive lineman’s hands down, so there’s nothing on the line of scrimmage that way. We have to continue to work on it. It’s just a matter of time that we do have one. So far, so good. I know he’ll do everything he can to continue to be that way.”

Heard you alluded to watching high school film of James Blackman. How far did you have to dig down to get film?

“It’s easy to watch film on high school kids these days. You can just go to HUDL, pull up as much as you want. We’ve been able to see a lot of his high school film.

“You can see why they wanted him there. He’s coming from a nostalgic program. Tough kids, play hard, play against good competition every day. He’s got height. He can get it out quick. He’s got a good release. He’s got great arm strength.

“There’s not a ton of plays of him as a runner. You don’t know how much of that will be a factor in the game. You got to kind of assume you’re going to have the same QB run plays they did with Francois. As a high school player, that wasn’t a big part of what he did. He was more of a passer. We’ll have to see and adjust as we go.”

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