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Florida State Seminoles

FSU names James Blackman to start opener

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
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On Sunday night, FSU made it official: redshirt sophomore James Blackman has won the QB competition and will start the Noles opener Saturday against Boise State in Jacksonville.

Florida State released the info online and social media:

Blackman was pressed into duty as a true freshman in 2017, when starter Deondre Francois was injured and lost for the season in the opener with Alabama.

He finished the season with a 59% completion percentage with 2,230 yards, 19 TDs and 11 INTs as FSU limped to a 6-6 regular season. He threw four TDs in the Noles Independence Bowl win over Southern Miss.

Francois returned from the injury and new coach Willie Taggart, once again made him the starter in 2018 as FSU floundered to their worst season in over 40 years.

Blackman stayed on as a backup posting 510 yards on 51 attempts. He also had five touchdowns to just one interception. This included a 400 yard passing performance late in the year at N.C. State. Blackman barely qualified for a redshirt on snaps/games played ratio. So, he has three years of eligibility left.

Francois contemplated transferring or even maybe, turning pro, but was dismissed from the program for another domestic violence charge with his girlfriend in January.

Blackman was going to leave the program himself, reportedly putting his name in the transfer portal after Francois announced he intended to return for his final season. However, Blackman knew that with Francois gone, he would have great chance to regain the starting role he held in 2017.

Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State and has been competing with Blackman in fall practice.

He had a very good 2017 season that included him completing 64% of his passes and throwing 25 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions, as Wisconsin ended up winning the Orange Bowl against Miami. In that “New Year’s Six” bowl game, Hornibrook threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns, as the Badgers dominated the Canes.

Unfortunately, his 2018 season was derailed midway through by a concussion and back problems. Hornibrook only played nine games a year ago, threw for 1100 less yards and had just 13 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

Hornibrook had been a three-year starter in Madison for the Badgers with a 26-6 career record.

However, obviously Taggart and first year offensive coordinator Kendal Briles like what they’ve seen from Blackman, and he, for now, has the job in Tallahassee.

Florida State Seminoles

Leavitt’s FSU consultant contract details released

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced last week that Jim Leavitt has joined Florida State’s staff as a defensive analyst. This huge addition to the staff comes at a crucial time for head coach Willie Taggart, whose team had allowed 80 points and more than 1,000 yards combined in their first two games of the season.

Details of Leavitt’s new year-long contract with the Noles were released Wednesday.

Also noteworthy, Leavitt is still getting paid from his contract buyout with Oregon. When he was released earlier this year, Oregon’s athletic staff announced that the agreement has a maximum amount of $2.5 million, payable over multiple years and subject to reduction based on future employment.

FSU’s defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett spoke to the media Wednesday morning, and expressed that he’s completely on board with the new addition to the defensive staff.

“I didn’t know him really well before. Played against him. I was at the University of Cincinnati when he was the head coach at South Florida,” Barnett said of Leavitt. “I like him a lot. He brings knowledge, some great knowledge, his background and knowing different things. I like him. I do. I really do. He’s going to help us out.”

Hopefully for the seminoles, some of the effects of Leavitt’s defensive guidance will begin to be seen this week. While the defense has shown slight improvement from week 1 to week 3, they haven’t been able to finish a game strong, and has resulted in two come from behind victories for FSU’s opponents.

Leavitt is a proven defensive force who rose to prominence in college coaching, as the original architect and head coach of USF program in the late 1990s. The Bulls made NCAA FBS history becoming the first school ever to move to FBS after fewer than four seasons of existence.

Leavitt was fired in January of 2010 after controversy at USF over him allegedly striking a player at halftime of a game that 2009 season. The school, led by athletic director Doug Woolard, attempted to claim that the firing was for cause, and that Leavitt had attempted to cover up the incident and change witness and the accuser’s stories. The school then tried to not pay him any of his remaining salary.

Leavitt sued the school, and the two sides eventually reached a settlement a year later, where he was paid a reported $2.75 million dollars from his remaining contract.

From the Bulls, Leavitt coached in the NFL as a linebackers coach with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. And then, he later coached a season at Colorado, as their defensive coordinator. Next, he came to Oregon to join Taggart, when he took that job two years ago.

The connection of Taggart and Leavitt is an interesting one that goes back to Taggart’s playing days at Bradenton Manatee High School, when Leavitt recruited him.

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Florida State Seminoles

Taggart doesn’t believe defense being affected by quick offense

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

If it’s not already been said 100 times, things are not looking good for Willie Taggart in Tallahassee. The second year head coach for the Noles is once again having to explain himself after another second half loss, this week to ACC opponent UVA.

Florida State looked sharp early for the third straight game took a lead in the intermission at Charlottesville at 14 – 10. And, their much criticized defense, which brought on former USF coach and Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt as a consultant this week, played well enough to get them into the fourth quarter with a 17 – 10 margin.

However, just like against Boise State and ULM, they allowed Virginia to put together three lengthy TD drives late in the game. The second one capped an 11 play, 75-yard march with RB Wayne Taulapapa powering in from a yard out, the Cavaliers missed the extra point.

Still, Virginia got the ball back in short order and once again, marched on Florida State’s defense in just over two minutes of clock time. And, Taulapapa scored again, from a yard out. QB Bryce Perkins scored on the two-point conversion for a seven-point (31-24) lead.

This was the third game in a row Florida State has given up a lead after halftime because the defense has given up one too many scores late in the game.

A lot of it can be pointed to the huge imbalance in time of possession for FSU and its opponents. FSU’s defense was on the field for 39:44 against UVA, while the Noles offense didn’t have a single drive longer than 2:45 seconds.

Simply put: the defense is on the field way too long for them to be able to sustain pressure for the entire game, and the offense needs to have more time in control of the ball while they’re in the lead.

Taggart was asked at Monday’s press conference about how the repeated time of possession imbalance impacts the effectiveness of his defense late in the game. He said he didn’t think it was a problem until this week.

“Well, I thought in this game, the fourth quarter, they were tired. I don’t think that was the case in the first two ballgames. I think each one of these ballgames in the fourth quarter, they have been different situations, so I can’t sit here and say our guys have been tired in the fourth quarter for the first three ballgames, and that’s why we’re playing the way we are.”

He added,

“I thought this game, they did. They got tired. Again, we could have stayed on the field a little more offensively. It would have helped them. But I do think we need more than 20 minutes of time of possession as an offense. I don’t think whether we’re scoring a lot… we still need more than 20 minutes time of possession, so we can be better from that standpoint but I don’t necessarily think that’s a big factor overall. I didn’t think that was the case on Saturday.”

If Taggart doesn’t see this as a huge problem, he’s going to quickly have to figure out what is. With the way FSU runs its offense, they are going to need to find some more depth in their defense or this is going to be the case all season long even when the seminole are sustaining drives.

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