SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It wouldn’t have mattered which quarterback starter for Florida State against No. 3 Notre Dame Saturday night.
The Irish dominated FSU in every facet of the game and ran away to a 42-13 victory over the Seminoles in front of 76,622 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Deondre Francois completed 23 of the 47 passes he threw for 216 yards and an interception against the Irish, but there’s not much that he, or James Blackman, could have done that would have changed the outcome of that game.
But FSU coach Willie Taggart’s decision to start Francois instead of Blackman was a step in the wrong direction.
Why Taggart has hitched his wagon to Francois this season has never made much sense to me.
He’s either incapable of running Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense or unwilling, and neither of those are good options for a starting quarterback.
Francois has struggled to make pre-snap reads this season and his decision making has cost the Seminoles quite a few times as he’s handed the ball off to running backs with defenders in their face time and time again.
Those issues came calling once again, particularly in the red zone when Francois had an opportunity for a walk-in touchdown. Instead, he handed off the ball to running back Jacques Patrick, who was hit in the backfield.
Taggart has stuck with Francois despite all those issues and kept Blackman on the bench for most of the season.
Blackman finally got a chance to start in last Saturday’s loss to N.C. State due to a concussion Francois suffered against Clemson, and he threw for 421 yards with four touchdowns and an interception on what Bell called a great defensive playcall and the right decision for Blackman during his meeting with the media this week.
Blackman’s performance apparently wasn’t enough to get Taggart to consider starting him over a healthy Francois.
“He was healthy,” Taggart said.
“He was ready to go. He didn’t play the week before because he wasn’t healthy and we had to go through the week to see if he could practice. He didn’t practice the week before. We needed to see how he practiced, how he performed and executed and run the offense. He did a good job with it. So we felt it was right to put him in there.”
It’s obvious that Taggart is still hoping to redshirt Blackman since he’s already played in four games, which is the maximum a player can play before burning the redshirt.
He hasn’t come out and said that, but it’s his lack of answers when asked about Blackman’s redshirt that are telling.
The problem is that he likely doesn’t have that luxury of making that choice.
He may have to play him over the next two games against No. 14 Boston College and No. 21 Florida with no other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Is Taggart going to put walk-on Nolan McDonald in for a snap over Blackman if Francois has to leave the game with FSU still trying to find two wins to get to a bowl game? Doubtful.
He didn’t do it earlier in the season when FSU needed a snap against Miami.
This isn’t to say that I believe Blackman is significantly better than Francois.
I think the advantages and disadvantages that both players bring to the table as far as running the offense and overall quarterback ability are about equal.
Where I think the biggest difference lies is the intangibles.
Blackman is loved by his teammates and they clearly want to play for him. He’s been a great teammate despite losing the starting job this season and the players respect him for that.
Francois is respected by the players, but there’s a different attitude around the team when Blackman is mentioned.
You didn’t have to look any farther than in warm-ups when the team was getting together to realize this. It was Blackman leading the team in the middle of the huddle bouncing around and firing his teammates up.
It was Francois on the fringe walking slowly to and around the huddle.
With a team like FSU, which has had an issue with players quitting and a culture of quitting permeating the program, going with the quarterback that makes his teammates want to play harder only makes sense.
FSU’s players played hard to the final whistle in the loss to N.C. State with Blackman at quarterback, but that wasn’t the case in the loss to Clemson when Taggart called out his players for quitting.
Taggart and Bell have both stated that Blackman is the type of player that they want the other FSU players to emulate, but apparently there’s no reward for that type of behavior.
For a coach that is attempting to fix the broken culture at FSU, starting the player that doesn’t embody the culture you’re trying to bring over the player that does sends the wrong message.
FSU needs to find a way to win both of the next two games against BC and UF otherwise the 36-year bowl streak is over, and no one in that locker room wants to be on the team that ends the longest bowl streak in college football.
The Seminoles have too many issues to think the quarterback position is going to magically change the season, but Taggart had a chance to set them up for the future.
I believe he failed to do that with this decision.