Maybe we’re asking the wrong question about Florida State’s quarterback.
Instead of who should be the starter, perhaps it should be this: How much should the quarterback throw?
James Blackman dropped back a season-high 43 times in FSU’s 22-20 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday night. Is the formula for an FSU win to have Blackman, or Alex Hornibrook, pass this many times?
An argument can be made that it shouldn’t. FSU (3-4, 2-3 ACC) has one of the ACC’s top backs in Cam Akers, who has 773 rushing yards in seven games and is averaging 5 yards per carry. His rushing total is 11th among FBS backs and third in the ACC, behind No. 2 A.J. Dillon of Boston College and No. 10 Travis Etienne of Clemson.
Even with a shaky offensive line, and the injuries that have further limited the group, Akers has re-established his desire to fight for yards, fall forward and also grab some passes in the open field after a difficult, injury-plagued 2018. He is without question FSU’s top offensive weapon.
Akers had 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown as well as four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown this fall. It’s fair to wonder if he can shoulder more of the offense. But coupled with Khalan Laborn, a balance between the two can be achieved – mix in a little more of Laborn here and there to rest Akers and emphasize the ground game more as part of FSU’s game plan.
Laborn has just 30 carries on the season, although nearly half (13) have come against Clemson and Wake the last two weeks. He has 165 rushing yards, averages 5.5 yards per carry and is an elusive runner (or receiver) in space.
FSU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles loves to run, this much was confirmed by his play-calling at Baylor, FAU and Houston. Through seven games at FSU, Briles has called 263 pass plays and 249 run plays. That’s relatively balanced.
But it’s worth questioning if the Seminoles aren’t better off if they mix in more of Laborn in an effort not to wear out Akers and in the end keep FSU’s emphasis on the run and not have the quarterback shoulder too much of the offense’s burden.
Blackman dropped back a career-high 46 times in the loss at NC State in 2018. That was a 400-yard, four-touchdown game but it was also done by necessity as the Seminoles were playing from behind and could never catch up in a 47-28 loss.
The only other time in Blackman’s career that he has hit 40 pass attempts was against ULM earlier this year, a game in which FSU won in overtime. Hornibrook also dropped back 40 times, completing 29, in a win over NC State in September. Prior to arriving at FSU, Hornibrook passed 40 times in the Big Ten title game loss to Ohio State in 2017, 34 times in a bowl win over Miami and then 33 times in a loss to Minnesota.
This raises an important question: Is there an ideal number of passes that puts Blackman or Hornibrook in a position to succeed? And then this one: Should the game plan be modified to adapt to the strengths of the offensive personnel, using the Akers-Laborn combination more?
As FSU coaches look to make a push in the final five regular-season games of 2019, beginning with Syracuse on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., the run should be a more significant piece of the game plan. The Orange rank 59th (143 yards per game) in rush defense.
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