SHREVEPORT, La. – Freshman James Blackman was throwing the touchdown passes. Another freshman, Cam Akers, was gaining big chunks of yards on the ground.
Florida State might still be a little melancholy after a season that started with national championship hopes ended on Wednesday with an Independence Bowl win. But the performances from young players like Blackman and Akers in the 42-13 victory over Southern Mississippi are a solid hint that the Seminoles could be a powerhouse again in a hurry.
Blackman threw for 233 yards and an Independence Bowl-record four touchdowns, including three to junior receiver Auden Tate. Akers led the Seminoles with 94 yards rushing and also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Blackman started the season’s final 12 games after sophomore starting quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. He’s had some ups and downs since the promotion, but saved the best for last against Southern Miss.
“It’s pretty impressive, he had to grow up really fast,” Florida State interim coach Odell Haggins said. “He had to take the diapers off and go to work.”
Florida State (7-6) ended the season on a four-game winning streak and avoided its first losing season since 1976. Now new coach Willie Taggart takes over and appears to have plenty of talent on the roster to work with going forward.
Southern Miss took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter after a 63-yard touchdown drive that was aided by two 15-yard Florida State penalties, one for unsportsmanlike conduct and the other for roughing the kicker.
But the Golden Eagles couldn’t keep the momentum, mainly because of their own mistakes, including four defensive offside penalties on Florida State’s opening drive.
“If you can get a little momentum going, you’ve got a chance to get this thing into the third quarter or the fourth quarter and we’ll see what happens,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “But give (Florida State) credit, they deserved to win. They made plays, but I thought we fought hard. Just a tough loss today.”
Blackman matched an Independence Bowl record with three touchdown passes in the first half to help Florida State take a 23-6 lead.
The Seminoles pushed the advantage to 33-6 late in the third quarter before Southern Miss finally responded with a touchdown. By then, the game was essentially out of reach.
Southern Miss (8-5) was led by Ito Smith, who ran for 92 yards. Kwadra Griggs completed 13 of 25 passes for just 86 yards and a touchdown.
Akers gets 1,000
Akers finished his freshman season with 1,024 yards rushing after running for 94 yards on just 13 carries against Southern Miss. The 5-foot-11, 213-pounder broke Dalvin Cook’s program record for the most yards rushing by a freshman in a season. Cook had 1,008 yards in 2014.
Florida State: The Seminoles earned a good ending to an otherwise dreary season. Florida State was simply more talented than Southern Miss at just about every position and it showed.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles were able to grab an early lead, but couldn’t keep the momentum. Southern Miss is a program that relishes its opportunities against Power Five opponents, but the talent gap was too much for the Golden Eagles to overcome on Wednesday.
Florida State: The Seminoles get a fresh start with Taggart. Florida State still has a talented roster and there’s ample reason to believe it could be a quick turnaround for the storied program.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles should be in pretty good shape next season, though they’ll have to replace star running back Ito Smith and the entire starting secondary.
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