A behind the scenes look at Willie Taggart’s first day as Florida State’s football coach
It didn’t take long for concerns about Florida State’s offense to spread past wondering whether Week 1 against Virginia Tech was only an aberration.
A scare from FCS Samford was an indictment on all sides of the ball, then a measly seven-point effort against Syracuse cemented it: The Seminoles offense is not what Willie Taggart advertised.
On Saturday, the toughest stretch of Florida State’s season arrives.
Four of the Seminoles’ next five opponents sit in this week’s Top 25, beginning with a road game against No. 17 Miami this weekend. A meeting with the Hurricanes defense is a tough time to break out of a rut, but Taggart at least knows what needs to change on offense. Florida State needs to get back to running the uptempo offense Taggart promised.
“What makes the offense go is the tempo and we haven’t been as consistent with it,” Taggart said Wednesday during the weekly ACC coaches teleconference. “A lot of it has to do with us, with penalties and things we do to ourselves, and then execution. So we just got to stay true to who we are and let our guys keep working out the kinks, and eventually it will roll and get going.”
At least in terms of raw numbers, Florida State’s offense has improved the past couple weeks. Last month, the Seminoles bounced back from their debacle against the Orange by hanging 38 points on Northern Illinois.
On Saturday, Florida State rattled off 14 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to secure a come-from-behind, 28-24 win against Louisville.
One good quarter is at least a sign of improvement for the Seminoles, although the Cardinals’ defense pales in comparison to Miami’s. Taggart knows full well there’s still a long way to go for his once-vaunted “Gulf Coast offense.”
The “Gulf Coast offense,” as Taggart coined his system during his final years at South Florida, is a spread system predicated on running the ball efficiently and asking the quarterback to primarily make high-percentage throws. In his final season at USF, Taggart had his offense running 72.8 plays per game. During his lone season with Oregon, Taggart had the offense at 73.7 plays per game. This year, with the easiest portion of the schedule behind him, Taggart only has his offense at 70.2 plays per game.
“The tempo hasn’t been what we want it to be, so we’ve got to make sure we get back to doing the things that we say we’re going to do and what we’re going to be,” Taggart said. “It’s not been where we wanted it to be, but we’re headed in that direction.”
The Seminoles’ final scoring drive Saturday was the most clear distillation of what Taggart’s offense can be. Down by four, Florida State took over with the ball at its own 19-yard line and 1:49 to go.
Deondre Francois started with a 19-yard completion, then a quick pass for 4 yards. On the fifth play of the drive, Taggart let the quarterback uncork for a 58-yard, game-winning touchdown. The Seminoles needed all of 36 seconds to score.
A sluggish first half ultimately meant Florida State only ran 58 plays. Taggart had another major positive to takeaway: Francois wasn’t sacked once.
The Seminoles’ biggest issues early in the season stemmed from their offensive-line play. Florida State had to dig way down the depth chart at both tackle spots, which has made the Seminoles more susceptible to tackles for a loss than nearly every team in the country.
Their 43 tackles for a loss allowed are second most in the nation behind only the Ducks. The obvious worry in Tallahassee is defensive end Joe Jackson and the rest of Miami’s front seven could feast.