I honestly don’t know where to begin with Monday night’s 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech.
It was as inept a performance by a Florida State offense in Doak Campbell Stadium since when? The 12-3 loss to Wake Forest in 2008? The 30-0 debacle against the Demon Deacons in 2006?
It wasn’t just that the Seminoles lost. It was what it looked like. How it felt to watch a Florida State offense take the field and have no hope that it was going to do anything productive.
That’s not a great start to an era.
Especially since that’s kind of how the last one ended. And we all thought this was going to be different.
Instead, we watched a Florida State team fail to score a touchdown at home for the first time in a decade. Yikes.
The only way Taggart’s tenure could have started worse is if Jimbo Fisher had parachuted down from his private plane, landed at midfield, in cowboy boots, and then grabbed a microphone and yelled, “Y’all miss me yet?”
Here’s the truth of the matter, though. It is just one game. That’s certainly not anywhere close to a sample-size worth freaking out over.
That aforementioned 12-3 loss to Wake Forest in 2008? That was a Jimbo Fisher offense. A second-year Jimbo Fisher offense, in fact.
The 2010 loss to Oklahoma, where it looked like Florida State hadn’t practiced defense at all in the preseason? Yeah, that was Fisher’s first real game as a head coach. I’m sure you wondered as you watched that debacle whether he was the right guy for the job.
Three years later you weren’t wondering anymore.
So I would caution you in making knee-jerk decisions about Taggart after 60 minutes of football. Against a Bud Foster defense. With that offensive line. Because Fisher and Rick Trickett didn’t do this staff any favors with that unit. That is quite obvious. There is a massive rebuild that has to take place up front, through no fault of Willie Taggart.
Still, though, I understand the concern.
Because what we saw on Monday night was concerning. Not career-defining. Not enough to make a judgement about this hire, of course.
Where were the in-game adjustments? If you know your offensive line can’t block it up like you want, do you still keep calling the same zone-read play on every first down in the third quarter?
You still continue to throw screens to your tight end, albeit a really talented one, and ask D.J. Matthews — one of the smallest guys on the team — to try to block for him?
Here’s another question. On third-and goal from the 10, down by 14 points in the fourth quarter, why not throw the ball into the end zone? Why get into an obvious running formation, with your tailback at quarterback, and then proceed to run the ball straight at the front-seven you’ve proven you can’t block?
Even if Cam Akers and Amir Rasul don’t fumble the exchange, that play wasn’t going anywhere. And that’s the best you can come up with during a timeout?
“It was a formation we’d been practicing,” Taggart said. “And we felt good about it. On that play we felt good. Again, we made a mistake. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. Cam was indecisive on whether to keep it or give it.”
In the second half, Florida State had one first down. One. It had 80 yards of total offense. And that included an 85-yard run! Let that math sit with you for a few minutes.
Again, that’s concerning. Because you want your offensive-minded coach to be able to make some adjustments and create some mismatches against an inexperienced defense. Instead, it was always second-and-15. Always.
And while we’re on the subject of not scoring points, why not challenge the Noonie Murray play in the first half? It seemed obvious on replay that he got in. I know you have first-and-goal at the 1, and the odds are you’re going to score a TD anyway. But in that instance, you’ve got to make sure your guy didn’t get in the end zone.
“Well, the ref was telling me they were reviewing it,” Taggart said, when asked about the decision. “He said they were reviewing it and they thought he was down.”
Every play in college football is reviewed. So, yes, technically, the guy upstairs was going to see a replay. And he should have buzzed down and stopped the game. But he didn’t. Partly because he was too slow. And partly because Taggart was too fast. FSU didn’t give him a chance, I guess, with that hurry-up offense that was in a hurry to false start.
So here we are. Florida State is 0-1 in the Willie Taggart Era.
I’m not going to lose my mind about it. As ugly as it was, it was 60 minutes. Fisher had some in the FSU fan base who thought he needed to be fired after the Wake Forest loss in 2011. And that was with 1,140 minutes of game action to judge him on.
Taggart was asked after the game if he understood how fans could be discouraged by what they had just seen.
“You’re asking if I understand that?” Taggart said, practically rolling his eyes. “Come on. Of course I understand that. When you lose, everybody’s upset. No one’s more upset than I am. I’m upset, too. And I’m upset that we didn’t get it done for our fan base and we didn’t get it done for each other.
“But we’re not going to sit around and blame anyone. We’ve got to get back to work and make it happen. And we will.”
While Monday night was certainly not a referendum on how good Taggart can be at Florida State, it sure seemed to lower the bar quite a bit for what we’re about to witness in 2018.
This isn’t a championship team. The offensive line has to be fixed. And that’s going to take years (and recruiting classes). Not weeks.
So the ceiling is only so high for 2018.
The real question is this: Was Monday night the floor?