Willie Taggart Era at FSU Starts With Labor Day Loss to Virginia Tech

Written by Erik Slaby

Tallahassee, FL – On a night that was hyped up all offseason by Florida State fans and media alike with the new hire of Willie Taggart as the head coach, started with a ton of energy and excitement but ended with a whimper. The Florida State Seminoles were defeated soundly by the Virginia Tech Hokies, 24-3. This was the first time since 2008 against Wake Forest that the Seminoles failed to score a touchdown in their home opener. Taggart spoke after the game about the loss.

“Tough loss. Not what any of us expected,” said Taggart. “Practice went really well and that we would come out and play well. We didn’t play a good game at all. It was very sloppy. It’s hard to win a football game with five turnovers, and it’s hard to win when you’re in the red zone four times and can’t get any points out of it. So I look at a game against a good football team, we’ve got to play much better. We played a sloppy game and that’s on all of us, starting with me. Got to do a better job.”

From the start, it appeared the Seminoles were not yet comfortable with the new defensive or offensive schemes. On Virginia Tech’s first offensive series, they systematically drove the ball 75-yards, in 10 plays for a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson to wide receiver Damon Hazelton. Florida State had no answers defensively for the short passes by Jackson or the rushing attack on that drive. On the next offensive series, the Seminoles were able to tighten up in the red zone, forcing Virginia Tech kicker Brian Johnson to drill a 29-yard field goal. Florida State defensive end Brian Burns spoke after the game about what happened on that first drive.

“Basically, first drive jitters and not knowing really what to expect,” said Burns. “They were running a quick game perimeter with a lot of bubbles (screens) and a lot of quick passes, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t much to address.”

In between those two Virginia Tech scoring drives, Florida State’s new-look offense could’ve not had a worse debut. After a two-yard gain on first down and a loss of three on second down and converting a third-and-long on a 24-yard pass from Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois to wide receiver Keith Gavin, that’s when disaster struck. Wide receiver Nyqwan Murray caught a shovel pass for a loss of eight yards and fumbled the ball away in Virginia Tech territory, halting a promising drive and allowing Virginia Tech to increase their lead to 10.

That drive would set the tone for the rest of the game for the Florida State offense. Everything that plagued the Seminoles offense on that drive, subpar offensive line play, penalties, an inability to generate positive yardage on first down and second down, along with just overall sloppiness plagued the Seminoles for the entire game. The inability to create those positive yardage plays were particularly challenging for the Seminoles, going up against a young Virginia Tech defense replacing several starters. Of the 63 plays the Seminoles ran on offense, 35 of them went for zero yards or less. That’s roughly 55% of the time, which is the highest percentage of negative plays the Seminoles have had since 2006 against Florida. Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente spoke about the performance by the defense after the game.

“It’s starts up front on the defensive line, that’s where we really have some returning players,” said Fuente. “Finding ways to outnumber them in the box and handle with the extra hat while still holding up in the pass game. They do so much stuff on the perimeter that can scare you with their athletes. I felt like early in the game we made a play out on the perimeter and blew up and early screen and I felt like that gave us some confidence to handle that while still trying to play in the box.”

Turnovers were also a major issue for the Seminoles as they had five. One of the turnovers came off of a blocked punt deep in their own territory and Virginia Tech returned the ball for a touchdown. The silver lining for Florida State in this loss though was that their defense responded well after the first drive. In fact, of those five turnovers, Virginia Tech was only able to create 10 points off of them.

Offensively, the Seminoles were led by Francois who completed 22 of 35 passes for 233 yards but threw three interceptions. Running back Cam Akers led the team in rushing with 82 yards on 14 carries but this stat line is misleading as all of his production came off of an 85-yard run in the third quarter. The Virginia Tech defense gave Akers fits all night as he was almost constantly dropped for a loss in the backfield. The Florida State running game as a whole struggled as the team only rushed 94 yards.

All offseason, the Seminoles were mentioned as a team on the rise after a less than stellar 2017 season. They came into this game with high expectations and fell way short of them with Burns saying, “It’s embarrassing to have such high expectations for a season opener and not live up to them.”

The Seminoles will look to rebound and right the ship against the Samford Bulldogs on September 8th at 7:20PM EST at Doak Campbell Stadium.

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