Let’s just get something out of the way real quick. The point of this incoherent rambling isn’t to excuse what Florida State fans have witnessed thus far in 2018. Regardless of anything written over the next couple of paragraphs the play of the Noles this season has been unacceptable. One more thing to get out of the way: I don’t know if Willie Taggart is the right or wrong guy for Florida State, but here’s the thing, neither do you. Not yet. After an offseason that was sunshine and roses, particularly after the dark and embittered last couple of years, there was a lot to be excited about as a Florida State fan. Here was a guy that lived our history as a fan, had a deep respect and admiration of the players and coaches that came before him, and a respect for the traditions that built one of the top football programs of the last four decades. He brought in an exciting fast paced offense that was the antithesis of the slow, prodding, and painful product that Florida State has trotted out post-Jamies. The Noles had their highest GPA since 2000 in the spring and players were actually having fun playing the game again.
Willie Taggart is not stupid. He stated more than once that it’s great to give him a standing ovation at booster events, but why don’t we as fans hold off until he actually starts winning ball games. Oh, how correct he was as through three games with two losses and inept offensive performances to boot it is easy to see both in the stadium and the social media world that those standing ovations have become jeers. There’s a growing referendum that Florida State got this hire wrong and that Taggart is “in over his head”. Many are looking to close the book and give an ‘F’, but I’d argue that while the progress report isn’t good, the final grade can be nothing but an incomplete and to be determined at this point.
Four or five years ago, things were bad for Rick Trickett and the offensive line recruiting. So bad, that The Territory dedicated an entire page of the board to tracking targets, offers, and commitments. We hoped for improvement and there seemed to be an uptick, albeit small. There was even a class a few years ago that was deemed to be a success. The 2016 class consisted of 4 stars Landon Dickerson, Baveon Johnson, Jauan Williams, and Josh Ball, as well as 3 star recruits Mike Arnold and Andrew Boselli. That group should be the nucleus of the FSU offensive line right now as RS Sophomores and Juniors. As it is, Landon Dickerson would be the best lineman on the field for Florida State (at guard), but was forced to play out of position and is out with injury now. Johnson, Williams, and Arnold just haven’t panned out at this point and Boselli left the program. As for Ball, he’s the biggest missing piece at this point as the promising tackle and returning starter was dismissed, rightly I might add, this offseason. What the Florida State offense is putting out there is simply atrocious and I don’t think that’s overstating it. The staggering ineptitude of the offensive line makes it very difficult to determine if Taggart’s offense is going to be successful as I don’t believe we’re even seeing what he wants to do right now.
A common complaint permeating the message boards and twittersphere is the lack of north and south offense. I totally agree and, I would bet, that Willie Taggart agrees too. While there is plenty of quick screens, jet sweeps, and outside zones incorporated, the basis of his “Gulf Coast Offense” is still running north and south. In describing the change he made back at South Florida Taggart explained, “Everyone says, ‘Coach I applaud you for totally switching; most coaches don’t do that. I didn’t totally switch. I’m still running the football. Still running the power. Still running the isos (isolations). Still doing some of those things. We’re just doing it from a different formation and how we go about getting into it. The operation for what we’re doing is a little different with the tempo part of it, but the foundation from what I believe in and what I was brought up on is running the football. And we’re still doing those things.” Unfortunately, the lack of push by the line in between the tackles have left him virtually no option but to try to consistently get to the outside. The lack of pass protection has also made the intermediate and deep passing game very difficult, leading to more quick screens, hitches, and slants. While there has been limited success with those plays, it’s hard to run an offense consistently when the offense is predictable.
Through the first two games there have been plays available, which bring up another issue that the offense is having: Deondre Francois is not a great quarterback for this offense. Francois is a good college quarterback. He’s not elite, he’s not even great, but he is good. He showed that in 2016 running Jimbo Fisher’s pro style offense. Running an offense that currently relies heavily on the ability of the quarterback to make correct reads after the snap on zone reads and run-pass options is not Francois’ strong point. When those reads are incorrect it simply exacerbates the problems on the offensive line. Part of the reason it was discussed that Francois was the choice at quarterback was his ability as.a runner and, admittedly, he does a good job in the open field with the ball in his hands. However, if he is reluctant to keep the ball or is consistently misreading his triggers to keep, than that advantage that he has is moot. It also forces this offense to operate with an arm tied around its back.
In the short term, unfortunately Nole fans, these aren’t issues that are going to be fixed. There’s no lineman that will magically appear on the roster in 2018 and Francois, while reps may help his comfortability in the offense, may just not be naturally cut out for this offense (at least the version of the offense that has no offensive line). That’s going to make it very hard to grade Willie Taggart and the job that he does in Year 1. It’s going to require patience from Florida State fans. That’s something that we aren’t used to needing in Tallahassee. It’s going to be difficult and it may cause the loss of some very impressive streaks that are near and dear to Noles. Here’s the real frustrating part – your patience may or may not be rewarded. Personally, I think long term that Taggart is going to have success at Florida State. It’s going to be a harder road that previously thought and it may be uglier initially than predicted, but only time will tell. Three games won’t tell us. One season won’t tell us.