Saturday night, FSU head coach Willie Taggart came into his postgame news conference with almost a stunned demeanor. Even though his team somehow found a way to survive 45 – 44 in overtime against Louisiana-Monroe, Taggart, the media and Noles fans everywhere knew they had just witnessed a Houdini-like escape. An escape enabled, because the opposing head coach didn’t go for the win in overtime.
First, for the second straight Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium FSU raced out to a huge halftime lead, only to squander it and clearly wear down in the fourth quarter allowing their opponent to catch them.
Last week it was Boise State led by true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier which rallied from a 31 – 13 deficit to claim the upset win over Florida State.
Saturday night it was the ULM Warhawks out of a Sun Belt Conference, who did the same. On the first Saturday in September, it was a 17-point fourth-quarter by the visitors that forced overtime and the dramatic “second-guessers delight” final chapter of the game .
First, a tip of the cap has to go to Seminoles sophomore running back, Cam Akers, who ran incredibly hard for 193 yards and two scores and also caught the go-ahead short pass and run touchdown that put FSU up 38 – 35 with under six minutes to play in the game.
However, ULM remained composed behind veteran dual-threat quarterback Caleb Evans. He had already led three second-half touchdown drives and he got them into game-tying field goal range. When Jacob Meeks booted through a 24 yarder with 1:30 left, we were headed to OT.
And when ULM won the toss, they rightfully put Florida State on offense first to see what the Noles would or wouldn’t do? Predictably, Akers put them back on top with his third and final touchdown of the game and Ricky Aguayo booted in the extra point for a 45 – 38 lead.
And, that’s where the fourth year ULM coach, Matt Viator (above), decided to play it safe. With Florida State’s defense clearly spent, again, just like last week against Boise State, the Warhawks easily got in the end zone themselves in just three plays capped by Evans fourth total touchdown of the evening, a 5-yard run.
But, even though they were a 23 Point underdog who had trailed 24 – 7 at the half, Viator chose to play it safe and attempt to retie the game.
That’s when, left-footed Meeks pull-hooked the PAT wide right, and the plug was pulled on a valiant attempted upset.
Look, there’s no guarantee that the Warhawks would have scored the two pointer for the win.
But, seriously, with how easily beaten FSU’s defense has been after halftime the last two weeks, would anyone have questioned going for victory? That’s especially if you let Evans use his wheels to get on the perimeter, again, just like he had done successfully repeatedly, including the TD?
In the end, Viator and ULM are only left with a “gut punch” of a missed short kick that cost them any shot at victory. And wondering, if they wouldn’t have been celebrating a stunning comeback instead of a deflating shanked extra point had they just been confident enough to try it.
Leavitt’s FSU consultant contract details released
It was announced last week that Jim Leavitt has joined Florida State’s staff as a defensive analyst. This huge addition to the staff comes at a crucial time for head coach Willie Taggart, whose team had allowed 80 points and more than 1,000 yards combined in their first two games of the season.
#FSU defensive analyst Jim Leavitt's is working for a salary of $80,000. His contract runs through Aug. 7, 2020. That would allow him to become a full-time assistant ahead of the 2020 season if both parties have mutual interest at that point.
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 18, 2019
Also noteworthy, Leavitt is still getting paid from his contract buyout with Oregon. When he was released earlier this year, Oregon’s athletic staff announced that the agreement has a maximum amount of $2.5 million, payable over multiple years and subject to reduction based on future employment.
FSU’s defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett spoke to the media Wednesday morning, and expressed that he’s completely on board with the new addition to the defensive staff.
“I didn’t know him really well before. Played against him. I was at the University of Cincinnati when he was the head coach at South Florida,” Barnett said of Leavitt. “I like him a lot. He brings knowledge, some great knowledge, his background and knowing different things. I like him. I do. I really do. He’s going to help us out.”
Hopefully for the seminoles, some of the effects of Leavitt’s defensive guidance will begin to be seen this week. While the defense has shown slight improvement from week 1 to week 3, they haven’t been able to finish a game strong, and has resulted in two come from behind victories for FSU’s opponents.
Leavitt is a proven defensive force who rose to prominence in college coaching, as the original architect and head coach of USF program in the late 1990s. The Bulls made NCAA FBS history becoming the first school ever to move to FBS after fewer than four seasons of existence.
Leavitt was fired in January of 2010 after controversy at USF over him allegedly striking a player at halftime of a game that 2009 season. The school, led by athletic director Doug Woolard, attempted to claim that the firing was for cause, and that Leavitt had attempted to cover up the incident and change witness and the accuser’s stories. The school then tried to not pay him any of his remaining salary.
From the Bulls, Leavitt coached in the NFL as a linebackers coach with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. And then, he later coached a season at Colorado, as their defensive coordinator. Next, he came to Oregon to join Taggart, when he took that job two years ago.
The connection of Taggart and Leavitt is an interesting one that goes back to Taggart’s playing days at Bradenton Manatee High School, when Leavitt recruited him.
Taggart doesn’t believe defense being affected by quick offense
If it’s not already been said 100 times, things are not looking good for Willie Taggart in Tallahassee. The second year head coach for the Noles is once again having to explain himself after another second half loss, this week to ACC opponent UVA.
Florida State looked sharp early for the third straight game took a lead in the intermission at Charlottesville at 14 – 10. And, their much criticized defense, which brought on former USF coach and Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt as a consultant this week, played well enough to get them into the fourth quarter with a 17 – 10 margin.
However, just like against Boise State and ULM, they allowed Virginia to put together three lengthy TD drives late in the game. The second one capped an 11 play, 75-yard march with RB Wayne Taulapapa powering in from a yard out, the Cavaliers missed the extra point.
Still, Virginia got the ball back in short order and once again, marched on Florida State’s defense in just over two minutes of clock time. And, Taulapapa scored again, from a yard out. QB Bryce Perkins scored on the two-point conversion for a seven-point (31-24) lead.
This was the third game in a row Florida State has given up a lead after halftime because the defense has given up one too many scores late in the game.
A lot of it can be pointed to the huge imbalance in time of possession for FSU and its opponents. FSU’s defense was on the field for 39:44 against UVA, while the Noles offense didn’t have a single drive longer than 2:45 seconds.
Simply put: the defense is on the field way too long for them to be able to sustain pressure for the entire game, and the offense needs to have more time in control of the ball while they’re in the lead.
Taggart was asked at Monday’s press conference about how the repeated time of possession imbalance impacts the effectiveness of his defense late in the game. He said he didn’t think it was a problem until this week.
“Well, I thought in this game, the fourth quarter, they were tired. I don’t think that was the case in the first two ballgames. I think each one of these ballgames in the fourth quarter, they have been different situations, so I can’t sit here and say our guys have been tired in the fourth quarter for the first three ballgames, and that’s why we’re playing the way we are.”
“I thought this game, they did. They got tired. Again, we could have stayed on the field a little more offensively. It would have helped them. But I do think we need more than 20 minutes of time of possession as an offense. I don’t think whether we’re scoring a lot… we still need more than 20 minutes time of possession, so we can be better from that standpoint but I don’t necessarily think that’s a big factor overall. I didn’t think that was the case on Saturday.”
If Taggart doesn’t see this as a huge problem, he’s going to quickly have to figure out what is. With the way FSU runs its offense, they are going to need to find some more depth in their defense or this is going to be the case all season long even when the seminole are sustaining drives.
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