Willie Taggart starts his second year as Florida State head coach and is leading what every FSU fan is hoping will be a comeback season. After an eventful week for the seminoles, in not only officially naming their starting quarterback but also putting together a home game in just two days, todays game is going to set the tone of what we can expect from the Seminoles this year.
Here are a few important things to watch for as they take on Boise State:
As previously mentioned, a lot of focus is on the Noles QB1, James Blackman. Entering into his third year at Florida State, it is the first time Blackman has gone into a season as a starter, though he had almost a full season as FSU’s quarterback in 2017 after Deondre Francois tore his ACL against Alabama. He finished the season with a 59% completion percentage with 2,230 yards, 19 TDs and 11 INTs as FSU limped to a 6-6 regular season.
He threw four TDs in the Noles Independence Bowl win over Southern Miss. He didn’t win the starting job last season but still put up solid numbers as the backup QB, so fans are eager to see how he’s going to come out after finally winning the starting job. Blackman barely qualified for a redshirt on snaps/games played ratio last season. So, he has three years of eligibility left.
The O-Line. During the offseason, Taggart made a couple major moves in letting go of former OL coach Greg Frey and having to hire a new OC after Walt Bell took the UMass job after just one season with the Noles. He’s replaced them with Randy Clements at OL and Kendal Briles at OC. Briles and Clements could be the guys that resurrect a line that was far too unorganized and disjointed last season. In 2018, FSU ranked 114th in points per game, 129th in yards per play and 118th in sacks allowed, and only averaged 2.79 yards per carry.
At Houston, Clements and Briles produced an offensive line in 2018 that allowed the Cougars to average 43.9 points per game, ranking fifth in the nation, and 512.3 yards of total offense. The Noles have also signed several new offensive linemen in the hope of a turnaround at a spot that has hurt them over the past few seasons. The most heralded one is four star recruit, Dontae Lucas of IMG Academy in Bradenton, and there’s also JuCo three star left tackle, Jay Williams of Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA.
How much improvement we see from the line today will be a huge indicator of how much of a turn around this season can be in Tallahassee?
Finally, Boise State is going to provide a real challenge for the FSU defense. The Broncos return their entire offensive line from a year ago and seven starters on defense. They have won 10 or more games each of the last three seasons, and are one of the top schools outside of the P5 conferences. It could be easy for Florida State to go into the game expecting a guaranteed win, but they’re only predicted to be the favorites by 7 points.
After losing their defensive star, Brian Burns, to the draft they’ll be relying on juniors Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh to replace his production.
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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