TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Willie Taggart’s dream was to be the coach at Florida State. His first games have been a nightmare.
Taggart’s mistake-prone Seminoles (1-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) look to clean up nearly every area after they were overwhelmed in the opener by Virginia Tech and then needed a rally in the fourth quarter to take the lead and hold off Samford.
Next up is a road game at Syracuse (2-0) on Saturday at noon.
“We’ve got to play cleaner, we’ve got to play smarter, if we’re going to be a championship football team like we aspire to be,” Taggart said.
The sample size is small, but Florida State is far from a championship-caliber team. There are concerns on offense, defense and special teams. Florida State has struggled to establish a ground game behind an injury-depleted offensive line, seen its pass defense thrashed in the first half and watched its kicker miss 3 of 4 field-goal attempts.
Florida State was expected to have some growing pains with a new coaching staff but the aches have been more than anticipated. The Seminoles must prepare for Syracuse, which has scored 117 points in wins over Western Michigan and Wagner.
While the Seminoles are 10-1 all-time against Syracuse, including eight wins by double figures, it shapes up to be a pivotal division matchup.
“At the start of the season people circled (the game) as probably we don’t have a very good chance of being successful,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “It’s going to be a tough task, but we welcome the opportunity to see how we can do.”
The Seminoles are averaging 390 yards of total offense, which is tied for 87th nationally, and the Seminoles’ 3.62 yards per rush ranks them 101st in the FBS.
Injuries have made the Seminoles’ growth difficult. Coaches frequently have been forced to move players from guard to tackle. But no matter who has been blocking, Florida State has had breakdowns up front that contributed to six sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Sophomore tailback Cam Akers had an 85-yard run against the Hokies but just 73 yards on his 27 other carries over two games.
“We’ve got a lot of guys going in and out and it’s hard to get a rhythm,” Taggart said.
So is not converting on third down situations.
Florida State is converting just 9 of 30 third-down conversions, ranking 111st out of 128 FBS programs. Many of the problems stem from not getting in good position on first or second down. Florida State faced third-and-6 or longer on 19 situations in two games.
Taggart hasn’t been able to get his up-tempo offense rolling simply because they can’t consistently move the chains.
“We all can see offensively we’re not where we need it to be,” Taggart said. “A lot of it is gaining yardage on certain downs. When you get it you can continue to go fast.”
While the offense has struggled, the defense hasn’t exactly been stellar.
Florida State allowed Samford’s Devlin Hodges to throw for 475 yards on Saturday, which was the most against the Seminoles since Arizona State had 532 passing yards in 1984.
“I knew early on we was playing too soft, some guys, and we weren’t getting to the quarterback,” Taggart said.
“(Hodges) did a good job getting it out of his hands and got us beat a couple times with the deep ball.”
There has been one silver lining on defense. The Seminoles have adjusted well after halftime, allowing just a touchdown and a field goal on 14 combined second-half drives.
Special teams have also not consistently played well either.
The most noticeable special teams mistake was a Virginia Tech blocked punt that was returned three yards for a touchdown.
But Ricky Aguayo, who made 18 of 21 field-goal attempts in 2017, has already missed three in two games (32, 40 and 42 yards).