Florida State survives against Samford, but questions remain

Seminoles 1-1 in Willie Taggart era

Florida State coach Willie Taggart talks with quarterback Deondre Francois during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Samford.
Florida State coach Willie Taggart talks with quarterback Deondre Francois during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Samford. (AP photo/Steve Cannon)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Is it possible to be on the hot seat after just two games as head coach?

A 36-26 win over FCS opponent Samford left the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium, many of whom did not stick around for the second half, shaking their heads and muttering to themselves.

Only a late touchdown pass and an interception return for a score avoided what would have been a devastating loss.

After a season-opening loss to Virginia Tech on Monday, Florida State needed a fast start to show the college football world that Willie Taggart’s debut as the Seminoles’ head coach was an aberration. 

Instead, the Seminoles stumbled, but survived.

It wasn’t Florida State, but Samford who started fast. On the Bulldogs first offensive snap, quarterback Devlin Hodges connected with Kelvin McKnight on a 55 yard touchdown pass. Although the extra point was blocked, Samford had sent an early volley across the bow of the Seminoles.

Florida State punted on their first two possessions, gaining only 14 yards in their first two series. An uneasy feeling grew at Doak Campbell Stadium. When the Seminoles did make a play early, penalties negated the positive efforts. Demarcus Christmas tackled a Samford receiver behind the line of scrimmage on a reverse, but took him down by the facemask, setting Samford up at the Seminoles’ 12-yard line.

Two plays later, Florida State’s Stanford Samuels was called for a pass interference at the goal line. Samford took advantage on the next snap when Roland Adams went in from two yards out to give Samford a 13-0 lead.

Florida State finally scored a touchdown, their first of the year after 70 minutes and 57 seconds of football, when quarterback Deondre Francois connected with Tamorrion Terry from 27 yards out to pull to within 13-7. 

Florida State clawed to within two at 23-21, but a mistake filled drive at the end of the third quarter was a microcosm of the game. Big plays erased by penalties and a dropped pass that would have been a big gain—perhaps a touchdown. 

With 9:59 remaining in the game, Ricky Aguayo had the chance to give Florida State its first lead of the game. Instead, his field goal attempt doinked off the right upright.

With matchup on the road against Syracuse next, the Seminoles look like a team that not only weren’t ready to start the season, but the myriad of issues aren’t the type that can be solved with a week of practice. 

Poor organization, substitution penalties, illegal formations—those can be improved through a greater attention to detail. The lack of push by the defensive line, receivers running open and an offensive system that doesn’t appear to fit the talent of the players on the field, are all issues that may need another year to solve. Or more. 

Taggart told me after the game that he thought his defense played soft in the first half. That's not what you want to hear about a team coming off an embarrassing loss.

Florida State leadership, including University President John Thrasher and David Coburn, the interim athletic director, need to have a serious conversation right now. Florida State though Taggart would inject a new enthusiasm into a program that was eaten up from the inside under Jimbo Fisher.

Thrasher told me after the game that he absolutely believes that he made the right choice in hiring Taggart. The answer came before I could ask him the question. He must know that, until the Seminoles prove otherwise, they are a team that has more to prove than any in the school's recent history.

That a change from Fisher could do wonders for the Seminoles is still true. So far, there is no evidence they made the right hire.  

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