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Willie Taggart: FSU football has a plan at quarterback. He just won’t discuss it right now

The Seminoles failed to sign a quarterback for the second recruiting class in a row.
Published Feb. 6, 2019
Updated Feb. 6, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — After failing to sign a quarterback for the second year in a row, Florida State coach Willie Taggart has a plan to solve his lack of depth at the game’s most important position.

It’s a pretty good plan, too, Taggart insisted Wednesday. Just don’t press him for any details.

“I don’t necessarily want to discuss it right now,” Taggart said during his signing day news conference.

Whatever this mystery plan is, it better include immediate help for James Blackman. If it doesn’t, Taggart’s dream job could be in serious jeopardy after an awful two months.

The first hiccup came in December, when four-star commit Sam Howell flipped from FSU to North Carolina. The next came over the weekend, when Taggart dismissed starter Deondre Francois after a social media post accused him of domestic violence. The final domino fell Wednesday, when FSU’s top target, four-star prospect Lance LeGendre, signed with Maryland instead.

“We invested in someone, and we missed on him,” Taggart said.

The Seminoles didn’t just miss on them. They missed on them to a pair of middling programs with new coaching staffs.

So now they’re down to two scholarship quarterbacks, and one of them (Louisville transfer Jordan Travis) needs an NCAA waiver to even be eligible this fall.

Taggart has already gone to the transfer portal once; maybe he can do it again to find a quick-fix passer.

But unless Taggart discovers a hidden quarterback prospect for this recruiting class, it will be an unquestioned failure with potentially disastrous consequences.

The short-term concern is an injury to the 6-foot-5, 181-pound Blackman, who’s playing behind an offensive line that was one of the worst in the country last year. If Travis isn’t eligible immediately, FSU’s backup would be walk-on Nolan McDonald, a former three-star prospect. With no depth, does Taggart have to avoid the quarterback runs that made him successful at USF to limit the risk of injury?

Even with a solid line, passers rarely make it through a season unscathed. FSU has only had the same quarterback start every game in a season once in the last five years. Clemson wouldn’t have finished undefeated without Chase Brice, who began the year as the Tigers’ third stringer before coming off the bench to lead a comeback win over Syracuse.

The long-term damage could be just as bad.

Quarterbacks are hard to project, so the Seminoles’ limited depth gives them fewer chances to find or develop one that sticks. And what happens if there’s another injury or transfer in a year or two? Look at what happened to FSU and the rival Gators in 2017.

Jim McElwain didn’t sign a quarterback in his first class at Florida, which gave him one fewer experienced option. McElwain chose to play redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks before he was ready; the losses mounted, and McElwain was gone before November.

Jimbo Fisher signed three quarterbacks in 2015-16, but two (De’Andre Johnson and Malik Henry) were gone by the start of 2017. When Francois hurt his knee in the opener against Alabama, FSU had to start a true freshman (Blackman). That wasn’t the only reason the ’Noles stumbled to 7-6, but it didn’t help.

Little has gone right for Taggart, starting with his 5-7 first season. His biggest success might have been hiring offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who’s weighed down by his Baylor baggage.

So Taggart needed a big win Wednesday. He didn’t get one. FSU’s No. 16 class is its second-worst of the Rivals era.

The day wasn’t a total loss. FSU’s six signees included two offensive linemen (its biggest need). Even FSU’s biggest hit (a pair of blue-chip defensive backs) comes with a caveat, because its top commit, four-star safety Nick Cross, didn’t sign anywhere.

But Taggart couldn’t pick up the quarterback win he needed.

He insists he has a plan to fix it. Whatever it is, it better work.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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