A tepid Taggart debut may mean a long season ahead for FSU

Seminoles coach Willie Taggart watches his team in the first quarter against Virginia Tech. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Seminoles coach Willie Taggart watches his team in the first quarter against Virginia Tech. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published September 4 2018

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida fan could not have drawn it up any better.
The Willie Taggart Era has begun at Florida State. Whether it is the Willie Taggart Error is the question at hand.

"Tough loss," Taggart said late Monday night. "Not what any of us expected."

You think?

No, it wasn't McNeese State, Taggart's dreadful beginning to what was eventually the big turnaround at USF. Monday, a childhood dream turned into a nightmare.

You could smell it from here after Virginia Tech dusted FSU 24-3 in Taggart's Tallahassee opener. The program Taggart's slogan commanded "do something" did nothing. It was ghastly. It was seismic.

And all on a night when Bobby Bowden was honorary team captain and Peter Warrick's jersey was retired. The two men took a knee at midfield and prayed for a misdemeanor. Just kidding.

Seriously, it felt like the good old days.

Then the game started.

Taggart led the charge out of the tunnel and the disaster was on. You'd never have known the Seminoles practiced for this game, or that there had been any positive vibe, though there was, including Taggart's $1 million donation to the building of a stand-alone football facility at FSU.

All gone.

One night is all it took.

One game in and it's all on the line for Willie T.

Edge: Dan Mullen.

No, Virginia Tech isn't Charleston Southern, which Florida creamed in Mullen's debut last weekend. And Virginia Tech isn't McNeese State, Taggart's fateful USF opener. But Monday stung.

"I think it does a little bit," Taggart said. "Again, whenever you lose, we don't like losing. You lose, of course there's a little damper but it's not the end of the world."

But you can see if from here.

There were those five Florida State turnovers. There was that 1-for-4 inside the red zone. Quarterback Deondre Francois, lost in the season opener to Alabama last season, looked just as lost Monday, thought it was under a pile of tackles for loss. Cam Akers, a sensation back last season, broke off an 85-yard run. FSU ran for 9 yards, combined, on its other 27 carries. FSU's offensive line was pathetic all night. The Gulf Coast Offense went gulp.

Was Tech that good?

Did Jimbo Fisher leave the cupboard that bare in Tallahassee?

No and no.

Taggart has made a career out of digging out of holes. But Monday was the Meteor Crater, wide and seemingly bottomless. The bottom line: Taggart didn't have his team ready to play, at all.

"We didn't handle the adversity well. We had a lot of adversity," Taggart said.

They will now have lots of practice at it.

I wouldn't be looking past Samford at this point.

Willie T. has specialized in coming out of nowhere all of his life, since his days as a quarterback at Bradenton Manatee, or when he was just starting out in coaching while imagining when a night like Monday would happen, the keys to Florida State football in his hands.

I think Taggart flooded it. And I think he knows how deep the pain is among Seminoles fans, bristling as he went.

"You're asking if I understand that?" Taggart said. "Come on, of course I understand that. When you lose, everybody's upset. No one's more upset than I am. I'm upset, too, and I'm upset that we didn't get it done for our fan base and we didn't get it done for each other."

One game in and it's already a program at a crossroads.

Bowden was on the field renamed for him before the game. It is good to see him back around his Seminoles. By the way, Bowden began 0-3 at FSU in 1976. He kind of turned it around after that. Taggart has done everything to welcome Bowden back, openly, overtly, unlike Taggart's predecessor.

Fisher was respectful, but Bowden felt the freeze-out and knew to stay away.

Monday began warm and fuzzy.

"So far, so good," Bowden said of Taggart. "In my opinion, he's done everything you need to do to get a program going. Now, that doesn't mean you'll win right off. The more I see him, he is going to win. Maybe not quick, but maybe quick."

Then the game started.

So far, so bad.

Taggart loves proving people wrong.

Well, he has us right where he wants us.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029.