TALLAHASSEE — Florida State insisted all offseason that it had changed.
A team that withered under adversity last year would finish strong. A revamped staff would fix an awful offensive line. An undisciplined program would find ways to win after back-to-back subpar seasons.
And when Willie Taggart’s second season opened Saturday, his Seminoles did look different.
For two quarters.
Then FSU reverted to its 2017-18 form by blowing a pair of 18-point leads and collapsing in the second half of a demoralizing 36-31 home loss to Boise State. The Broncos (1-0) scored the final 23 points and capped off their comeback with a pair of fourth-quarter scores that ramped up the pressure on Taggart, who fell to 5-8 in his short career at his dream job.
“Tough loss,” Taggart said.
That’s an understatement, because FSU (0-1) really did seem different early at Doak Campbell Stadium.
A habitually slow-starting team scored twice in the first five snaps of Kendal Briles’ offense. Cam Akers’ 38-yard touchdown run two and a half minutes into the game was the Seminoles’ fastest score since the 2016 Orange Bowl.
The ’Noles had only 10 touchdown drives of 60 seconds or less all of last season. They had three in the first half Saturday to build a 31-13 lead.
“When we’re rolling,” quarterback James Blackman said, “we’re rolling.”
And they rolled right until the wheels fell off.
The embattled offensive line didn’t allow a tackle for a loss in the first quarter. It surrendered 11 after that, including a pair of crushing third-down sacks.
A quick-strike offense scored on five of its first six possessions. It went three-and-out on five of its last nine and lost fumble, too.
Briles’ system racked up 358 yards in the first half. It had 68 in the second.
What’s even worse is that neither team cited any major schematic adjustments that triggered the shift.
“Sometimes it just comes down to heart,” Broncos coach Bryan Harsin said.
The Seminoles’ defense apparently didn’t have enough of that, either.
FSU let true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier lead Boise State to 621 yards in his first game. That’s the most the Seminoles have surrendered since Oregon’s blowout in the 2014 Rose Bowl.
The defense bent repeatedly in the first half and finally snapped in the second with a series of missed tackles and blown assignments.
Bachmeier lobbed an 11-yard fade to Khalil Shakir late in the third quarter to make it a one-score game. He followed that by leading two more consecutive scoring drives to open a 36-31 lead with 7:27 left.
“Our football team’s got to learn how to finish,” Taggart said. “Our football team’s got to learn how to win again.”
Whether Taggart is the one who can teach them remains an open question for FSU’s powerbrokers, but he clearly hasn’t done that yet. Look at how his ’Noles caved in the moments that win games:
Winning teams capitalize on third down. FSU’s offense went 1-of-12. Its defense allowed Boise State to convert on 10 of its 19 attempts, including on third and 16 with 4:29 left.
Winning teams know how to handle crucial opportunities. Levonta Taylor and Dontavious Jackson both had a chance to pounce on a Broncos fumble deep in FSU territory in the fourth quarter. Neither did; Robert Mahone scored two plays later to give Boise State its first lead.
And winning teams don’t hurt themselves in the clutch. FSU’s last-gasp drive ended with a holding penalty (to negate a fourth-down conversion) and a too-short scramble that wouldn’t have counted anyway because of an illegal shift.
Despite everything — the leaky line, the lack of second-half energy and the litany of errors that led to one of the worst collapses in program history — the Seminoles continue to insist they’re a changed team from the one that flopped to 5-7 last year.
“We’re different,” Blackman said. “For sure different.”
But Saturday sure looked like more of the same.