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The last Florida State-Louisiana Monroe game was bad. This was worse

The Seminoles squander a 21-point lead but hold on to beat the Warhawks 45-44 in overtime
Florida State's Tre'Shaun Harrison, left, is tackled by Louisiana-Monroe's Keilos Swinney in the first quarter in Tallahassee. [STEVE CANNON | AP]
Published Sep. 8
Updated Sep. 8

TALLAHASSEE — Louisiana Monroe’s last visit to Doak Campbell Stadium marked Florida State’s four-decade low.

A dismal crowd. A departed coach. A rescheduled matchup against a no-name program to extend a bowl streak.

All of that was nothing compared to Saturday night.

The Seminoles squandered a three-touchdown lead and needed Louisiana Monroe to shank an extra point in overtime to escape with a 45-44 win.

“Ugly” is how second-year coach Willie Taggart and his players described it. But that’s not strong enough.

FSU (1-1) collapsed to a Group of Five program for the second time in two games. FSU blew a pair of 18-point leads in last week’s loss to Boise State, but at least the Broncos are a well-respected national brand. The Warhawks (1-1) are a Sun Belt also-ran with one winning season this century.

And FSU almost lost to them, at home, increasing the pressure on Taggart.

RELATED: Who would you rather be right now: Willie Taggart or Charlie Strong?

“This is a storied program, a winning tradition,” Taggart said. “And we're in our program where those wins haven't been coming like we all want them to be.”

They’re still not, regardless of how proud Taggart was of how FSU handled Saturday’s adversity. His ’Noles shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

FSU scored touchdowns on its first three drives (just as it did last week), before stalling (just as it did last week). Through two games, the Seminoles have been outscored 48-14 in the second half, including 31-14 Saturday.

The inexplicable mistakes piled up. Bone-headed penalties. Busted coverages. Third-and-long failures. Too much pressure allowed by an offensive line playing against a defense that suspended its best pass rusher.

On and on it goes, just as it has for the past two-plus seasons.

Louisiana Monroe —which fell behind 21-0 — capitalized on a three second-half turnovers during its run of four consecutive touchdown drives to take a 35-31 lead with 7:41 left in regulation. Cam Akers’ dazzling 44-yard touchdown catch put FSU back ahead before his defense let the Warhawks force overtime with a field goal.

Only a wide-right extra point prevented a second overtime and, perhaps, one of the program’s worst losses of the modern era.

The end result can’t hide the fact that FSU has kept falling since ULM visited two years ago.

Those 2017 Seminoles were a day removed from becoming the first program in 41 years to lose the coach who led them to a national title (Jimbo Fisher) to another college program. Instead of playing for a conference title on championship Saturday, FSU faced a mid-major program in a rescheduled matchup (because of Hurricane Irma) for the sake of extending its bowl streak to 36 years. The crowd was FSU’s smallest in more than a quarter century.

RELATED: Matt Baker’s takeaways from Florida State-Louisiana Monroe

At the time, that dip looked like a blip.

“We have a solid foundation,” interim coach Odell Haggins said after that 42-10 victory. “It’s not built on sand.”

Twenty-one months later, FSU’s foundation isn’t solid. It’s shaken, slipping into quicksand.

In the 15 games before the 2017 ULM game, FSU was 9-6 with an Orange Bowl win over Michigan.

In the 15 games since, FSU is 7-8. The bowl streak is over, and there’s no guarantee it restarts this year. Taggart and his 6-8 record are in trouble, $17 million buyout or no.

It’s past time to wonder whether his dream job is too big for him.

Fisher didn’t leave Taggart a great situation when he bolted for Texas A&M. But it’s even worse now.

RELATED: Why Jimbo Fisher deserves blame for FSU football’s mess

The talent has down with FSU’s second-worst back-to-back recruiting classes of the Rivals era. A major facilities upgrade is years away. Financial problems have escalated.

RELATED: Another reason why Florida State’s Willie Taggart isn’t on the hot seat: Money

Apathy reigns. The announced attendance of 52,969 was almost 6,000 fewer fans than the 2017 meeting and the smallest at Doak for a non-hurricane-affected game since 1988. FSU has drawn fewer than 58,000 fans only three times in the past three decades — all in the last four games.

At least the last matchup with Louisiana Monroe ended with the hope that comes with a coaching search.

This time, the Seminoles know who their head coach is. They might not like the answer.

How low can you go?

The lowest Florida State home crowds since 1988:

50,901 Virginia Tech, 1988

50,917 Boise State, 2019*

51,703 Louisiana Tech, 1988

52,969 Louisiana Monroe, Saturday

53,129 Southern Miss, 1988

56,391 East Carolina, 1988

57,274 Boston College, 2018

57,511 Memphis State, 1989

58,780 Louisiana Monroe, 2017*

59,109 Georgia Southern, 1988

59,678 Cincinnati, 1990

* Moved because of hurricane

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

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