TALLAHASSEE — When Willie Taggart faced Syracuse four years ago in a game he had to win to save his USF job, he memorably turned transcendent talent Quinton Flowers loose in a three-score victory.
After rumors circulated all week about his long-term status at Florida State, Taggart turned a less conventional but no less electric quarterback loose in another pivotal three-score triumph over the Orange.
Cam Akers tied an FSU record with four touchdown rushes and added a two-point conversion in a 35-17 home win that cooled Taggart’s hot seat, at least for one week.
“I think he’s the best running back in the country,” Taggart said.
And apparently he’s not a bad quarterback, either.
Akers played the position as a prep standout in Mississippi, but the five-star recruit’s future has always been at running back. That’s why Jimbo Fisher didn’t let him line up behind or under center; he wanted Akers to focus on his long-term position instead of a specialty Wild Cam package. Taggart slowly began to change that and finally let Akers go Saturday for the Seminoles (4-4, 3-3 ACC).
“Just tried to find a different way to get Cam the ball…” Taggart said. “It’s something we had in our arsenal for a while, and it was just a good time to come out and run it.”
FSU used the package for 13 plays Saturday. Two of them finished in Akers touchdown runs, and a third was his successful two-point conversion.
The ’Noles averaged 13 yards per play with the Wild Cam package and 5.7 yards on everything else. Akers gained 56 of his 144 rushing yards from direct snaps.
“We can do anything (with it),” Akers said.
By getting Akers and another five-star talent, Khalan Laborn, in the backfield together, FSU gives defenses multiple running options to defend. Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook said Akers can chuck the ball 60 yards downfield, so the passing threat is still there. Although the sample is tiny (three completions, two passes), Akers had a higher passing efficiency (139.5) Saturday than Hornibrook or James Blackman did.
Most importantly, the package made an important philosophical statement during a difficult week.
Smoke about Taggart’s future began rising from Doak Campbell Stadium less than 24 hours after the letdown at Wake Forest. Taggart admitted there were was “a lot of distraction” during Syracuse week, including homecoming. Laborn acknowledged “tension” in the locker room because of a two-game losing streak.
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In the face of those challenges and against an awful Orange (3-5, 0-4) team that looks nothing like the one that went 10-3 last season, Taggart’s Seminoles turned aggressive.
They let Akers attack directly with direct-snaps. They used razzle dazzle, including a crazy triple pass from Hornibrook to Akers back to Hornibrook and downfield to Tamorrion Terry for 54 yards.
“It wasn’t crazy,” Taggart said. “That was entertaining.”
The long-term problem for Taggart is that not enough fans were around to enjoy it.
The announced attendance (50,517) was FSU’s smallest for a homecoming game in 40 years. It was also the fifth time in the last seven home games that the crowd failed to top 58,000 —a figure the Seminoles topped every game from 1989-2017.
Slipping attendance is a nationwide problem, but the empty seats and lack of buzz on homecoming is an obvious sign of apathy around FSU. That costly apathy makes Taggart’s buyout (north of $17 million) seem more manageable now than it did in August.
But those are issues for another week. Athletic director David Coburn didn’t need to think about them when he kissed his grandson in the elevator on his way down to the field. President John Thrasher didn’t need to worry about them during his 10-second embrace with Taggart in the end zone.
After another triumphant must-win game over Syracuse, Taggart isn’t going anywhere immediately. His latest transcendent talent made sure of that.