TALLAHASSEE — After a one-week reprieve, the Willie Watch has been re-booted in Tallahassee.
Desperately needing a victory against Miami to boost morale, momentum and his long-term job outlook, FSU’s Willie Taggart oversaw a penalty-infused, protection-deficient 27-10 loss before an announced Doak Campbell Stadium crowd of 63,995.
“We didn’t come to play,” Taggart said.
Miami (5-4, 3-3 ACC) has won three in a row in this once-storied series for the first time in 15 years. Taggart, meantime, may be hard-pressed to coach three in a row in this series.
Saturday’s defeat is certain to intensify the rampant speculation about his job security. FSU (4-5, 3-4) must win two of its last three ― at Boston College, home vs. Alabama State and at Florida ― to earn bowl eligibility.
“I think if you just look at … the statistics, you’ll see some improvement from where we were last year in a lot of areas," said Taggart, who has more losses (12) in his first 21 games than Bobby Bowden did (11) in his first 45.
"Again, at the end of the day when you’re talking about fans, it all comes down to winning. We’ve got to find a way to win. They don’t want to hear all the other stuff, they want to win.”
Behind redshirt freshman end Greg Rousseau (four sacks), the Hurricanes recorded nine sacks, most allowed in a game by FSU. Eight of those were on Seminoles starter Alex Hornibrook, who finally was relieved by James Blackman with roughly six minutes to play and the 'Noles down by 17.
“It was really the first time maybe in the entire season we had not played a mobile quarterback," ’Canes coach Manny Diaz said. "So to have a stationary target I thought was fantastic.”
Rarely able to set his feet for a downfield route, Hornibrook finished 17-for-24 for 135 yards, a touchdown and interception (that was deflected). But deduct his minus-51 yards from the equation, and FSU still managed only 31 rushing yards.
“I thought Miami’s defense did a good job of mixing it up a little bit,” Hornibrook said.
“But I think what it comes down to after a game like this is, everybody just has to look at their self. … There’s no point of hanging your head or doing anything negative ‘cause that’s not gonna help.”
Miami’s relentless defensive effort was complemented by some ’Noles self-infliction. FSU finished with more than twice as many penalty yards (75) as rushing yards (31).
After one half, FSU had more penalties (eight) and sacks allowed (four) than rushing yards (minus-5). While failing to protect Hornibrook, the beleaguered offensive line fared no better protecting Akers, whose practice time this week was minimized by a toe injury.
Akers managed only 66 yards (his second-lowest total of the season) on 22 carries.
“(Miami) was just winning one-on-one blocks,” Taggart said.
Compounding the misery were two de facto first-half turnovers: Akers was stuffed for no gain up the middle on fourth-and-1 at midfield, and a Tommy Martin punt with 2:28 to play in the half sailed only 23 yards to the FSU 46.
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Miami converted the gaffes into 10 points, taking a 17-3 lead into halftime.
Following a Hornibrook interception on the second half’s opening possession, FSU’s offense briefly got untracked, courtesy of the WildCam.
Taking a direct shotgun snap, Akers feigned a fun before lofting a pass over the middle to tight end Gabe Nabers for an 18-yard gain. He then ran for 12 yards on a keeper, then took a screen pass from Hornibrook two plays later and raced for an 18-yard touchdown.
FSU punted on its next three possessions, and Miami took another two-touchdown lead when redshirt freshman Jarren Williams lofted a play-action strike downfield to sophomore Dee Wiggins for a 56-yard TD with 12:05 to play.
That essentially sealed the outcome.
Could it also have sealed Taggart’s fate?
“Yes, it’s a step back whenever you lose. I wouldn’t say it’s a significant step back," Taggart said. "Again, the way you go forward, you go out and win ball games.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TBTimes_Bulls