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Willie Taggart Wants Florida State Focused On Playing ‘Winning Football’

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Taggart is 4-5 in his first season at Florida State, putting the school’s 36-year streak of appearing in a bowl game in jeopardy. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Year one at helm of Florida State has not gone exactly according to plan for Willie Taggart.

The Seminoles are currently 4-5 and in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in almost four decades (their current 36-year streak is an NCAA record). And it is not just that FSU is losing, but more so the manner in which it is happening. The Noles opened the season with a 24-3 home loss versus Virginia Tech, and have suffered a 23-point defeat at Syracuse, a 49-point blowout loss to Clemson at home and a 19-point setback at North Carolina State.

Florida State must win at least two of their last three games — versus No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 17 Boston College and No. 15 Florida — to have a shot at postseason play.

It isn’t the first time Taggart has taken over a program in need of a rebuild. Before he arrived at Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers finished 9-27 the three years prior before Taggart piloted them to a 16-20 mark in his three years.

Taggart then took over a South Florida program that had finished 5-7 and 3-9 before his arrival. Taggart’s group increased their win total every year starting from 2-10 before eventually getting to 11-2, which led him to earning the Oregon job for the 2017 season before getting the gig in Tallahassee.

“I think it’s always important from the beginning,” Taggart said of rebuilding a program. “It’s the test of hearts and minds of our players. When you do that, then the players don't want to let you down. They’re going to give you everything they have and they’re going to work to do the things you ask for.

“… We all got to commit ourselves to being better at what we have to do. We look at why we’re in this position and a lot of it is on us, so we have no one else to blame but ourselves. We owe it to ourselves and our former players and our fan base and our university to get it right.”

But the road doesn’t get any smoother for Taggart and company with a road trip to South Bend on Saturday night to face the No. 3 Fighting Irish. For Taggart, though, he wants his team focused on cleaning up the mistakes that have plagued it so far in 2018.

“Notre Dame is a really good football team,” Taggart said. “We’re going into a hostile environment, so for whomever the quarterback is they have to understand that. It’s a good football team.

“For us, we can’t necessarily worry about Notre Dame. We have to worry about ourselves to get better, play smarter and do the things we need to do. We need to play winning football. … Worry about us and get us better. That has to be the focus.”

Before the team’s 47-28 loss to NC State, Taggart handed over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Walt Bell. That will remain the case on Saturday in South Bend.

“I thought Walt did a good job of calling plays,” Taggart said. “I’m sure there’s some plays – like every play caller – there’s always some plays you would like to take back. But I thought he did well.

“I know, for myself, being able to see the game a little better and also interject and help out along the way, I thought that helped us on the offensive side of the ball.”

Florida State has yet to decide on a starting quarterback for Saturday after sophomore James Blackman — who got the nod against NC State due to an injury to redshirt junior Deondre Francois — threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns with an interception in a loss to the Wolfpack. Francois threw for 2,027 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions in the first eight games of the season before missing last Saturday.

“We’ve got to get through the week and see how Deondre is doing and see how those guys are practicing throughout the week,” Taggart stated. “We’ll make that decision later in the week. … I thought James did a good job of distributing the ball to a lot of different teammates.

“I thought he did a good job and some of the things we did in helping from a protection standpoint and keeping the back in helped tremendously for him to get those balls off at times.”

On the flip side, Taggart knows his defense, which has allowed 282.6 yards per game through the air, will see junior Ian Book for the Irish. Book has averaged 304.0 passing yards in his six starts while completing 74.5 percent of his passes to go with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“He throws seeds,” Taggart said of Book. “I think he is very similar to the kid at Clemson when it comes to accuracy. … He’s a winner. He’s a gamer. He gets in the game, you can tell when he plays, he’s having fun. And guys feed off him.

“We’ve got to find ways to get pressure on him and not let him be comfortable throwing the football.”

The forecast on Saturday calls for below-freezing temperatures and some wind, which could provide some difficult challenges for both programs.

“You find it through each other,” Taggart said of playing in the conditions and adapting. “That’s where it comes from, whether you’re fragile or not. You play for each other.

“And those guys, they train every day together, they go out there and fight every day together. And they’ve got to lean on each other. That’s what it’s going to take.”


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