Let’s go to the Florida State highlights from Saturday’s 30-7 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome:
1. A 70-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter was jump-started by a 39-yard pass from Deondre Francois to Keith Gavin, followed by a 21-yard Francois run.
2. Trailing 3-0, the Seminoles’ defense had a goal-line stand in the second quarter by stuffing Dontae Strickland three times from the 1-yard line, forcing the ‘Cuse to settle for a field goal.
That’s it. Nothing else FSU did in snapping a 10-game win streak against the Orangemen (first loss since 1966) was remotely positive, particularly on offense.
The ‘Noles collected only 240 yards and were a pathetic 1 of 14 on third down, finally converting a 3rd-and-1 on a Cam Akers run while trailing 23-0. Francois (18 of 36, 178 yards, 1 interception) was sacked four times and struggled to generate any momentum, which was also the case in a 24-3 season-opening loss to Virginia Tech.
Here’s a rundown on FSU’s first seven possessions against the Orangemen: three plays for 2 yards, four plays for 21 yards, three plays for 3 yards, three plays for 1 yard, three plays for 9 yards, three plays for 8 yards, two plays for zero yards (interception). When they finally did put a decent drive together, the 'Noles messed up clock management at the end of the half, choosing to run a play on 3rd-and-10 from the Syracuse 20. An 8-yard completion ensued, but Gavin couldn't get out of bounds and the clock expired.
That’s not the kind of production and efficiency FSU expected from Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast offense when it hired him. The O-line continues to be a glaring weakness, and rarely is that something that gets fixed during the season.
Defensively, things aren’t looking much brighter. The Seminoles allowed 222 rushing yards and wore down in the second half. Syracuse losing starting quarterback Eric Dungey to a late hit to the helmet penalty in the second quarter had little impact. Backup Tommy DeVito (11 of 16, 144 yards) played turnover-free football the rest of the way, running for one score and throwing for another.
FSU was hoping Taggart’s hire would invigorate the program after last year’s falling out with Jimbo Fisher, but the ‘Noles (1-2, 0-2 in ACC) may struggle just to become bowl-eligible. Other than home games against Northern Illinois next week and Wake Forest on October 20, the rest of the schedule doesn’t look promising. It includes road dates with Louisville, Miami, North Carolina State and Notre Dame, as well as season-ending matchups with Boston College and Florida at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles better hope this Taggart trend doesn't continue: Since Week 6 of the 2017 season at Oregon, his teams have lost seven games by a combined 171 points -- 23, 42, 17, 35, 10, 21 and 23. During that span, his offenses have averaged only 10.2 points per game.
If you eliminate the 2006 and 2007 seasons due to forfeits from an academic cheating scandal, the Seminoles haven’t experienced a losing season on the field since 1976, Bobby Bowden’s first year. But that slow start was quickly rectified by FSU going 10-2 the following year.
Right now, it’s hard to judge when the Seminoles are going to turn this thing around. Willie Taggart has a bigger rebuilding job on his hands than he or anybody else imagined.