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Taggart Needs to Keep Expectations in Check

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Despite a disappointing 5-7 record, which led to the program snapping its 36-year bowl streak, Taggart is mostly selling the same optimism this offseason.

Oh, how much things can change in a year.

Last April, there were high expectations surrounding Florida State football. Willie Taggart provided a more forthright and fresh face to the program, leading to a record of almost 61,000 fans attending the Seminoles spring game.

That was more fans than what the Miami Hurricanes averaged during its 2017 home schedule.

Despite a disappointing 5-7 record, which led to the program snapping its 36-year bowl streak, Taggart is mostly selling the same optimism this offseason. Through the first two weeks of spring practice, Taggart sounds pleased with where his team stands.

“Our guys are working and competing every single day,” Taggart told Seminoles.com. “We come out here and make them play. We don’t have anybody pouting about anything. Guys are coming to work and trying to win every single day.”

Taggart didn’t say anything real profound in that quote, but one key aspect of coaches’ speak is missing -- improvement. He didn’t say anything about needing to get better.

Now, I’m not about to rip a coach for something he did or didn’t say during an interview in March. However, Taggart would be wise to avoid positivity all the time and temper Florida State’s 2019 expectations.

The main reason why cautious optimism is a better course for Taggart this offseason is because many of the problems that plagued the Seminoles lin 2018 -- quarterback and offensive line -- still remain.

Florida State dismissed starting signal caller Deondre Francois because of domestic abuse allegations. That leaves James Blackman as the likely starting quarterback.

Blackman played in four games last season, but most of his opportunities came when he started in place of an injured Francois against N.C. State on Nov. 3. Blackman completed 63 percent of his passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns versus one interception that day, but Florida State lost, 47-28.

In 2017, Blackman made 12 starts after Francois injured his knee in the season opener against Alabama. As a true freshman, Blackman averaged 7.5 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2017.

Blackman should receive some competition for the starting job from graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook. Coming from Wisconsin, Hornibrook experienced a great career with the Badgers, going 26-6 as a starter. He also posted 5,438 total yards and threw for 47 touchdowns versus 33 interceptions.

However, Hornibrook won’t be arriving at Florida State until after he graduates in May. It’s no fault of his own, but he’s missing valuable practice time this spring and will really be behind from a playbook standpoint once he arrives on campus.

Furthermore, Hornibrook doesn’t really fit the offensive scheme the Seminoles want to run because of his lack of mobility. He may ultimately prove to only be an insurance policy behind Blackman for one season.

Of course, an insurance policy at quarterback is never a bad thing, especially for a program that’s experienced the offensive line problems Florida State has over the last few years. The Seminoles offensive line allowed 8.6 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks per game, which ranked either last and second-to-last, respectively, in the ACC.

Taggart added five offensive linemen in the 2019 recruiting class, but it’s unrealistic to expect the entire crop to make an immediate impact. In all likelihood, Florida State will once again struggle to run the ball (the Seminoles averaged 2.8 yards per rush, which was the second-worst in the FBS last season) and see plenty of hits on the quarterback.

And those are just the problems on offense. The Seminoles defense wasn’t good in 2018 either, as they yielded 31.5 points per game. Part of that was the offense putting the defense in difficult field position. Still, there’s two sides of that argument too, and the Florida State defense finished third-to-last in the ACC in takeaways.

This isn’t to say that Taggart isn’t the long-term solution for Florida State. He should be given at least another year or two before the Seminoles fans really start to push the panic button.

However, the idea that Taggart was going to quickly turn Florida State back into a national contender didn’t come to fruition. Right now, they aren’t even close to competing with Clemson, and Taggart would benefit from doing his best to keep expectations in check for 2019.