Tomorrow the Eagles face off with FSU in Tallahassee in a big game for both squads. To learn more about the Seminoles, we talked with Dylan Kidd from TomahawkNation.com. Please check out the site to learn more all about the Noles.
BCI: It is Willie Taggart’s first year, and FSU is on the verge of missing a bowl for the first time in over 30 years. How are FSU fans feeling about the first year coach. Are the struggles his fault, or a mess left from Jimbo Fisher?
TN: There are certainly FSU fans who are concerned about Taggart and the future of the program. I’m not one of them, at this point. He’s faced a monumental task this season in trying to change the culture of the program and install completely new systems on both sides of the ball. He’s doing so without having an offensive line to speak of and while facing one of the toughest schedules in the country. Florida State has seen a cavalcade of bad luck in 2018, and while it does make Taggart’s job tougher going forward, I still believe he was a good hire.
Fisher certainly didn’t do him any favors in the shape in which he left the program. Sure, there’s plenty of talent at just about every position, with the notable exceptions of offensive line and linebacker, but the organizational culture was, and remains, in rough shape.Taggart has to recruit out of these issues. There’s no way around that. A major reason he was brought in was his ability to do it, and his first class looks to have been very successful, especially considering the short amount of time he had to piece it together. Hopefully he’s able to live up to his reputation, even after a rough opening campaign.
BCI: Let’s talk quarterbacks. Will it be Deondre Francois or James Blackman or Saturday? And who would you prefer to see out there?
TN: Barring a practice setback, Francois will be the guy on Saturday. I would prefer Blackman because I know what Francois brings to the table and I don’t think he’s part of Florida State’s success in the future. He’s all but immobile and misses maddeningly simple reads all the time. I don’t know that Blackman is definitively better than Francois right now, as he’s pretty inconsistent, but I want him to have more game reps so we can get a better idea of whether he can be the guy for the next couple of years. If it becomes clear he can’t, Florida State’s staff will have to start preparing a true freshman to start, whereas if he shows he can, the staff can take a more reasonable route to development. A couple of considerations play into the decision to start Francois, though. First, Taggart has been consistent in playing the guys who perform best in practice, and that’s a critical facet of instilling a program culture. Francois has been better than Blackman in practice, ergo, he starts. The other thing is the redshirt possibility for Blackman. If he doesn’t play in another game, he’ll have three years to play three going forward, whether at FSU or elsewhere. It’s a nice option to have, but I also think he’d be playing if he was clearly better than Francois week in and week out during practice.
BCI: The offensive line has been an unmitigated disaster for FSU. What is going on there? Was it striking out on recruiting or have these Fisher players quit on Taggart?
TN: Quite a few things, but not that last part. The depth and talent along the line was precarious entering the season due to a combination of injuries, attrition, and misses in recruiting during Fisher’s last couple of years. Florida State didn’t have many tackles to begin the season and moved its best lineman, guard Landon Dickerson, outside to help during camp. He promptly got hurt against Virginia Tech, and after coming back for part of one game, is out for the year. FSU really does not have tackles at this point, at least not any who are capable of playing at a quality FBS level. They’ve got a converted defensive tackle at guard, a center at right tackle (who happens to be the best performer to date), and several guys who are basically walking scar tissue starting right now. It’s a brutal, brutal situation. And while we were pleased with the smallest of improvements from an FSU lineman last week who had previously looked completely lost, we know there is no fixing this in 2018. There’s hope the 2019 group could be better, but it’ll take two recruiting cycles to start actually fixing the line.
BCI: In this last three games FSU has let up 47, 59, and 42 points. Is the defense that bad or is it a product of playing NC State, Clemson and ND?
TN: I think the defense has kind of hit a wall, but certainly the opponents have accounted for the point totals too. They played well early in the year, but they do seem like they’re breaking down as the year progresses. They’re playing a bunch of young guys and I think the impact of the offense being completely inept can’t be overstated. We saw it in several games early this season when the defense would start very strong but the dam would eventually break when it became clear the offense wasn’t going to help them. I’m interested to see how they respond this week. It’s the most winnable game of this second half stretch, in my eyes, but the defense will have to show up to get it done. Florida State cannot win a shootout against anyone, let alone the 25th best defense in the country. If the defense comes ready to stop the run up front, the ‘Noles could have a chance. If not, things will snowball on them yet again.
BCI: What offensive weapons should BC be looking for this weekend?
TN: Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews would be my picks. Terry is a big, fast receiver who will be FSU’s deep ball target. Matthews is incredibly quick in the slot and excellent in the open field as a punt returner. Florida State will also target Cam Akers in the passing game, including by lining him up out wide, and Tre’ McKitty is an athletic tight end target. Francois will also throw to Nyqwan Murray much more often than he should. Murray is a fine player, he’s also a head case and a senior, so I don’t need to see any more of him, personally. You may also see dynamic true freshman TreShaun Harrison after he disappeared last week, at least I hope so.
BCI: FSU needs two wins to lock up bowl eligibility. Do you think they get it this weekend? Give your prediction.
TN: I expect the Eagles to give the Florida State defense some trouble. I don’t think FSU can simulate what BC is doing this year very effectively in practice, and the ‘Noles have a habit of starting slowly on defense to begin with. The Eagles will out-gap them with the unbalanced looks and will be jacked up to run at FSU’s poor linebackers. The only hope for Florida State to consistently keep BC at bay is for their defensive linemen to be ready to win one-on-ones up front and get them off schedule. In obvious passing downs, the ‘Noles will be fine. But they have to get there first. On offense, I expect more of the same. They’ll hit a few plays, hopefully including some long ones to Terry. But on a drive-to-drive basis, it’ll be tough sledding. I was more optimistic coming into this exercise than I am leaving it. I’ll take the Eagles 27-17 to officially sink FSU’s bowl chances.