• Willie Taggart’s offense of “lethal simplicity” looked unprepared against a dominant Hokies defense.
By Andy Staples
September 03, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Even after losing Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M, Florida State was supposed to be able to bounce back from a 2017 season when everything went wrong, starting with a Labor Day matchup against Virginia Tech. But after Willie Taggart had one of the most disastrous coaching debuts in recent memory, the Seminoles have even more questions to answer. Here are three thoughts from the Hokies’ 24–3 win at Doak Campbell Stadium.

1. Taggart has called his offense “lethal simplicity.” On Monday, it was lethal—for the Seminoles.

Perhaps he needs to make it simpler, because at times, Florida State’s offense looked as if it hadn’t practiced. The Seminoles couldn’t block a run play at all for the first three quarters, and while quarterback Deondre Francois had his moments through the air, he spent much of that time trying to avoid rushers who had come free. 

Florida State had gained 15 rushing yards on 24 attempts before Cam Akers ripped off an 85-yard run with 11:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. That run set up the Seminoles with first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, but they followed it with perhaps their most pathetic set of downs of the night. On first down, Akers carried for no gain. On second down, Francois threw to tight end Tre’ McKitty, who was dragged down for a loss of four. On third down, Akers took the snap from the wildcat, but the Seminoles fumbled the exchange on a read option and Virginia Tech recovered. 

At that point, Virginia Tech defenders had combined for 13 tackles for losses. “We did it to ourselves,” Taggart said. 

The Hokies had a tumultuous offseason, losing three prospective defensive starters and another key player on top of losing four NFL draftees—including two first-rounders—and two more NFL signees. But even with an inexperienced group, the Hokies dominated on that side of the ball. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had a long and accomplished career full of excellent performances from his unit, but Monday may go down as one of Foster’s finest games.

2. Virginia Tech controlled the game from the first possession. 

Virginia Tech marched down the field after receiving the opening kickoff. The Seminoles looked helpless as the Hokies averaged 7.5 yards a play on the drive and reached the end zone on a beautiful 10-yard pass from Josh Jackson to Damon Hazelton.

After Seminoles receiver Nyqwan Murray gave the ball back to the Hokies with a fumble, Virginia Tech tailback Deshawn McClease ripped off a 23-yard run. The Florida State defense appeared to get its bearings at that point. Jackson’s next three passes fell incomplete, and the Hokies settled for a 29-yard Brian Johnson field goal.

The Hokies added another touchdown in the second quarter after tight end Chris Cunningham blocked Logan Tyler’s punt. The ball squirted into the air, where receiver Eric Kumah caught it and ran it in for a touchdown. 

Virginia Tech didn’t need to score again, but Kumah added a 49-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to pour it on more.

3. The Seminoles couldn’t take advantage of the limited chances they had.

Florida State’s Murray appeared to score at the end of a 30-yard reception midway through the second quarter, but officials marked him down at the 1-yard line. Had Florida State waited a few beats before trying to run the next play, officials might have reviewed the play. If they had, the review official might have ruled that Murray’s knee was not down. It appeared that he rolled across a Virginia Tech tackler and into the end zone. But the Seminoles tried to run their next play quickly. They were flagged for a false start, and the previous play was no longer eligible to be reviewed. Florida State then sputtered through three plays before Ricky Aguayo kicked a 22-yard field goal to finally get the Seminoles on the scoreboard. “They said they were reviewing it,” Taggart said. Taggart said an official told him it was not a touchdown.

The sequence was emblematic of the night for Florida State. The Seminoles actually outgained the Hokies 327 yards to 319, but they looked like they had barely been coached.

Florida State’s offense spent most of the third and fourth quarters backed up against its own end zone. When Virginia Tech got the ball, the Hokies didn’t need to gain many yards because they had such good field position. 

The Seminoles will need to work to stop giving up so many hidden yards. But that’s just one pile on a mountain of issues that need addressing.

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