Florida State’s offense could not get much going in an opening day loss to Virginia Tech, spoiling Willie Taggart’s debut as head coach.
Despite preaching “lethal simplicity” all offseason, FSU’s offense struggled to get the ball moving. Deondre Francois, making his first start since last September, made some nice throws and Cam Akers busted a long 85-yard run in the third quarter, but Florida State’s offense sputtered often. The ’Noles failed to reach the end zone for the first time since last year’s 35-3 loss to Boston College.
The issues with Florida State’s offense started with the run game. The ’Noles averaged 5.2 yards per play but more importantly, 3.4 yards per rush.
Akers and Jacques Patrick struggled to run the ball against a stout Virginia Tech defense. Outside of Akers’ long run, the pair combined for 37 yards on 20 carries. Virginia Tech’s defense lived in the backfield, racking up 14 tackles for loss and often putting the ’Noles behind the chains. Of the 63 offensive plays that FSU ran, 35 went for zero or negative yards.
Injuries to the offensive line were added adversity for this team. Starting offensive guard Cole Minshew did not suit up for this game and right tackle Landon Dickerson left with injury as well. Left tackle Jauan Williams and left guard Derrick Kelly each left for portions of the game as well. The depth along the offensive line was known to be a major liability and proved to be a factor in this game.
Francois started off hot, hitting Keith Gavin and Khalan Laborn for a couple of big plays down the field. But with the run game shut down, he started to struggle throwing the ball. Francois tossed three interceptions in this game, the second of which came when the junior quarterback threw the ball into coverage despite good pass protection. Francois finished with 233 passing yards, which was the majority of FSU’s 327 total yards.
Florida State particularly struggled in the red zone. After a big gain by Nyqwan Murray to the Virginia Tech 1-yard line, which looked like a touchdown on replay, the Seminoles settled for a field goal. Later in the game, FSU turned the ball over following Akers’ long run that set the offense up at the Virginia Tech 6-yard line.
Simply put, it just wasn’t Florida State’s night.
Overall, Florida State turned the ball over five times in this game, four of which came from the offense.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this offensive performance was the fact that Taggart’s offense looked completely unprepared for its debut. The Gulf Coast Offense, which saved Taggart’s career at USF and earned him jobs at Oregon and Florida State, was overwhelmed by Bud Foster’s defense. The Hokies feasted on FSU’s inexperienced offensive line and flew to the boundary when the ’Noles tried to get the ball to the outside.
The one positive aspect to this offensive performance is that FSU had Virginia Tech on the ropes at times. Several defensive players looked gassed and were forced to leave the field, especially along the defensive line.
Taggart’s debut as FSU’s head coach was disappointing, but the Florida State team he inherited went to the Independence Bowl last season and lost several stars to the NFL Draft. This was always going to be a rebuilding project for the Bradenton native, and this opening day loss to Virginia Tech proved that the Seminoles still have a long way to go.