Year two of Willie Taggart’s tenure is officially underway in Tallahassee, and the new offense has had some time to settle in. The combination of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, offensive lineman coach Randy Clements, and wide receiver coach Ron Dugans has the team buying into the rebuild, and it’s slowly translating onto the field. Remember, it’s only April, so you can only take away so much from a spring game. Still, there is definitely progress. While it’s hard to gauge how many of the changes are because of Briles or because the team is more comfortable with the new offense, Taggart and his team had a lot of positive things to say about how the off-season was going with the new staff and with the team following the annual spring game.
The second-year FSU head coach gave credit to both time and the new coaches for the Seminoles’ spring success:
“Briles and his simplicity, his simple way of teaching I should say, has helped big time and not just with Coach Briles, but everybody has been on the same page and understanding the offense,” Taggart said. “Once you get everybody, coaches, and players all on the same page, those things happen. The team chemistry that we have now is night and day to where we’re where we were this time last year, and it should be. We know each other, we understand each other, we went through the fire and know our strength and weaknesses. Now each and every day we can build on our strength and try to limit our weaknesses.”
Perhaps more importantly, Florida State is slowly limiting its weaknesses. Last season, the Seminoles struggled with penalties committing an enormous amount on the offensive side that often killed Florida State’s drive. In Saturday’s spring game, only one pre-snap penalty was committed in the first half by true freshman Dontae Lucas. There were only two procedure penalties total (both false starts) which are still an improvement.
“The team has been working hard limiting penalties, and it was good not to have as many, especially those pre-snap penalties,” Taggart pointed out. “It was good to see from that standpoint you talked about the penalty our young guy had, I was really excited how our guys didn’t let that penalty kill that drive. How they bounced back and made plays and they finished that drive with a touchdown and again in the past that killed us, we would have a penalty like that, that stops the drive, and our guys bounced back, and that was good to see.”
Briles didn’t want to come to Florida State without his offensive line coach by his side, and the reduction in mental mistakes from the line is maybe one reason that supports why. Center Baveon Johnson had a lot of praise for Coach Clements, and he is likely the one to credit for a “better” looking line on Saturday. Splitting the unit between the Garnet and Gold teams with an already depleted line as assumed starters Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew did not play was clearly unfavorable, but the results weren’t a complete disaster, and that’s already a mini-victory in my book.
Johnson was insistent on the fact that, although the unit did better this spring, there is still a lot of work to do:
“I love him (Clements), he is a mixture of the two I had previously (Rick Trickett and Greg Frey), he can be rowdy sometimes, and he can be laid back and funny sometimes,” Johnson said after the game. “He’s different, but he’s what we need, and I feel like behind him we can achieve a lot.”
Florida State’s offense featured a lot of big plays and significant gains in the passing game on Saturday, and the wide receiver unit was amped up about the new installation.
When asked about the success, wide receiver Tamorrion Terry didn’t hold back:
“Yes sir, I love that! Y’all don’t love that? I love that, this offense right here, we are going to do something with this offense right here. I trust this process, and I trust Kendal Briles. He knows what he’s doing, it’s a fast tempo, a real fast tempo and we are just going to go out there and prove everyone wrong that’s doubting us.”
The sophomore added, “Briles brought a little swagger to it, I can say that, a little swag. It’s because, in his offense, we have options routes. We can run whatever we want to run. Whoever the quarterback is, we have to be bought in, so we can just run anything, and it’s good for the receiver because we get everyone open.”
And wide open they were:
Between both teams, there were 17 passes of 15 or more yards. Seven different receivers caught passes for a gain of 25 yards or more. Taggart credits Coach Dugans for doing a great job of getting the wide receiver corp to play to a certain standard. He emphasized, “that group is really close, they’re so much closer than what they were last year, and they all hold each other to a standard. I think that’s why they all are making plays now when they go in there. They’re playing with confidence too, and they’re young. They’re getting older and older and more knowledge of the game is only going to help them.”
Sophomore Keyshawn Helton led all receivers with 8 receptions for 157 yards. While he agreed that the second year under the new offense has helped, he credited most of the success to Briles. The Florida native said, “Briles is an excellent coach, and he leads us in a way where you want to make plays for him.”
The players are buying into Briles:
After an explosive first year at Florida State, running back Cam Akers struggled last year with an injury.
“Year two has given us time under Coach Taggart, time to learn who he is, time with getting to know some of the coaches, time to come together, and actually buy into what’s going on,” Akers said. “Briles came in and turned things around. He did things the way he wanted them to be done. Everyone bought into the offense that he brought in. We want to, everyone wants to do it, everyone wants to go out and play for him. We play for each other.”