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Analyzing FSU’s Success as a Program Part 4: FSU’s Rise and Fall Under Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart

We will look at the team under Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart: 2010-2019

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Wake Forest at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Originally published Aug. 2020

The last chapter in how Florida State Seminoles football has performed since 1987 is a deep dive on how the team rose and fell (and then fell some more) during Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart’s runs as head coach, spanning from 2010-2019. If you want to see how the team did during the dynasty era and the lost decade, you’ll find it in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the series.

Overall, the last decade of FSU football can be divided into two parts, before the 2013 championship and after. When we look at the offenses, we see this:

Figure 1: Offensive Yards/Play per game 2010-2019
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  1. The offense, through 2013, continues the improvement that Jimbo Fisher started when he was hired in 2007. The 2010 and 2011 offenses (6.14 and 5.85 Yards/Play per game, respectively) weren’t quite as prolific as the 2009 offense, but they were better than any of the teams in the second half of the “lost decade” and were on par with dynasty era teams. The 2012 (7.11 Yards/Play) and 2013 (7.98 Yards/Play) teams were two of the top three most productive teams on offense going back to 1987. Only the 2000 team was as productive.
  2. The remainder of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure showed a productive, but declining offense. You can see the effect of graduations and early entries to the NFL in how the 2014 (6.3 Yards/Play) squad performed. The interesting thing to note about the 2014 squad was how consistent they were game to game. Granted, Jameis Winston was consistently putting FSU in a hole and getting them out in the nick of time. Surprisingly, the 2015 and 2016 offenses were slightly more productive than the ‘14 squad (6.49 and 6.46 Yards/Play, respectively). The low point of Jimbo’s tenure came with the 2017 team (5.58 Yards/Play). We know this was due to Francois’ injury in game 1, busts at the QB position, and having to start true freshman James Blackman at QB.
  3. The 2018 offense cost Willie Taggart his job. The 2018 offense (5.11 Yards/Play) was the least productive FSU offense going back to 1987. We all know why the offense was poor, but the sheer, consistent, ineptness of it was noticeable. The performance of the offense put Taggart in a hole so deep that it would take massive improvements across the board to keep him employed. Hiring Kendall Briles in 2019 certainly helped. The 2019 offense (5.92 Yards/Play) was an improvement from 2018. However, the offense seemed to bog down as the season went on. You can also tell how the team responded after Coach Taggart was fired. Playing Boston College and Alabama State certainly helped.
  4. Except for 2017, FSU always played below average against UF. I know it is a rivalry game, but I find it amazing that UF consistently tends to bring out bad performances by the offense.

How do the Offenses Compare to the Dynasty Era?

Let’s take a look at the Sharpe Charts for Jimbo Fisher’s tenure and then Willie Taggart’s year and a half and see how they rate versus the Dynasty Era.

Figure 2: Sharpe Plot of Offensive Yards per Play from 2010-2017
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Figure 3: Sharpe Plot of Offensive Yards per Play from 1987-2000
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The interesting thing from looking at the charts is that all but two of Jimbo’s offenses were above average. Even his worst offenses in 2011 and 2017 were on par with the dynasty era. The 2017 team was extremely inconsistent game to game. A slightly more than the 2004 squad. The 2012 and 2013 squads were off the charts and better than the dynasty era championship teams.

Figure 4: Sharpe Plot of Offensive Yards per Play from 2018-2019
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Figure 5: Sharpe Plot of Offensive Yards per Play from 1987-2000
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Willie Taggart’s offenses were the exact opposite of Jimbo’s. Both were below the 33 year average. The 2018 offense was historically bad and in the same cluster of teams as the 2004 and 2006 offenses which were at the low point of the lost decade. The 2019 team was on par with the bottom half of the dynasty era teams in terms of production albeit more inconsistent than all of them.

Analyzing the Defense During Fisher and Taggart’s tenure at FSU

We can now turn our attention to the defense and see how each team performed during the last 9 seasons.

Figure 6: Defensive Yards per Play from 2010-2019
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  1. The defense played at dynasty era levels up to 2013. After the debacle that was 2009, the defense improved greatly under Mark Stoops and Jeremy Pruitt. The ‘10-’13 defenses gave up 4.68, 4.05, 3.65, and 4.04 Yards/Play per game, respectively. Those are on-par with the dynasty era teams. You can also see the improvement in the 2013 squad as the season progressed. As good as the 2013 defense was, it was definitely the offense that set this team apart.
  2. The 2014-2017 teams were at the lost decade level. From 2014-2017, the defense gave up 5.14, 4.71, 5.4, and 4.75 Yards/Play per game. These defenses were more like the 2004-2008 squads in how they performed. It is noticeable that the 2016 team improved as the season went on. Then again, they were the 2nd worst defense in the last 33 years. Maybe the “no-loaf” pledges worked?
  3. The 2018 and 2019 defenses were really bad. Overall, the 2018 (5.28 Yards/Play) and 2019 (5.38 Yards/Play) were the 4th and 3rd worst defenses since 1987. The 2018 defense performed worse after game 7 and was an inconsistent defense overall. The 2019 defense was consistently bad.

How do the Defenses Compare with the Dynasty Era?

Taking a look at the Sharpe Charts we see this:

Figure 7: Sharpe Chart of Defensive Yards/Play from 2010-2017
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Figure 8: Sharpe Chart of Defensive Yards/Play from 1987-2000.
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The defenses during Jimbo’s era ran the gamut from some of the best (2012) to some of the worst (2014, 2016) since the beginning of the dynasty era. Though they were below average on the whole. You can definitely tell the difference in coordinators before and after 2013. It is also surprising how bad the 2014 defense was given the talent.

Figure 9: Sharpe Chart of Defensive Yards/Play from 2018-2019
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Figure 10: Sharpe Chart of Defensive Yards/Play from 1987-2000
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The 2018 defense was bad and inconsistent game to game. This defense did not do the offense any favors either. The 2019 defense wasn’t much better in terms of giving up yards. They were; however, much more consistent.

Future Articles

Looking ahead, it would be good to revisit this using advanced measures like the five factors and adjust for schedule strength. What else would you like to see us look at? Are there any specific years you want us to dive into? Sound off in the comments,