TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Willie Taggart met with the media Monday to look back at Florida State’s 36-26 win over Samford last week and preview Saturday’s visit to Syracuse (noon, ESPN). Here are highlights from that conversation.
Meet the “Turnover backpack”: There have been chains and thrones, belts and hammers. There have been trashcans, wooden planks and even Mardi Gras beads. The trend of a “turnover reward” – an item of some significance (or maybe none) given to a defensive player who makes a takeaway – has swept across college football in the last year or so. And the Seminoles got in on the action last week.
Meet the turnover backpack (that’s still an unofficial designation, by the way), a bright red bag that FSU defenders are donning after an interception or fumble recovery.
The backpack, coach Willie Taggart said, symbolizes one of the team’s favorite mottos: “Secure the bag.”
Secure the bag, wear the backpack. Four Seminoles did so on Saturday night – Kyle Meyers (twice), Levonta Taylor, A.J. Westbrook and Marvin Wilson.
Taggart said the idea originated with Florida State’s defensive players.
“Our guys wanted to do something for the turnovers, and they decided they wanted to ‘secure the bag,’” Taggart said. “And that was their message of securing the bag, and (they) carried it five times on Saturday. I was very impressed with it.”
Asked if he personally likes the backpack, Taggart offered perhaps the most sensible answer:
“I love it when we get five takeaways,” he said. “And hopefully everybody else starts loving it, too. Because we’re getting a lot of takeaways, and you’ll see it a lot. …
“Hopefully our guys continue to get takeaways so we can all get used to it, we can all enjoy it and like that fact that our guys are out there getting things that we all want them to do, which is take the ball away.”
Tomahawk decals to stay: Speaking of rewards, Taggart also confirmed that he’ll continue the tradition of awarding tomahawk helmet decals to players who earn them.
Acknowledging the tomahawks as part of FSU’s football tradition, Taggart said that he wanted to apply specific conditions for earning the decals, and that he didn’t want to give them out casually.
“We have a list of criteria of what it takes to get one of the decals,” he said. “… We did just put some meaning behind in how you get them. You don’t just get them. You’ve got to go out and earn those things.
“So I think you’ll see them on our helmet as we go forward.”
Noles ‘can be better’ up front: Whether the result of injuries or inexperience, Florida State’s offensive line has shown room to improve through its first two games.
The Seminoles have allowed six sacks and 20 tackles for loss, and are running the ball at a clip of 3.6 yards per carry.
Responsibility for those numbers, Taggart reminded Monday, is shared by the entire offense. Not just the line. But he also acknowledged that the Seminoles’ front five needs to take a step forward.
“We can be better up front,” he said. “A lot of our problems are fundamentals, technique. It’s not physically getting whipped. It’s just blocking and doing things the right way.
“And, again, a lot of that comes back on coaching and also on our players taking the coaching and applying it on the field.”
The Seminoles have been a little unlucky, too. Right tackle Landon Dickerson, one of the team’s best linemen, went down with an injury against Virginia Tech and didn’t play against Samford.
Other linemen have missed plays with injuries, leaving coach Greg Frey juggling on the fly to find a suitable combination.
“We’ll get there,” Taggart said. “We’re a little better than we were Week 1. And we’ve got to be much better as we go up against Syracuse this week. And I know our guys will be.”
On a related note …
‘A matter of time’ for Akers: It’s been a slow start to the season for sophomore running back Cam Akers, a result, Taggart said, of perhaps pressing a little too much to make something happen.
Although he leads the team in rushing and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, Akers has yet to assert himself in a game the way he did a year ago.
That’s not for lack of effort.
“He’s just got to relax a little bit and trust his training and trust everything that Coach (Donte’) Pimpleton has taught him. Because when he does it that way, great things happen for us on the football field.”
Besides, it’s not as if Akers has been a no-show. He ripped off an 85-yard run – FSU’s longest play from scrimmage this season – in the opener against Virginia Tech, and also has struck for gains of 25, 14 and 11 yards.
Taggart believes that consistent production, the kind Akers expects from himself after racking up more than 1,000 yards as freshman, is on the way.
“I think he sees that, as we go watch film, ‘Golly, this is close,’” Taggart said. “Just like that, he can end up having one of the games that he anticipates having. We’ve just got to get all 11 guys playing on the same court and playing with the same passion that we all expect from them, and I think those things will happen for him.
“I think Cam sees that as close, and it is close for him. It’s just a matter of time.”
Cuse, Dungey a stiff challenge: While it hasn’t always had the record to match, Syracuse has settled in under coach Dino Babers and become a tough out for the rest of the ACC Atlantic.
The Orange went 4-8 a year ago, but it beat eventual ACC champ Clemson at home and was a blocked field goal away from sending its game at Florida State to overtime.
Syracuse’s 2017 season took a nosedive when quarterback Eric Dungey went down with a season-ending injury, but Dungey is back and off to a hot start: 646 total yards (402 passing, 244 rushing), eight touchdowns and one interception through two games.
The Orange lit up Western Michigan for 55 points in its opener, then added another 62 points against Wagner in Week 2.
“He’s a hell of a competitor. Kid loves to compete,” Taggart said of Syracuse’s Dungey. “He’s a hell of an athlete, too. He can run the ball and throw the football, and he can cause you a lot of problems.”
Taggart would know. He faced Dungey and Syracuse twice while coaching at USF, having won 45-24 in 2015 and 45-20 at Syracuse a year later.