TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart’s offensive philosophy might be best be described by borrowing a familiar mantra:
Keep it simple, Seminoles.
A former quarterback himself, Taggart’s coaching roots are on the offensive side of the ball, and his schemes have adapted and evolved throughout stints at Western Kentucky, Stanford, South Florida and Oregon.
But no matter where’s he’s been, Taggart’s offenses have all shared a common foundation. He even has a catchy name for it, too.
“Lethal simplicity,” Taggart said at his introductory press conference.
“We want to score fast and often,” he added, “but be really simple when it comes to teaching our players – not confusing them on what they need to do, but allow our guys to go out and just play football and play fast.”
That suggests a stark departure from what Florida State fans are used to.
Former coach Jimbo Fisher famously ran a professional-style offense that, when it clicked, was among the most devastating attacks in the country. Not only did Fisher’s 2013 Seminoles win the national championship, they also finished as the highest scoring team in college football history.
A pro-style offense, however, meant pro-style demands on its players. Fisher’s offense was notoriously challenging for quarterbacks, and his tenure also featured several receivers who needed multiple years to learn the complexities of his route trees.
That 2013 offense, for example, had a once-in-a-generation player at quarterback (Jameis Winston), three veteran receivers (Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin), three junior running backs (Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams) and a junior tight end (Nick O’Leary).
FSU’s total output has since decreased in three of the last four seasons.
Taggart’s offense, meanwhile, is designed to be more plug-and-play. One style isn’t automatically better than the other. But it will be different.
“The beauty of it,” Taggart said, “(is) you look at your personnel and you cater your offense or defense to your personnel and make it go. I think that’s the beauty of the offense. Don’t care what you are – especially at quarterback, whether you’re a ‘pro-style’ or ‘dual-threat.’ Our offense can work with either guy.”
A look at Taggart’s quick work with Oregon suggests good things ahead.
In his only year with Ducks, they ranked 18th in scoring offense (36.7 points per game), 25th in total offense (454.3 yards per game) and eighth in rushing offense (268.0 yards per game).
And those numbers are heavily skewed by an injury that caused starting quarterback Justin Herbert to miss five games.
With Herbert in the huddle, the Ducks averaged 52 points per game. Extrapolated over 12 games, that would be the highest total in the country.
“I really like explosive plays,” Taggart said. “You’ll see a lot of explosive plays. We like those. I’m not one of those guys … that likes those long drives. I like to score fast. So as long as we can score fast and often, it’s a good thing. We take pride in doing that.”
“Fast” is another hallmark of Taggart’s offenses. The wave of hurry-up attacks has spread across college football in recent years, with Tallahassee one of the few places it hasn’t fully reached.
That’s about to change.
Taggart’s offenses have increased their tempo in each of the last three seasons – 2015 and 2016 at USF, 2017 at Oregon – with the Ducks ranking as the sixth-fastest team in the country according to the analytics gurus at FootballStudyHall.com.
Florida State, by contrast, was 127th out of 130 FBS teams and averaged exactly 10 fewer points per game than the Ducks.
“The offense before wasn’t really that hard to me,” FSU running back Jacques Patrick said, “but keeping it simple, no “Mike” calls or anything like that, it’s going to be something interesting to see.”
While FSU’s offensive players will be learning a new system, a handful of Seminole defenders are at least a little bit familiar with what’s to come.
They got a firsthand look at it a year ago, when they visited South Florida early in the season. While the Seminoles pulled out a 55-35 victory, the Bulls’ offense caused plenty of problems.
Led by star quarterback Quinton Flowers, the Bulls racked up 450 yards of offense, averaged 8.2 yards per play and struck for six plays of 25-plus yards.
That includes an 84-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
“I just know they scored on the first play,” FSU cornerback Levonta Taylor said. “…When we played USF, I heard he was a great coach, has a great, fast-paced offense and he’s a cool coach to get along with.”