October 25, 2019 - by
Game Preview: Florida State vs. Syracuse

WATCH: Layne Herdt and Tim Linafelt breakdown FSU’s homecoming game against Syracuse

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart said it Thursday morning, same as countless other coaches, fans and reporters have said it over the years:

“You are what your record is.”

At some point, that maxim is true for every team, regardless of sport or league.

But, go beneath that surface, and it’s easy to see that all records aren’t created equal.

For example, both Florida State and its next opponent, Syracuse, sport 3-4 overall records.

The Orange’s three wins have come against the likes of Liberty, Western Michigan and Holy Cross, and coach Dino Babers’ bunch has yet to beat a Power 5 opponent.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, have lost four games to teams with a combined record of 24-4. And, outside of their lopsided loss at then-No. 2 Clemson, they’ve lost three games by a total of 14 points. And they’ve held fourth-quarter leads in all three.

Yes, losses all count the same. But these could also be an indicator that, despite having more losses than they did at this time a year ago, the Seminoles are an improved team.

Taggart certainly believes so.

“We’re that close,” he said. “It’s on the uptick. This time last year, none of those games were this close. We weren’t in any of these ballgames.”

The next step, Taggart said – and it is a big one – is to make what he calls “winning plays.”

To be the team that comes through in close games, when it matters most.

The Seminoles have made some this season – Alex Hornibrook’s go-ahead touchdown pass to Tamorrion Terry after FSU fell behind to Louisville in the fourth quarter comes to mind.

But, as Taggart noted, they’ve probably missed out on far more.

Off the top of his head, he reeled off three:

  • A Boise State fumble that FSU defenders failed to recover, on a drive that ended in a Broncos touchdown.
  • A frantic final play at Virginia in which players missed assignments  and running back Cam Akers was stopped a few yards short of a tying touchdown.
  • A missed field goal late in last week’s loss at Wake Forest.

All three of those plays occurred in the fourth quarter. Had any of the three gone differently, the Seminoles’ record might say something else.

So, Taggart’s top priority, for both the remainder of this regular season and beyond, is to identify those plays and moments and make sure the Seminoles are on the right side of them.

“Our guys are in position,” Taggart said. “We’ve just got to do it. We’ve got to step up and do it when it’s there. And it’s just a matter of time because it’s frustrating.”

Taggart is hardly the first to feel that pain.

Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles narrowly missed out on three national championships in the late 80s and early 90s, due to either missed kicks or a failed two-point conversion.

Jimbo Fisher’s era was marked with inexplicable losses and late collapses before his 2013 team flipped that script.

There are maybe hundreds of examples, across individual and team sports, of those that could never seem to get their major breakthrough. Until one day, sometimes without any obvious reason or explanation, they did.

“We’re five or six plays away from being a team that’s 6-1,” FSU defensive tackle Cory Durden said. “There’s plays that could’ve been made. There’s plays that have to be made. We’ve just got to keep going forward.”

For now, the Seminoles are aiming to be a team that’s 4-4 after this weekend.

They’ll be up against a Syracuse team that, despite its struggles, has played to close defeats against NC State and Pittsburgh in its last two outings.

The Orange have a respectable defense that’s led by a strong pass rush (3.3 sacks per game), but struggles on the offensive line – Syracuse has allowed five more sacks than any team in college football – have severely hindered their efforts this season.

So much so that starting quarterback Tommy DeVito’s status is in question after receiving a big hit last week.

“They’re desperate,” FSU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “Just like we are.”

Odds and ends… 

  • Florida State leads the all-time series with Syracuse, 10-2, and is 5-0 against the Orange at home.
  • FSU will host a reunion and honor its 1999 football team on the 20th anniversary of its national championship run. Peter Warrick, Corey Simon, Chris Hope and Marvin Minnis are among the more than 40 former players, coaches and support staffers expected to attend. Receiver Ron Dugans, Cornerback Mario Edwards and assistant coach Odell Haggins are all on FSU’s current football staff.
  • Saturday is Homecoming at Florida State. The Seminoles are 58-12-1 all-time on Homecoming with seven consecutive wins.
  • FSU’s defense has allowed just 19 touchdowns on 39 opposing trips to the red zone, good for a 48.72 touchdown percentage that ranks second in the ACC and 23rd That figure was boosted last week, when FSU held Wake Forest to five field goals and one touchdown inside the red zone.
  • The Seminoles last week did not allow a passing touchdown for the first time since November 2017.
  • Six of Syracuse’s 13 passing touchdowns this season have come from plays of 40-plus yards. That includes a 94-yarder last week that was the longest in the ACC this season. The Orange’s average length for passing touchdowns is 34.5 yards.
  • Nine of Syracuse’s 20 offensive touchdowns have come from outside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
  • Syracuse has the nation’s longest active streak of games with a takeaway, at 21.

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