September 15, 2018 - by
Game Preview: Florida State at Syracuse
Listen to Gene and the crew call the game.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – No matter the scheme or philosophy, football coaches across America love to say that their teams make their most progress between Weeks 1 and 2.

The thinking goes that all the jitters, hiccups and missteps that come in a season opener fall by the wayside, and a team can take a big step – perhaps the biggest – toward reaching its full potential.

Florida State and coach Willie Taggart hope that the Seminoles are a week behind schedule, and there’s good reason to think they might be.

Because after opening their season with two games in five days, in a sense playing two games in their Week 1, the Seminoles are entering this week’s contest at Syracuse having just finished their first full, “normal” week of game-planning and practices.

Which means that Saturday’s visit to the Carrier Dome could be a fine opportunity for the Seminoles to start clicking in all three phases of the game.

That thought has occurred to Syracuse coach Dino Babers.

“I think these guys are ready to explode on somebody,” Babers said earlier this week. “And I hope it’s not us.”

This would be a good time do it.

Both to get on the right side of .500 and to even their conference record, but also to calm the nerves of an antsy fanbase that watched the Seminoles drop a 24-3 decision to Virginia Tech on Labor Day, then follow that up with a fourth-quarter rally to beat Samford the following Saturday.

“It’s on us to change that,” Taggart said. “We can’t ask anyone to say nice things to us all the time if we’re not doing our part.”

Game Preview: Florida State at Syracuse

In Syracuse, the Seminoles will face a challenge, but also an opportunity.

Orange quarterback Eric Dungey (646 total yards, eight TDs) is one of the ACC’s best, and at 6-4, 226 pounds, is as much a threat to run as to pass.

Dungey, along with junior receiver Jamal Custis (209 yards, three TDs), leads an offense that’s averaging more than 508 yards and 58.5 points per game.

Both those numbers are among the highest in the country.

“We know how the game is going to flow,” FSU cornerback Levonta Taylor said. “Trick plays, bubble screens, stuff like that. So, we’ve just got to come to play Saturday.”

Then again, Syracuse’s gaudy stats and point totals came against Western Michigan and Wagner, neither of which measure up to FSU’s competition so far.

That Western Michigan managed 621 yards and 42 points against the Orange two weeks ago suggests that FSU’s offense could perhaps be in for a “get-right” game on Saturday.

“We are close,” Taggart said. “We show signs of what we can be on the offensive side of the ball. … I see an improvement this week. It’s all technical more than anything, and everything that’s a problem with our O-line and in our offense is all correctable. That’s why we’re not panicking.”

Although the two programs haven’t had much in common lately – FSU has won 10 straight against Syracuse, and the Orange hasn’t so much as been to a bowl game since 2013 – there may be lessons for the Seminoles to learn from Syracuse as they gauge their progress in Taggart’s first year.

They’re not exactly the same, but there are similarities between Taggart’s “Gulf Coast” offense and the hurry-up, no-huddle style that Babers employs at Syracuse.

And, like FSU, the Orange went through a few growing pains as it transitioned into a new offensive scheme.

At the time, Babers told reporters that it would take around 15 games the team to fully adapt – “Year 2, Game 4,” to be more specific.

Beset by injuries, the Orange didn’t improve its overall record in Babers’ second year, but it did claim a signature win: a 27-24 triumph over then-No. 3 Clemson at the Carrier Dome.

And early returns, competition level aside, suggest that Syracuse could take things up a notch in Babers’ third year at the helm.

Florida State, meanwhile, is on Game 3 with Taggart, and no doubt hoping for an accelerated timeline.

That could start this week, if the Seminoles can make that first big stride.

“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.”

Gainer potentially available … Taggart said Thursday that freshman linebacker Amari Gainer is expected to play for the first time this season. A Tallahassee native and early-enrollee, Gainer had a standout spring but then suffered a foot injury on the first day of fall camp.

His return is most welcome news for a linebacker corps that’s still recovering from injuries to veterans while starting a pair of freshmen in Jaiden Woodbey and DeCalon Brooks.

“He’s had a good week of practice, without any setbacks,” Taggart said. “And hopefully he can go in and help us a little bit this week.

Sticking with Ricky … Taggart is standing by kicker Ricky Aguayo, who has started the season by making one of his four field-goal attempts. That led to questions that Taggart might consider using junior Logan Tyler in some field goal situations, especially since Tyler has handled long-range field goal duties in the past.

Taggart, however, said he doesn’t plan to make a change, and that he’s confident Aguayo will return to form.

“Ricky has shown before that he can kick field goals and do a good job at it,” Taggart said. “… He is just kind of like our entire football team – just needs to be consistent, focus and do what we know we’re capable of doing.”

Odds and ends …

  • Florida State is 10-1 all-time against Syracuse, with 10 straight victories. The Seminoles are 4-0 at the Carrier Dome.
  • Taggart is no stranger to the Orange, either. He twice met Syracuse while coaching at South Florida, in 2015 and 16, and came away with victories in both games.
  • FSU completed 31 passes last week – the most ever for a Taggart-coached team.
  • Syracuse’s Dungey and FSU quarterback Deondre Francois both rank in the national top 10 in total yards per game. Dungey is third with 298.5 yards per game, while Francois’ 268.1 ranks seventh.
  • Syracuse will honor its 1996, 97 and 98 Big East championship teams on Saturday. Among the Orange alums expected to attend are Pro Bowl QB Donovan McNabb and kicker Olindo Mare.
  • FSU’s defense forced five takeaways last week, its most since grabbing seven against Wake Forest in 2013. Syracuse, meanwhile, has five interceptions through two games and has already eclipsed its total from last year (four).

Pre-game reads…

Listen in…


Week 3 interviews …

Head coach Willie Taggart

DT Marvin Wilson

CB Levonta Taylor

Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett

RB Cam Akers

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell

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