September 8, 2018 - by
Game Preview: Florida State vs. Samford

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In 1998, Willie Taggart’s senior year at Western Kentucky, he led the Hilltoppers up the road to Louisville to play the Big East power Cardinals in front of 32,649 people.

It was the largest crowd to watch a Western Kentucky game in more than eight years – since the last time WKU had visited Louisville – and, despite 288 combined rushing yards from Taggart and Donte’ Pimpleton, the Cardinals won, 63-34.

The game didn’t turn out the way he wanted, but Taggart still remembers what it felt like to guide the Division I-AA Hilltoppers against a big-budget school like Louisville.

“That was a long time ago,” Taggart said with a smile on Thursday morning. “It was cool. You had something to prove – go out and prove that you could play with the best of them as well.”

Twenty years later, Taggart is the head coach at Florida State and Pimpleton, his cohort in the WKU backfield, is serving as FSU’s running backs coach.

This week, they’ll lead FSU against Samford, an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) that’s looking to come to Tallahassee and prove that it can play with the best.

Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m., inside Doak Campbell Stadium.

“We’re going to go down there and give it our best shot,” Samford coach Chris Hatcher said earlier this week. “It’s an exciting time for us. We only get to do this once a year, to play in this type of venue and this type of atmosphere. We’re going to relish every minute of it.”

Despite suffering a 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech on Monday, the Seminoles will of course still be heavy favorites on Saturday.

FSU is 23-0 all-time against FCS opponents, with an average margin of victory of more than 43 points per game.

That includes a 59-6 triumph over Samford in 2010, the last meeting between the two schools.

Still, the Seminoles have good reason to give the Bulldogs their full attention. First, the obvious: FSU will play the game on just five days’ rest, after a truncated week of practice. (It’s maybe worth note that FSU’s closest win over an FCS team, a 10-point victory against Jacksonville State in 2009, came under similar circumstances.)

Samford, meanwhile, opened its season last Thursday.

Beyond that, Samford is one of the better programs at the FCS level.

The Bulldogs are ninth the FCS Top 25 poll, have made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and have occasionally stood up to some of college football’s heavyweights.

Two years ago, Samford trailed by just eight points midway through the fourth quarter at Mississippi State. In 2017, the Bulldogs were within striking distance of Georgia at halftime.

They lost both those games, as FCS teams often do when they punch above their weight class. But Hatcher hopes that the experience gained in those contests can come in handy on Saturday.

“It would be a lot of fun to have a shot there late in the game, like we did two years ago,” he said. “Maybe with some of the veterans we have returning, we can find a way to get over the hump.”

Game Preview: Florida State vs. Samford


The most important of those veterans is senior quarterback Devlin Hodges, the reigning Southern Conference offensive player of the year and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which is goes to the FCS Player of the Year.

That’s a distinction he shares with Taggart, who was a finalist for the award in 1997 and 98.

“You can tell that (Hodges) has a real good understanding of their offense and what they’re doing,” Taggart said. “They throw the ball around and get the ball to their guys and let them make plays. … Our DBs will be up for a challenge on Saturday.”

Be that as it may, the Seminoles’ biggest challenges will likely come from within.

Samford has some quality players around Hodges, including receiver Kelvin McKnight (1,156 yards, 12 TDs in 2017) and defensive end Ahmad Goodin (98 tackles, 5.5 sacks), the SoCon defensive player of the year, but the Bulldogs will likely have a hard time matching up with FSU’s depth and athleticism.

Football Bowl Subdivision schools are allowed 85 scholarship players, while the FCS is capped at 63. The Bulldogs have just one receiver on their two-deep taller than 6-foot-1 (FSU has four) and they have just one defensive lineman tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds (FSU has three).

With that in mind, Florida State will likely judge success first on the scoreboard, but also in the signs of progress it makes from Week 1 to Week 2.

The Seminoles will be looking to flip their turnover margin – they were minus-5 in that category last week – improve in the red zone, and quickly get their hurry-up offense in gear.

Do all that, and they should head to Syracuse next week with a confidence-boosting win.

“We know the things we did wrong and we know how to fix them,” sophomore running back Cam Akers said. “This week, that’s what we’ll be coming out and doing.”

Changes up front …
FSU’s offensive line will look a little different than the one that took the field on Monday. Fifth-year senior Derrick Kelly is expected to move from left guard to right tackle while usual tackle Landon Dickerson recovers from an ankle injury. Kelly has played every position on the line except for center. Arthur Williams, a recently converted defensive tackle, will start at left guard, and FSU still hopes that right guard Cole Minshew can play after missing Week 1.

Odds and ends …

  • Florida State and Samford have a surprisingly deep history. Coaches Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher both attended the school (it was called Howard College when Bowden went there), and FSU opened the Jimbo Fisher Era against Samford in 2010. Both Bowden and Fisher are members of the Samford Hall of Fame.
  • Since Bowden took over in 1976, FSU is 12-3 when playing with less than a full week to prepare.
  • Samford has a few local ties: Lineman Brendan Loftus and defensive back Darius Harvey are both from Tallahassee, and Hatcher previously coached at Valdosta State, about 90 minutes away.
  • Cam Akers’ 85-yard run last week was the longest non-touchdown run in FSU history, and tied Rock Preston (1995) for FSU’s seventh-longest run of any kind.
  • FSU on Friday will induct its latest Hall-of-Fame class, and this group is particularly star-studded: Teresa Bundy (women’s track and field), Walter Dix (men’s track and field), Jim Gladden (coaches and administrators), Odell Haggins (football), Buster Posey (baseball), Al Thornton (men’s basketball), Veronica Wootson (softball), Mami Yamaguchi (soccer), Bob Perrone (Moore-Stone Award)

Pre-game reads…

Listen in…


Week 2 interviews …

Head coach Willie Taggart

RB Cam Akers

Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett

DB Hamsah Nasirildeen

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