WATCH: Willie Taggart, Sept. 30
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart had yet to make his way out for Florida State’s first open-week practice when the conversation turned to the Seminoles’ next opponent.
Tongue in cheek, Taggart smiled and asked, “Who do we have next?”
Taggart, of course, knew, same as Florida State fans have known since the schedule came out in February.
After a week off from game competition, the Seminoles (3-2, 2-1 ACC) will visit the Clemson Tigers (5-0, 3-0), who are the defending national champions, who have one of the sport’s most talented rosters and who, until recently, were the No. 1 team in the country. (They’ve since been bumped to No. 2 after a close win over North Carolina).
And if that weren’t enough, the game will be held at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, where the Tigers are currently riding an 18-game home winning streak. FSU knows how hard it is to play there, having won in “Death Valley” just three times in the last 20 years (1999, 2001 and 2013).
Even after notching a pair of encouraging victories, the Seminoles will have a big task on their hands come Oct. 12, and Taggart knows as much.
“It’s a great Clemson team,” he said. “So you can’t practice just one week and think you’re going to knock them off.”
So no, the Seminoles won’t wait until next week to begin their preparations.
But before then, Taggart wants his team to turn its gaze inward and focus on some fundamentals and problem areas that have popped up over the first five games of the season.
“We’ve got to work on us,” he said. “We have to understand Clemson and what they’re doing, but we’ve got to really work on us. I’ve said it before, but it will always be that way. It’s about Florida State.”
After an uneven start, there’s been a lot to like about the Seminoles over the past couple weeks. Particularly in their wins over NC State and Louisville and, at times, their loss at then-No. 25 Virginia.
FSU’s offense is averaging 33.2 points per game, has finished short of the 30-point mark just once and has one of the nation’s leading rushers in junior Cam Akers.
And the Seminoles’ defense, a sore spot in their first two games, has rebounded nicely as of late.
NC State’s 13 points last week were the fewest for an FSU opponent since Southern Mississippi in the 2017 Independence Bowl (also 13), and the Seminoles have vaulted 62 places in the national run defense rankings – up from 121st three weeks ago to 59th after limiting the Wolfpack to 88 rushing yards.
“The Virginia game really showed us the type of defense that we could be,” defensive tackle Cory Durden said. “Everybody’s been playing with confidence and playing together. No one is being a selfish player, and no one is getting mad when other teammates make plays.”
Taggart, however, was quick to note Monday that, despite FSU’s recent run of form, the Seminoles have still been far from perfect.
Up until the NC State game, playing well for a full four quarters had been an issue, evidenced by the fact that the Seminoles had squandered three-score leads in each of their first three home games.
And although that problem didn’t really arise against the Wolfpack, another one did: FSU allowed eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss, and has now allowed 19 sacks this season.
Correcting the mistakes that led to those sacks – whether they be on the offensive line or on the quarterback – will be among the line items on Taggart’s agenda over the next few days.
“We’re not where we want to be as a football team,” Taggart said. “You use this bye week to help you get better in some areas. There’s a lot of areas that need improvement. We know that, we understand that. We’ve got to emphasize those things throughout the bye week and everyone get better, players and coaches.
“That’s the key to the bye week.”
Which, in turn, will be key to FSU’s efforts at Clemson.
The national perception surrounding the Tigers is that they appear vulnerable midway through their title defense, and that perception was only bolstered after a 21-20 win at UNC during which the Tar Heels failed to convert a go-ahead two-point attempt in the game’s waning moments.
The Seminoles, however, aren’t buying into that.
If for no other reason than the Tigers have an open date this week, too.
“We’re going to need to be at our best against Clemson at their place,” Taggart said. “We’re going to use this bye week to really, really try to be at our best and executing at our best. Because that’s what is going to be needed.”