September 23, 2019 - by
Willie Taggart Press Conference: September 23

WILLIE TAGGART: Well, it’s always good to get a win in Doak, especially our first ACC win, which was big for our football team against Louisville last week. Gives us some positive momentum going into the game this week against North Carolina State here at Doak once again. We’re looking forward to another good football team coming in here and another challenge for our football team.

Q. Coach, the defensive line and the defensive front in general had a lot of success both getting after the quarterback and stopping the run last week. We haven’treally seen much of that this season where they’ve got it clicking on both ends like that. When they’re going that way, what kind of potential could that have for the rest of the defense?
WILLIE TAGGART: The last two weeks, our guys did a good job stopping the run, holding our opponents below their season average. I think a lot of it has to do with our guys getting comfortable with what we’re doing defensively, and now they’re able to play at a higher level than what they were before because they’re not thinking as much.

Then it’s just more everybody’s been on the same page and owning and taking care of their gaps when it comes to stopping the run and getting a lot of guys running to the football. It all starts with the D-line – Marvin [Wilson] and Cory [Durden] and [Robert] Cooper are doing a great job of just dominating the line of scrimmage.

And our linebackers over the last couple of games have gotten better filling the gaps, and our safeties have done a great job of supporting, coming up with supporting the run as well, and that’s been improvement from the first game until where we’re at now.

Q. Willie, I was wondering if you could update us on Jaiden [Lars-Woodbey] and James’ [Blackman] health status.
WILLIE TAGGART: Jaiden — unfortunately, Jaiden will be out for the remainder of the season, and James is more day to day.

Q. Granted, it’s a really dumb rule about the celebration, you’re not supposed to celebrate before you get in the end zone. Tamorrion [Terry] did. Did you talk to him after the game about maybe not doing that? Because it could have been a penalty.
WILLIE TAGGART: I talked to him right after he did. Not after the game, right after he did it.

Q. Did he get the message?
WILLIE TAGGART: I hope so. We’ll see next time when he gets a long touchdown and see if he does it again. No, he got the message.

Q. Obviously, Alex [Hornibrook] seemed to play well Saturday. Going back over the film, what did you guysthink?
WILLIE TAGGART: He did a good job. He did a good job. He went in there in the second quarter — I think it was the second quarter or first quarter. He did a good job. When James [Blackman] went down, he did a good job of coming in and executing some drives for our football team and leading our guys down to some scores to help us win the football game.

I thought he came in and played well, kind of like some of our other guys throughout the season that had to step up and make plays, he was ready when the opportunity came, and he did a good job of helping us.

Q. You mentioned momentum in the opening statement. I guess, I mean the Louisville game ends, you finally kind of have one end in your favor. You end one strong like that. How important is kind of carrying that forward and maybe building a win streak? What can it do for your confidence?
WILLIE TAGGART: That’s a plan, to start our own streak, winning streak, and it’s got to start somewhere. You’ve got to get some momentum somewhere, and our guys were able to do it against Louisville. The key now is to build off of that win and continue the progress as our team has been doing all season long.

We haven’t played our best yet, but we have been improving, and I think that’s important that we continue to improve and continue to learn how to win and continue to do the things it takes to win, and I thought our guys did that on Saturday.

I talked to you guys a couple weeks ago, how we’re still learning how to win and how we were doing losing things. Part of losing things was penalties. Part of losing things was turnovers. This past game, our guys got better at that. We didn’t turn the ball over, and we only had like five penalties. So the guys are learning, they’re correcting their mistakes, and when you correct mistakes, you get better, and as you get better, you start winning. We got a win, and we’ve got to keep building off of it.

Q. Coach, to go along with that, you mentioned this team needs to learn how to win again. The confidence level, what does winning do for their confidence, and did you notice a significant difference on Saturday after that game?
WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, our guys are fired up. I think it’sbeen good for us. Again, each week has been something different, but it’s been building up to us correcting things in order to win the ball game. Again, we kept talking about finishing games, but we hadn’t done that all season for the most part. Our guys stuck together and found a way.

The thing I was excited about was how many different guysstepped up for their teammates and made winning plays when we needed it the most. In the past, we weren’t getting that, and our guys were making them on Saturday, and it paid off for us.

Again, it shows our guys that we can do it. We can be down and come back and win a ball game. You don’t have to just keep your head down when things don’t go our way. Just keep fighting till the end. Our guys did it, and it paid off.

Q. Willie, the game was already decided, but Marvin Wilson recovers that fumble, just hustling on his 60-something snap. What do you — I guess what kind of example has he been for the rest of the team?
WILLIE TAGGART: He’s been exactly what we’re looking for in every student-athlete. I mean, Marvin is just — he loves the game of football. He loves this university. He plays with passion, and he plays with pride. When you’ve got your best football player doing those things, I mean, setting an example for everybody else, there’s no excuse for anyone else to not play at that level or with that energy when you have a guy that’s 311 pounds running around the way that he does every single day. He practices that way every single day, and what we see on Saturday is exactly what we see in practice. I mean, he loves playing the game of football.

Marvin is a big athlete. He’s not just a big guy. He’s a big athlete. He can run around and do some things most big people can’t do, and it’s impressive. It’s been good for our football team. Him and Cam Akers — plenty of other guys, but those two guys really stand out. They are just committed to being the best football player they can be, being the best teammate they can be, and doing whatever they can to help our football team win ball games.

Q. With Josh [Kaindoh] going down, it really put a lot of emphasis on Janarius [Robinson] really stepping into that role. I think he took a big step forward on Saturday. What do you think was the biggest key for him in kind of rising to the occasion like he did?
WILLIE TAGGART: I think just understanding this football team is going to need him. Kind of what I mentioned earlier about guys stepping up and playing for one another and playing for this team. I think that’s what you see in our young football team is different guys stepping up and trying to do whatever they can to help this football team. It was good for Janarius to go in there and play the game that he played on Saturday, and we’re going to need that throughout the rest of the season, and we need other guys to step up too to be able to help him. He can’t do it all by himself.

But it’s good. I see guys constantly stepping up for this football team and doing what they can to help. To me, that’s a good thing. That’s what we’re looking for and what we need to continue to see out of our players.

Q. Coach, you’ve talked about the confidence of the offensive line building. Just on the field, what have you been able to see in terms of improvement? Now you know you’reprotecting two different quarterbacks and helping Cam [Akers] to get off.
WILLIE TAGGART: I just see a group of guys understanding what we’re doing. By no means are we where we need to be up front, but for them to have a good understanding of what we’redoing, it helps. It helps them be in position to make the blocks, whether it’s run or pass. Again, each week they’re getting better at it, and it’s helping us. We were able to run the football, and that’s helping us. Again, we’re not giving up many sacks, and that always helps.

So I think part of it is schematically too, getting the ball out helps our guys, but a big part of it is just our guys having an understanding of what we’re doing. When you’ve got a good understanding of what you’re doing, then you’ve got a better chance of executing it.

Q. I’m sure it was a major selling point at the time, but how big is it to have a guy like Alex [Hornibrook] come in, a guy who’s played in so many big games? No moment was going to be too big for him. Could you see a calming influence when he came in, what he was able to bring to the huddle?
WILLIE TAGGART: Alex is just — what we saw is what we’vebeen seeing since training camp and everything else. He comes to practice. He comes to meetings like a pro, like a vet, like he’s done it before. Even in practice, whenever he’s in at quarterback, making sure that everybody knows what they’re doing, he’s very confident, but he put the work in to be confident in what he’s doing.

So putting him out on the field, I don’t think anyone on our staff or our players felt like we had to worry about anything because we know that Alex was going to be prepared. That’s for sure. He’s going to know exactly what to do.

And he showed it. He showed it with being calm and being confident out there, and it paid off.

Q. Coach, do we have any progress on Jauan Williams? Could he be back in practice this week?
WILLIE TAGGART: Hopefully. Jauan is kind of day to day too. Hopefully, he can get back in the swing of things and be able to try to help our football team this week. He’s doing a good job for us.

Q. And my other question, unfortunately losing Josh[Kaindoh] a couple weeks ago and then Jaiden [Lars-Woodbey] this week, who are you going to look to? Who are some of the guys that are going to have to step up in those positions to help you out?
WILLIE TAGGART: We’ve got a lot of young guys on our football team. As we go through the week, we’re going to figure out which one is the best one to help us win a ball game this week. We’re confident in the depth that we have at that position, and we’re confident in our players that’s going to replace them. I think they’ll do a good job as they get in there.

Who are they going to be? I’ll let you know later on this week.

Q. Coach, backing up for my own clarity, can you say what Jaiden [Lars-Woodbey] and James [Blackman] went down with this Saturday?
WILLIE TAGGART: They went down with an injury.

Q. Specifically?
WILLIE TAGGART: A lower body injury.

Q. Any more specific?
WILLIE TAGGART: Jaiden will be out for the season with a lower body injury, and James will be day to day with a lower body injury.

Q. Okay. And then second question, you’ve talked a lot about discipline this year and just cutting out the penalties and things like that. So far we’ve seen a couple suspensions and a couple changes to the depth chart. How has the team really responded to that, and how important is that response going forward as the schedule picks up?
WILLIE TAGGART: I guess their understanding is the standard we’re going to hold them accountable to. And they’ve got to live up to it. There’s no way around it. That’s how it’s going to be. The thing about it, I’ve been impressed with some of our guys. They make mistakes. They handle the consequences, and then we move on. It’s good to see our guys move on and come back and make plays and understand they can’t do whatever they do to put themselves in that position. But more importantly, they can’t let their teammates down. They’ve got to be here for the teammates and be held accountable and live up to a standard.

We all want to win. We want to win a certain way. Everybody’s got to live up to that way. So we hold them all accountable to doing it, and I think it’s making a difference with our football team.

Q. Any first impressions of North Carolina State? I know they have some different personnel in some key areas.
WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, they’re a good football team, well coached. Coach [Dave] Doeren has done a great job with his program and building it the way that he wanted. They only have one loss this season to West Virginia, and they do a good job of running the football. The quarterback’s athletic and can throw the ball. So we’ll have another challenge dealing with a guy that can beat you with his feet too.

Then defensively, they’re doing some different things than they did last year. They’re very aggressive, trying to get after you a little bit. So we’ve got to be sharp at what we’re doing, and when we have opportunities, we’ve got to take advantage of them.

Q. Keith Gavin had one sequence where he blocked two guyssimultaneously. One, how great is that to see as a coach? Two, what does it say about Keith? It hasn’t been statistically the season he wants, but he’s still working hard.
WILLIE TAGGART: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, what we’re seeing with our football team now is a group of young men that are starting to play for each other, starting to embrace the team concept. Before, so many guys, they wanted all the stats, wanted all the catches, wanted all that, and now guys are embracing the team concept and doing whatever they can to help.

To me, that’s what you saw with Keith on that play, just playing for his teammate, making the play for his teammate. You love the kid because he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t, give me the ball, Coach. I want this. It’s whatever you need, Coach, to help the team. That’s the culture we want around here, and when we get a team full of guys embracing it that way, this team could be special.

That wasn’t the only play that Keith was doing. You look at him on special teams going down and doing the things he was doing, he was committed to helping his team in whatever way he could. That’s just one example, but there’s plenty of guys on the team that did that on Saturday.

I was excited about those little things more than anythingbecause I hadn’t seen it out of this team yet, and to see it on Saturday from guys — to be honest with you, there’s a lot of guys that wanted the ball, but they really embraced the team concept, and they made plays when it came to it. They didn’t have a lot of balls, but when the ball did come to them, they made the plays, and to me, that’s who I want our football team to be, and our guys are embracing it. The more they embrace it, the more they play for one another, I think the better results we’re going to get out of our team.

Q. In your experience, is that culture, when it starts setting in, is it contagious? Is it something that’s still week to week? You’re not sure this is something you can keep building on consistently?
WILLIE TAGGART: Absolutely, it’s contagious, and other guys see. Again, we have a team full of guys, and they all want to help. Again, they start to realize sometimes helping is doing some of the little things where I don’t get all of the glory, but I can do things to help this football team. That was something that was missing, and our guys are embracing it, and we’re starting to see a difference. To me, that’s why we came back in that ball game on Saturday. Our guys embraced being a part of a team and stepping up for their teammates. It was good to see.

Q. It’s only been four games, but what has impressed you about Kendal Briles and maybe even Coach [Randy] Clements as well through four games?
WILLIE TAGGART: They’re doing a good job — Kendal is doing a good job of coordinating the offense and putting a good game plan together to score some points. Coach Clements is doing a good job with the offensive line. Coach [Donte’] Pimpletondoing a good job with the running backs. Coach [Telly] Locketteis doing a good job with the tight ends. Coach [Ron] Dugans is doing a good job with the receivers. Who else? Who’s left?

Q. You knocked them all out.
WILLIE TAGGART: They’re all doing a good job of coaching their guys. Are we where we want to be? By no means, we’re not there. What’s impressive is the progress that our guys are making. I think each week we’re getting better. It’s not like we’re staying the same or getting worse. We’re getting better. To me, that’s important. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do. I think what you see is just a group of guys on the same page and getting their players to be on the same page.

Again, we can be better. We will be better. I think you also see with Kendal is someone that’s understanding our personnel better, understanding our guys better, especially when we’re in game situations. So that always helps when you know and understand how guys are going to react during games, and it kind of helps your play calling.

Q. Ryan Roberts and Alex [Hornibrook] have both been praised by a lot of their teammates for being hard workers and being dedicated team guys and embracing the team. How much, when you were evaluating looking at the fifthyear players out there, the graduate transfers out there, how much of that part of their background was something that you guys looked at when deciding who to bring in to the program?
WILLIE TAGGART: Well, you look at grad transfers, of course you want to make sure you’re getting someone that, first, they can play. And to that, they can come in and help you instantly, not just come in and just be on your team. Both of them, we felt like they can come and help our football team instantly. I think the biggest thing, if there’s anything that we look for, was what we look for out of any other recruit, whether you’re a freshman or a high school kid coming in here, a certain type of character, a certain type of guy that we want here in building our culture, and both of them fit exactly what we’re looking for. I think that’swhy they’ve come here and everybody else has embraced them because they came here and fit right into what we’re trying to build, and they actually help doing that along the way.

Again, it was good to see, whether it’s Alex or Ryan, just how the entire team has embraced those guys, but I don’t think that happened just because they’re here. I think it’s because of the work those two young men put in and getting to know their teammates and buying into what we’re trying to build. When we were recruiting and explaining to them what we’re trying to build and the coaches that we wanted here, I think that’s why they wanted to be here. They wanted to be a part of that.

Q. Coach, Ricky Aguayo missed three field goal attempts on Saturday. Was there anything you talked to him about, mechanics or technique, where he might have fell short there? Then with the kicking competition this week, what are your plans there?
WILLIE TAGGART: Just talk about him kicking it through the upright, through the middle, not to the left or the right of it. Just kicking it down the middle. He’s done a good job of that until last week. So continue what you were doing until last week. The competition, I think it makes all of us better. We all lock in and stay focused on our job. You can’t take time off. You can’t take a day off.

I know Parker [Grothaus] and [Ryan] Fitzgerald and those guysdo a good job of making him compete. He was pretty goodyesterday in practice. He was pretty good when everybody else was watching too to see how it goes. That’s what it’s going to take. Ricky understands that we need him to be better. He’s gotto make those, and he can make those. We can’t leave nine points out on the football field. So he understands that, and he’s going to work hard, and I expect for him to be better.

Q. I know Marvin [Wilson] gets a lot of the attention, but how pleased are you with what Cory [Durden] and [Robert] Cooper bring there, and how well do you think all three of those guys do together as a unit?
WILLIE TAGGART: They’re great. They’re confident and playing well with each other. I’m really impressed with Cory Durden, just how he’s playing, and each week getting better and playing with an unbelievable tenacity out there on the football field. And the passion with which he’s been playing, I think that’s been contagious to other guys on the football team.

And Coop, the last two ball games, I feel like he’s really coming into his own and helping. It’s been paying off for us up front. We came in feeling like that was going to be the strength of our defense, and now those guys are starting to step up and playing to their capability.

It’s helping. We’re going to need it to continue. We’re going to need it again this week.

Q. I don’t know your familiarity with the situation. California is starting to explore the possibility of a bill of allowing student-athletes to profit off their likeness, and I know a couple other states are as well. I guess, do you kind of — where do you fall on the matter? Is that something you’re open to? Or would you rather keep the current status of amateurism?
WILLIE TAGGART: What do I think about it? I think it’s a helluva bill. Whatever we can do to better and help our student-athletes is always a good thing. If they can profit from their likeness, I think that’s fair.

I mean, it’s a new time. We don’t live where we used to live. We don’t live there anymore. Times are different. You always hear people talk about doing what’s best for the student-athlete. We always do what’s best for them. I think them profiting from their likeness is good. I do think they should get it when they graduate. I think that’s the ultimate goal when you go off to school is to graduate, and I think personally — and I think we all know, we all graduated from school knowing that that’s when you need the money the most was when you graduate.

But the goal is to graduate and get these young men a degree. It’s just a shame how many guys don’t get their degree, and I think with this bill, it would probably entice some guys to stay in school and make sure they get a degree. More importantly, just a win-win for the student-athlete overall if you do something like that. We can’t ever forget that they’re young people that haven’t gone through a lot of experience, and they’re going through it. We’ve got to help them through the process. SoI think it would be a good idea as long as we continue to teach them and help them.

I’m a firm believer they should get it when they graduate because that’s when they need it the most, when they don’t have our university to help them anymore and when they get ready to get into the real world. I know I went on a tangent there, but I hope I answered your question.

Q. You said James [Blackman] is day to day, and you’vebeen big on not rushing guys back before they’re ready. What does the evaluation look like for him, in terms of knowing when he’s ready to get back out there?
WILLIE TAGGART: Again, he’s day to day. I couldn’tnecessarily tell you. He’s got to be able to practice and run the game plan. If you don’t practice, it’s hard to just get in the game and go. So he’s got to be able to practice, and we’ll see how he does. He has the day off. You saw him earlier in there getting treatment. He got treatment about three times yesterday. I’m sure he’ll be in there probably about four today.

I know one thing about James, it’s going to be hard to keep him back. He’s going to try to find a way to get out there. James is one of those ones it’s hard to tell because he’s going to work hard to get back. When he’s back and healthy and ready to roll, we’ll know.

Q. I think it’s been since 2016 since Florida State has won back-to-back conference games. What’s the key to carrying the success from week to week?
WILLIE TAGGART: We’ve got to stay locked into the moment and stay locked into our opponent that we’re playing, but more importantly, we’ve got to play winning football each and every week. We feel like we had a talent to compete with anybody we play, but we’ve got to be able to play winning football every week. We can’t turn the football over. We’ve got to be able to stop the run. We’ve got to be able to run the football. We believe those things are great ingredients to winning. We’re playing smart football and play with unbelievable passion, and we feel like we can do those things.

But continue to improve, execute, and more importantly, take care of Doak Campbell. You do that, then chances are you’re going to win a lot of ball games. So I think just staying locked into the game plan, continuing to believe in each other, and just making it happen on Saturdays.

Q. Will Jordan [Travis] back up Alex [Hornibrook]? Do you want to have a similar sort of a plan of maybe getting him involved early like you had Alex last week?
WILLIE TAGGART: If James [Blackman] doesn’t go, of course Jordan will back up Alex.

Q. No certain contingency to get him the ball?
WILLIE TAGGART: I don’t think there’s a good reason for sharing that right now. At all. Yeah, I don’t think there’s a good reason for sharing that, but it’s the beginning of the week. We haven’t thought about it that far in advance.

Q. Willie, it’s always good to get up 21-0. It’s always a good, positive thing for a football team. Is there anything — when you go in these ruts offensively, is there anything that consistently happens? Obviously, if there was a way to change it, I’m sure you guys are working on it and practicing on it, but is there something you can do to change how you guys handle success maybe early on offensively?
WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, just got to be consistent and execute it. We just haven’t been consistent enough throughout the game. That’s kind of what you call the game of football. Those things happen. If there’s a thing to do, what we did last week. We found a way to put a drive together and get some points. When you’rein that rut, I think that’s what you do. You find a way to get out of it, and our guys have done that. To me, that’s what you do.

Yeah, by no means we want to be up 21 points and let someone come back and beat us. I don’t think anyone is trying to do that, but unfortunately, we’ve been in this situation. Again, whenever you’re in a situation like that, you keep fighting to find your way out of that situation. It was good to see the guys do that last week. A couple of weeks ago, we didn’t do it, but we learned from it. It’s good we won the way we did to show our guys they can do it when we’re in that situation.

Again, we’ve got to continue to work, continue to get better. We’re not where we need to be as a team, but we’re making progress. Part of that progress is get to the point where, when we’re up, we stay up. We learn to keep our foot on their throat and try to win big. That’s part of learning how to win, and our guys are doing it slowly but surely.

Q. Two-part question. I guess, one, what is HamsahNasirildeen’s status for the week? And what did you see from Amari Gainer when he took on a bigger role when Jaiden [Lars-Woodbey] went down?
WILLIE TAGGART: Hamsah is good to go. Amari is going to have a great career here. He’s tough, hard-nosed, loves to play football. Loves contact, and I think, before the season is over, he’s going to have a heck of a season because he wants to, and he wants to be really good, and he puts the work into doing those things. I thought last week was a good step of him starting to work towards where he’s trying to get, being able to get out there and get some game reps in the role that he had to play when he had to play a little more. I think he’s only going to get better with that.

Q. Looking at North Carolina State, initially, what did you see from them as a team?
WILLIE TAGGART: A team that loves to run the football. They have some skills. Like I say, on the offensive side of the ball, I know they’ve got running back by committee. All those guys are pretty good. The quarterback is very athletic. He does a good job throwing the football. He does a good job of beating you with his feet as well. Defensively, like I said, they run more of a three-three stack. They’re very aggressive and try to confuse you with some of the things they do with their blitzes and play in tight coverage.

So it will be a different kind of ball game for us offensively from what we’ve seen from other people, but they’re a well coachedteam. They’re a good football team. They’re coming to DoakCampbell, where we want them, and we’ve got a great opportunity and a great challenge for us here at home. Hopefully, we see everyone there because they make a difference, especially in Doak Campbell. And I appreciate everyone that was there on Saturday.

I hope everyone that was there on Saturday will be there this Saturday, then call some of their friends and tell them to come with them. We’ll appreciate that.

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