Florida State reeling after 23-point loss at Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — A preseason ranking, a healthy quarterback, and a solid core put Florida State in a good frame of mind as Willie Taggart prepared for his first season as head coach.
Then they started playing the games and the Seminoles have struggled.
Then-No. 20 Virginia Tech knocked FSU out of the Top 25 with a 24-3 victory to open the season. Last week, Florida State fell behind Samford of the Championship Subdivision and had to rally late to win. Then on Saturday the bottom seemed to fall out in the intense heat of the Carrier Dome as the rising Syracuse Orange beat FSU 30-7, nearly pitching a shutout in ending a 10-game losing streak to one of the nation’s marquee teams.
“I’m not worried about frustration. They should be frustrated,” said Taggart, who makes $5 million annually on a contract that runs through Jan. 31, 2024. “We’re not playing like we should be playing. “Our fans should be upset. Coaches. We all should be. We’re not living up to expectations.”
The loss dropped the Seminoles (1-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) into last place in the Atlantic Division. That it came against a team playing its backup quarterback in the decisive second half only heightened the frustration in the 90-degree heat.
“At this point, a lot of teams seem to divide,” Florida State linebacker Dontarius Jackson said. “We just have to stay together. We have a long season ahead of us. We can’t fall apart here.
“It’s about going out there and saying, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s all there is to it.”
Florida State entered the game converting 30 percent (9 of 30) on third down. Against the fired-up Syracuse defense, the Seminoles converted 1 of 14 and had only 11 first downs as the offense gained just 240 yards with little help from the tailbacks. Cam Akers led the Seminoles on the ground with 52 yards on 10 carries and FSU finished with just 62 yards rushing on 23 attempts, a 2.7-yard average.
“I think our guys are good enough. I know they’re good enough,” Taggart said. “We have to look at everything possible to find a way to be better up front. We have to find the right five guys to help us on the offensive side of the ball.”
Tommy DeVito, subbing for injured starter Eric Dungey, scored on a 3-yard run and hit tight end Ravian Pierce with a 3-yard score in a span of just over 3 minutes in the third quarter to give the Orange a 20-0 lead. Dungey, the team’s fiery leader, was hurt late in the second quarter and never returned. DeVito finished 11 of 16 for 144 yards and no turnovers.
The Syracuse defense recorded four sacks, deflected a couple of passes, and constantly harassed Deondre Francois, who finished 18 of 36 for 178 yards passing with one interception. FSU also was called for 11 penalties for 90 yards.
“We keep on making mistakes at every position (on offense),” Francois said. “We got to be in sync and come together as one unit. Right now, we’re just making little mistakes. We’re taking turns — either receivers, quarterback, running back, tight end, O-line. We keep taking turns and it’s killing our drives.”
Florida State prevented the shutout on a 2-yard run by Francois with 6:16 to play. The Seminoles were 4-0 in the Carrier Dome entering the game and had won 10 straight games in the series since 1966.
“We have to play harder on offense,” Francois said. “We’ve gotten outplayed every game. We’ve just not played hard enough. It’s not the coaches. It’s not the play calling. We’re prepared. We’re just not playing hard enough.”
Florida State struggled in the opening half in the first two games and the trend continued against the Orange. The Seminoles were called for nine penalties, operated from poor field position, punted six times, and crossed midfield only once before halftime, gaining only 110 yards on 29 plays and failing to convert all seven times on third down.
“I still believe in this football team,” Taggart said. “We’re not where we want to be or should be offensively. We have a lot of season left. I know people don’t like hearing it and they’re upset. And they should be. We have to do our part and take care of our business as a football team.”
Florida State hosts Northern Illinois on Saturday and there is no mutiny in the locker room.
“I have the utmost confidence in coach Taggart,” Francois said. “Each week he’s preparing us and he’s doing a great job. It’s just us players to execute. We have to grow up as a team. The fans will come and go either way.
“I’ve got to worry about our locker room and my brothers and everybody in the Florida State family.”
Added Syracuse coach Dino Babers: “It takes a little time to get your culture, to get everything the way you want it. They will be absolutely fine. They will get better.”