Florida State coach Willie Taggart talks upcoming game with #25 UVA


Willie TaggartWILLIE TAGGART: All right. This is — this week is an incredible opportunity for our football team. We open conference play on the road against a very good Virginia team led by their experienced quarterback that’s very talented. He has a lot of talent around him. The football team is playing really well and a ranked opponent. We have an unbelievable challenge in front of us, and we’re looking forward to it.

Q. I know every game is a big game, but this being conference play and the team needing to maybe find some momentum, how big can this game be for you guys if you go on the road and win?

WILLIE TAGGART: It’s big for a lot of reasons, for where we’re trying to go with our football program, for what we’re trying to accomplish as team goals and winning the conference. So the conference games are always important. Every game is important. Conference game is even more important to accomplish some of the goals that you want to accomplish. And then just with us as a football team and where we’re trying to go and continue to build it. It can add much needed momentum to our football team.

Q. Willie, talking to a few players we talked to after the game and just seeing the emotions on the field, it seemed like there’s some mixed emotions. Happy to get a win but knowing they can play better. What were guys like on Sunday, and what was your message to them?

WILLIE TAGGART: Same thing I told them Saturday night after the game. We’re going to expect and appreciate every win we get. By no means were we happy with the way we played. I think you saw some of those emotions because guys know we can play better and know we have to play better, but we’re going to appreciate the win and continue to move forward.

Q. Some of the biggest issues from Saturday, such as turnovers and penalties, it seemed you’ve pretty much been harping on since you got here. When you see those things continue to be issues, what’s your reaction to it and why do you think the improvement you have in practice doesn’t translate to games?

WILLIE TAGGART: I hate to sit here and say that it’s just because it’s a different team. Last week those penalties and those things weren’t much of an issue. This past week it was. We’ve got to continue to stress it. We’ve got to continue to teach the proper way of playing the game. It goes back to what I said before about learning how to win again and teaching our guys again how to win.

All those little things is what it takes to win ball games. We have to play better in doing that. We have to coach better in doing that, and then our guys have got to respond the right way. But understanding those things are what helps you lose ball games. That’s not playing to win. That’s not knowing how to win. And I think that’s probably the whole process of what we’re doing again. So that’s it.

Q. Coach, after going back and watching the film, were you happier with the way the defense played, or were there issues that you didn’t see or maybe you saw but didn’t realize they were that big on Saturday?

WILLIE TAGGART: No, I wasn’t happy with the way our defense played. I don’t think anyone was happy. I don’t think our defense was happy or anyone associated with Florida State football was happy with the way our defense played. We have to play better. We have to find ways to make sure we fix the problems and make sure we put our guys in the best position to make plays.

Q. Coach, as a follow-up to that question, we’ve looked at a team that had played a 4-3. Now it’s gone to a 3-4. A little bit, you tried to work that in there this spring, fall. Do you think that it’s taking away from your practice time on one or the other? Or do you see any maybe paralysis by analysis of players trying to do the right thing for what they’re in?

WILLIE TAGGART: No, I don’t want to put this on just 3-4 or the schematic of things. If you really paid attention to the game last week, we didn’t run a lot of 3-4. It was — we ran a lot of four down. I haven’t necessarily seen them struggle in what we’re doing because a lot of plays we got beat in, we were in four down.

So we’ve just got to call and run the defense the way we say we’re going to do it and allow our guys to make plays and make sure we’re coaching them up and they’re in the gap and making sure that we’re holding guys accountable, everyone accountable to doing their job.

Q. Coach, when the defense is struggling like it is, is there a point where you start to consider doing things such as maybe potential personnel or staff adjustments?

WILLIE TAGGART: Well, you’re always evaluating your team. You’ve got to always evaluate them and make sure you got the right guys in there. If guys continue to make mistakes, shame on you if you allow them to continue to play. But you’re always evaluating your roster and making sure that you do the right thing for your team that will put you in the best position to win.

Q. I’ve got other topics to bring up, but since we’re talking about the defense, in terms of — with the feedback from the coaches, the assistant coaches, are they — is it just that things aren’t carrying from the practice field to the games? Are these new issues during games? What kind of feedback are you getting from the assistant coaches?

WILLIE TAGGART: I think it’s a little bit of both. We’ve got to find a way to make sure we correct those things, of getting things that we did in practice or corrections that we made on the sideline, making sure that we get it corrected, and in the game when we’re actually playing. So I think it’s a little bit of both. I think not carrying over from practice and not carrying over from the correction that we made on the field, and then, again, making sure that we have the right people in the right place and doing the right things. So it takes a little bit of everything.

Q. Willie, you guys have struggled a little bit in time of possession, especially in the second half, it seems like. And Virginia traditionally last year is one of the top teams in the country controlling the football, converting third downs. Outside of, obviously, converting more third downs on offense and stopping them on defense, is there anything else you can do in-game to hopefully mitigate that issue?

WILLIE TAGGART: Yes, don’t turn the ball over. When you turn the ball over, you lose possessions. When you turn the ball over, then you don’t get first down, you’re losing even more possessions. So I think just playing better on the offensive side of the ball — on both sides of the ball, that will happen.

Q. Right now currently is it more important to show the players to remain consistent in your guys’ approach or to show them that changes have to be made in terms of the way you’re going to approach practice so that the mistakes that have occurred the last two weeks stop happening?

WILLIE TAGGART: We’ve got to, as coaches, again, evaluate what we’re doing and making sure we’ve got the right people in there and make the right correction that we need to. If guys can’t correct them, then you put the guys in that can do it. Like I said, we’re always evaluating. We’re always going to try to do what’s best for our football team, and that’s going to give us a chance to win. So whatever it takes, that’s what we’re going to do.

Q. Virginia’s quarterback is really athletic, does a lot of damage with his legs. Was it helpful to go up against a running quarterback in the game right before that to where you could see what the issues were with that and maybe get them fixed before the next game?

WILLIE TAGGART: I don’t think necessarily running quarterback was the issue last week. I guess it helped a little bit. He didn’t run as much as he could have probably. I think, again, what’s going to help the issues is being fundamentally sound and doing our jobs and making sure that we have a really solid game plan and stop them.

Q. Willie, with Ryan Roberts getting hurt, I guess we could just update how he’s doing, and then also, how did Abdul [Bello] play in his absence?

WILLIE TAGGART: Ryan is back.

Q. I’m sorry. Not Ryan. Jauan [Williams].

WILLIE TAGGART: Jauan is same thing I told you guys after the game. He has an ankle sprain. We’re going to see how he heals and see how he goes this week. Hopefully it heals well and gets back. But if he doesn’t, I thought Bello did a good job of coming in and replacing him and helping our football team.

Q. Coach, just curious, on the process you take, when you have a player in the game that maybe loses composure, commits a personal foul, that kind of thing, just in general, how do you — do you sit down with a player and go through? How do you guys handle the discipline for something like that?

WILLIE TAGGART: You take him out of the game. Our guys get punished. When you have selfish penalties, we punish them for it because they’re a selfish act, and it hurts an entire football team.

Q. Coach, two games in now, just wanted to see how you’d assess Kendal Briles so far in his play calling and just kind of talk about what your communication between the two of you is kind of like during the game.

WILLIE TAGGART: I think Kendal is doing a good job. He’s learning the personnel. He’s learning our guys. He’s learning how our guys respond in games, how they play in games, and from a conversation standpoint, we talk about what’s going on with the defense and what plays we can run to try to counter whatever they’re doing to us. So more of that communicating, more than anything, is what can we do to counter what they’re doing defensively.

Q. Through two games, Willie, how would you assess how James [Blackman] has played? Did he play better on Saturday than he did the week before? Did he make better reads for you?

WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, he did. James played well on Saturday. He graded out higher than he did the week before. He did make better reads than what he did the week before. So he played well.

Q. Coach, your special teams have shown great improvement this year. What would you attribute it to?

WILLIE TAGGART: I think our coaches and players committing themselves to special teams and committing themselves to trying to make it special. We constantly talk about how many athletes we have on our team. There’s no reason for us not to be really good on special teams.

I think it’s more of our players are taking pride in special teams, wanting to be on special teams, and beating down Coach [Mark] Snyder’s door to try to get on special teams. I think whenever you have young people that are passionate about special teams that way, then good things happen for you on it. And our coach has done a good job of coaching it as well.

Q. With [Anthony] Grant not available right now, do you have any concerns about the running back depth? Is there anybody you could move there? Or do you feel good about the walk-ons you have behind the scholarship guys?

WILLIE TAGGART: I mean, we’d like to have more running backs on scholarship. We’re working to get there. But I feel good about where we’re at with our running backs. We have a plan in place if something crazy happens.

Q. Coach, Levonta Taylor, is he eligible, good to play this week?

WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, he was eligible to play last week.

Q. And same with Logan Tyler, is he good to play this week?

WILLIE TAGGART: Logan is still suspended indefinitely.

Q. It seemed like Tommy [Martin] punted well and the kickoffs were good from [Parker] Grothaus. How pleased were you with that?

WILLIE TAGGART: Very pleased. I was more pleased those young men went in the game and took advantage of an opportunity that was presented to them, and they were ready for it. They stepped up and contributed to helping our football team.

That’s what it’s all about, two guys that didn’t think about playing or felt like they were going to play. They weren’t rattled or anything. They just went in and did their jobs and did a pretty good job with it. I was really impressed with them.

Q. An opening for a quality control coach was listed on Florida State’s website today. Is that a new position, and are you looking for somebody on a specific side of the ball?

WILLIE TAGGART: It’s a position that we just opened again. It was open earlier, and we opened it again. We’re looking to get a good coach.

Q. Willie, you’ve turned around places before, including Western Kentucky, that was on like a 20-something game losing streak when got there and you were in a Bowl two years later. How do you get a locker room that doesn’t have a lot of success — none of those guys have really had a lot of success in their college careers — to believe it’s going to turn around? To believe in you? To believe in the direction of the program? How does that happen?

WILLIE TAGGART: I think they believe in me. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I think guys believe in me and believe in the plan and for our guys continue to stay locked into the plan and not letting anything take them off the plan. That’s the key. That’s why those other places were turned around as we stayed focused on the plan and was patient with the plan.

We kept getting little wins here and there, not necessarily in the win column, but there was little wins here and there that added up, and eventually those wins on the field started to come.

They started to figure it out. They started to play better. They started to do the little things it takes to win ball games. They started not having those selfish penalties. They started not turning the ball over, playing with fanatical effort, and they started to play like they loved playing for each other.

Q. I know it’s a couple weeks into the season, but Virginia’s been pretty good defensively. What do you see from them, and what kind of challenges do you think they might present?

WILLIE TAGGART: They’re well coached. They’ve got some talented guys in the secondary. Up front they’re strong. Linebackers are big and strong, physical, but they’re well coached and can play hard.



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