There’s no spin in the world that can salvage Florida State’s offensive performance in Coach Willie Taggart’s debut. The Seminoles mustered three points and 327 total yards against Virginia Tech’s rebuilt defense and were smothered on their own field in a 24-3 loss.
The slogan Taggart adopted for Florida State was simple: “Do something.” The Seminoles will head into the season’s second week with a game against Samford still waiting to do just that. But if there’s a mildly comforting takeaway, it’s that Taggart doesn’t really do debuts well.
Taggart inherited an 0-12 team at Western Kentucky, lost his first five games in 2010 and dropped 14 of his first 16 with the Hilltoppers. But over the next season and change he was 14-6 and parlayed the turnaround into the South Florida job.
That began even worse: A 53-21 loss to McNeese State, part of a 2-10 debut season. He was 7-21 after an ugly start to his third year in Tampa, but presided over a 17-4 burst and landed the head coaching gig at Oregon (where he went 7-5 but did manage to get off to a 3-0 start).
No one wants to make a lousy first impression, but there’s nothing Taggart can do about that now. At least he has some history of overcoming them.
Back to school
The opening week results weren’t that much better for another former Oregon coach. Chip Kelly’s new team, UCLA, managed only 306 yards in a 26-17 loss to Cincinnati. Bruins starting quarterback Wilton Speight exited with a back injury and remains “day-to-day,” and freshman backup Dorian Thompson-Robins played, well, like a freshman. He was 15 of 25 for 117 yards.
The 17 points matched the fourth fewest Oregon scored during his run in Eugene from 2009 to 2012. The 306 yards also were the fourth fewest in Kelly’s college coaching career.
Oregon’s lowest-scoring games under Chip Kelly
|2009||at Boise St.||L, 19-8|
|2012||Stanford||L, 17-14 (OT)|
|2010||at California||W, 15-13|
|2009||vs. Ohio St.*||L, 26-17|
|2010||vs. Auburn**||L, 22-19|
Oregon’s lowest-yardage games under Kelly
|2009||at Boise St.||152||L, 19-8|
|2009||vs. Ohio St.*||260||L, 26-17|
|2009||at UCLA||303||W, 24-10|
|2010||at California||317||W, 15-13|
*- Rose Bowl; **- BCS title game
To note: The worst game on both charts — the 2009 game at Boise State most remembered for Oregon tailback LaGarrette Blount punching Boise State defensive end Byron Hout — doubled as Kelly’s head coaching debut.
In other words, things will probably get better in the long run. But with a trip to Oklahoma on Saturday (1 p.m. Eastern time, Fox), they’ll probably get worse first.
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate emerged last October as one of the country’s most exciting players. He rattled off six consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including three of 200 yards or more. A full offseason to work with new Coach Kevin Sumlin generated intrigue of what was in store for the junior this year.
Then came last week’s opener: Just 14 yards on eight carries, as well as a decent if unspectacular passing line (17 of 34, 197 yards, one touchdown) in a 28-23 loss at home to Brigham Young.
Have opponents figured out Tate, who had 118 yards on 42 carries over his final three games last season? Or did BYU benefit from a full offseason to get ready? Perhaps the Cougars’ defense has taken a step forward? And maybe it is possible Tate isn’t as good a fit for Sumlin’s schemes as initially thought.
Whatever the reason, Tate’s outing was one of the opening week’s biggest puzzlers. If he’s not sharp Saturday at Houston (noon, ABC/ESPN2), Arizona could easily find itself at 0-2 with a full Pac-12 schedule still to come.
Walking the plank
Everyone knows about the visual acuity of hindsight, so it usually gets a little old prattling on about coaching hirings and firings years later. But sometimes, it’s obvious when a school or team is making an error in real time.
This was prompted by East Carolina’s decision to fire Ruffin McNeill, who was 42-34 in six seasons with the Pirates. In addition to being an alum, his teams also were relatively interesting on offense and largely competent on defense. East Carolina had gone 5-7 in 2015, but four of the setbacks were one-possession losses and a fifth came by 10 points.
In short, it was a baffling decision when it was made, one East Carolina has paid for ever since. The Pirates are 6-19 under Coach Scottie Montgomery, including a 28-23 loss to North Carolina A&T on Sunday. It marked the second year in a row East Carolina dropped its opener to an FCS school (it fell to James Madison last season).
The athletic director who orchestrated the coaching change, Jeff Compher, was bought out earlier this year. Montgomery, whose team yielded a whopping 45 points per game last year, probably needs a massive turnaround to get a fourth season. With North Carolina, Virginia Tech and South Florida up next, a riveting resurgence doesn’t seem likely.
Five games to watch
No. 3 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina (3:30 p.m., CBS): The visiting Bulldogs and host Gamecocks both disposed of overmatched teams (Austin Peay and Coastal Carolina, respectively) last week. The winner in Columbia has the early inside track on the SEC East title.
Iowa State at Iowa (5 p.m., Fox): Iowa is looking for its first four-game winning streak against the Cyclones since 1983-97. The schools have evenly split the last 20 Cy-Hawk Trophy meetings, and the Hawkeyes looked excellent in their opener against Northern Illinois. Iowa State’s game last week was postponed, so this is its first chance to build on last year’s breakout season.
No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M (7 p.m., ESPN): As if Jimbo Fisher hasn’t seen enough of Clemson over the years. The new Aggies coach welcomes Dabo Swinney’s team to College Station in one of the weekend’s most interesting matchups. How will Texas A&M hold up against the Clemson defense? And how will the Tigers’ quarterback duo of Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence fare against a tougher test than Furman?
No. 17 Southern Cal at No. 10 Stanford (8:30 p.m., Fox): It’s a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 title game, when USC earned a 31-28 victory to complete a season sweep of the Cardinal. The Trojans surpassed the 500-yard plateau both times last year; only one other team (UCLA) got there once against Stanford.
No. 15 Michigan State at Arizona State (10:45 p.m., ESPN): The Spartans were oddly vulnerable in their opener against Utah State. The Sun Devils, meantime, get their Arizona State’s first high-profile game under Coach Herm Edwards. There’s plenty of curiosity surrounding this week’s edition of #Pac12AfterDark.
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