The Daily Nole

Column: About That Quarterback Situation…

Mitch White/FSU athletics

If Florida State head coach Willie Taggart is fired after 2020, we will look back on the 2018 quarterback battle as the first sign of his downfall.

Call it hindsight, call it pessimism, or call it guessing, but 10 games into the regular season has made it obvious that there is no way Taggart anticipated any of this.

Speculation runs rampant in the ever-present online discussion about collegiate quarterbacks. That remains true at Florida State. The offseason quarterback battle between Deondre Francois and James Blackman is a prime example, where both players entered fall camp on pretty much even ground.

Both had one year of starting experience under their belt, and neither were true system fits for Taggart’s offense. The battle generated plenty of attention, both locally and nationally, and it was assumed that the staff would make the right decision initially. If they did not get it right the first time, surely they would reevaluate.

We have no clear answer at the moment if the latter assumption is true.

Granted, there is a lot of revisionism emanating from certain parts of the fan base. Before we begin questioning Taggart’s decisions, we feel it necessary to clarify a few things.

Firstly, Deondre Francois did win the offseason quarterback battle. He flat-out looked the best of the three contenders for the starting job. There was no favoritism towards him. The staff picked him as starter because he appeared the most capable of running the offense.

Secondly, the staff made the correct decision with sticking to him for the first part of the season. If they had pulled Francois early, that would have been the epitome of a panic move. If you think the locker room is questioning the staff now, imagine what would have happened if it bailed out of the decision at the first sign of doubt.

Everything from there on out is fair game.

The big story line coming into Saturday’s contest at Notre Dame was the development that James Blackman supposedly asked for a redshirt. According to the rumors, Blackman approached Taggart and requested that he receive a redshirt for the 2018 season. He has already played in four games and thus cannot play another snap if he wants to remain eligible. That would certainly help explain why the staff went back to Francois even after Blackman showed a lot of poise against NC State.

There are two problems with that.

The “Blackman requested a redshirt” rumor is not verified and might be made up. We have received conflicting reports about whether or not it is true, and other sites on the beat cannot agree either. It would provide a nice excuse, but ask yourself this: Why would James Blackman decide now that he wants to redshirt? It is totally possible that he approached the staff earlier with the request. But wouldn’t that have leaked out before now?

More questionable is the implication behind the request.

If Blackman wanted to redshirt, that means he already recognized the season going downhill or that he recognized Francois would be the full-time starter. Yet if you are Willie Taggart, wouldn’t you try to convince Blackman that he provides the team with the best chance to make a bowl game? Boston College and Florida are winnable games that Blackman could make a difference in. He even has two years left regardless of his redshirt.

One wonders about Bailey Hockman’s transfer and if that altered the staff’s plans more than initially thought. It is certainly possible — having just two scholarship quarterbacks puts a team in quite the precarious position. Still, Hockman’s decision does not fully explain the lack of clarity we have encountered from Taggart.

From a macro standpoint, it is beginning to strike at the very heart of Taggart’s message. The Seminoles have a quarterback whose attitude is still in question, who is not providing the team with anything particularly advantageous, who will likely not be at Florida State after this year. Every single thing that Taggart said about finding the “winners” and installing a certain mentality suggests that Francois is not the long term answer. Yet, it is game 11 and there has yet to be a change.

The criticism that Taggart is “…in over his head” gets overused. Not everything works out perfectly for a football team, and the criticism tends to take the shape of a general dissatisfaction with the team’s performance. An offensive line getting destroyed every game is not an indicator that Taggart is panicking under the bright lights of his dream job.

But with each passing day, his management of the quarterback situation looks more and more like a coach who made the wrong decision and is not really sure where to go. Unlike other suggestions however, there is an easy solution to this. Just be honest.

Honest to your team, to the media, to everyone. That doesn’t mean throwing anyone under the bus, but just being straight with who the starter is. Taggart finally came out Monday and said that Francois is the guy for the rest of the season. That’s a good step forward, but it might be a little late in the eyes of the fans.

Yet the only thing that matters at this point in time is how it resonates with the team. While fans and media might not like the answers given to them, one can only hope that the team itself is happy with the decision.

Taggart will get his chance to show what he can do at Florida State. We hope that it does not come tumbling down thanks to one choice in his first season.

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