The Daily Nole

Tough Truth Tuesday: Harlon Barnett is Failing and it Means Taggart’s Seat is Warm

Ross Obley/FSU athletics

It can be almost humorous how football works. You go into a season expecting one thing, and then the complete opposite happens.

You can use all the predictive tools you want, and you can pour over all the game film readily available, and you can find all the ratings systems in the world. But football is an unpredictable sport in many ways, and this can all be for nothing at the end of the day.

That’s what frustrates many fans who witnessed Florida State’s 36-31 loss to the Boise State Broncos on Saturday. Going in to 2019, we all knew that the offense had a steep mountain to climb if it wanted to bounce back from 2018. For at least one half of Saturday’s contest, it was doing just that.

We also knew that the defense was inconsistent last year, but still maintained a good amount of talent and had a full offseason to get creative with its scheme. In basically every scenario listed for Florida State’s 2019 season, the defense being “competent” was a baseline assumption.

That assumption was shattered after one game.

There is a very real chance this defense could turn out to be the worst in FSU history. For all the criticism that the “Lost Decade” teams receive, they never reached the levels that the 2019 squad did against Boise State. The Seminoles surrendered 621 total yards to the Broncos.

Even the 2009 team didn’t meet that mark. In fact, only the 2014 Rose Bowl loss to Oregon had a similar total (639 yards). Before that, you have to go back to Arizona State in 1984 to find the last time the Seminoles allowed 600-plus yards.

Oddly enough, that 1984 Arizona State quarterback was a true freshman as well.

The reality is that FSU head coach Willie Taggart’s first two coordinator hires — Walt Bell and Harlon Barnett — were flops. Two of the primary coaches, who will help determine the beginning of a new era, might be gone after the first two seasons. That is a major red flag on Taggart’s future at Florida State.

The one redeeming factor is that Taggart actually did recognize that Barnett was not up to the task. Over the summer, Taggart expressed interest in Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, and former Oregon/South Florida defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Neither deal was made, but the same questions arose back then: Why was Taggart willing to move on so quickly?

I think the answer is simple. Taggart realized after 2018 that Barnett was not the right guy for the job.

But then why did Taggart let him install a 3-4 look in addition to the 4-3? The common answer is lack of edge rushing talent, which would make a 4-3 or even a 4-2-5 much less effective. Going to a 3-4 would make sense, even if the personnel wasn’t a total fit. Yet if you knew that you wanted to move on from him as soon as possible, letting him shift the defense in his last offseason reeks of a panic move.

Quite honestly? I don’t buy any argument that FSU’s defense suffers from a lack of talent. You can point to the other side of the ball and say that the offensive line is a black hole of talent, and you might be correct (assuming we’re looking at them in this 1-year vacuum and not counting the potential of their recent signees). There is no position on defense which has a comparable situation to the offensive line.

Every single level of that defense has a plethora of blue-chip talent, in addition to a decent number of developed players. Not to mention all the talent that was added in this recent recruiting class. Essentially every well-regarded signee in the class was on the defensive side of the ball.

Granted, there’s also a fair amount of upperclassmen who are riding off their recruiting rankings rather than their current performances, but not enough to require a complete overhaul. Barnett has more than enough players to make any base scheme look good. Taking a step back after 2018 — when FSU gave up more points per game than any team in program history — should be an automatic dismissal, especially if it doesn’t radically improve over the course of the season.

After Saturday’s performance, I have a hard time believing there’s big improvement coming. A little? Sure. FSU will probably start playing younger guys more and seeing who fits the best in its new schemes and packages. But the amount of terrible fundamentals and scheme breakdowns we witnessed against Boise State is a telling sign. The Seminoles had an entire offseason to come out and perform, and they just let the Broncos have their way with the team.

All roads lead back to Willie Taggart. The initial hires of Bell and Barnett have proven unsuccessful, and the latter has wasted another year in the rebuild. In this modern age of college football, you don’t get more than four years to prove what you can do. We’re about halfway there and being told that 2020 will be Taggart’s first team that has both the players and the staff that he wants.

Well if that’s true, 2020 better be one hell of a breakout. If it isn’t, Taggart will be fired before 2021 ever arrives.

Clint Eiland is the lead writer for The Daily Nole. Follow Clint on Twitter @ClintEiland. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at Mike@TheDailyNole.com.