TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Willie Taggart had a ready answer when he was asked to describe the offensive system he plans to run at Florida State.
“Talkin’ about the Gulf Coast offense, huh?” he asked.
“How would I describe it?” Taggart paused, perhaps for effect.
“Lethal simplicity,” Taggart said.
Next to him, athletic director Stan Wilcox beamed. Those two words may have meant more than anything else Taggart said during his introductory news conference last week. Taggart has much to do during his first few months on the job, but among the most intriguing items on the checklist is how he will reimagine and modernize an offense that has been stuck in the past.
Let’s start with "lethal" first. Since Jameis Winston left Florida State, the Seminoles have become one of the most methodical offenses in the country. There’s nothing wrong with methodical, so long as productivity follows.
With a true freshman quarterback this season, these issues were exacerbated further, and Florida State averaged only 61 plays per game. That ranked in the bottom 10 nationally.
As college football has tilted more toward spread, tempo offenses, many schools have followed. Evolution has become necessary, and not much evolved under Jimbo Fisher. Just last month, he told reporters in Tallahassee that he has been running the same offense since the early 1990s during a discussion about his offensive philosophy and the way he has coached James Blackman.
Taggart began his career running a pro-style offense, too, but he has found ways to adapt based on his personnel. The Gulf Coast offense is a smash-up of what he has learned, using principles that allow his players more freedom to use their athletic abilities to make plays. South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers is a perfect example. He began to flourish only after Taggart quit trying to rein him in.
This is where the simplicity comes in. Far too often, those who played under Fisher or studied his offenses described them as "complex." Fisher balked at that assertion throughout the season when he was continually asked whether the offense was too complicated for a true freshman to run.
But various players pointed specifically to the complicated schemes and calls when describing what Blackman had to pick up as the starter. (Since Blackman is a true freshman, he was not allowed to speak to the media this season.)
Whatever the case, hindsight makes it blatantly clear that a fresh offensive look was necessary. Florida State brings in some of the best athletes in the country every single season. Now is the time to turn those athletes loose on offense, to use their speed, skill and talent to their advantage.
"We want to score fast and often, but be really simple when it comes to teaching our players,” Taggart said. “Not confusing them with what we need to do, but allow our guys to go out and play football and play fast.
“Score touchdowns. We all like touchdowns. I really like explosive plays. You’ll see a lot of explosive plays. ... I like to score fast and often and take pride in doing that.”
Let’s take this season as an example. Oregon, under Taggart, had 72 plays that went for 20 or more yards; Florida State had 52. Now, 2017 does serve as an exception at Florida State because the Seminoles played without Deondre Francois.
But when this offense hit its peak with Winston in 2013, Florida State had 109 plays that went over 20 yards in 14 games. Of course, it was not just Winston. The Seminoles also had Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. Among that group, only Wilder went undrafted.
Over the past two drafts, Dalvin Cook was the only Seminoles player at the offensive skill positions who was drafted. And heading into the 2018 draft, Florida State doesn’t have an elite prospect at any of those positions. The downturn has been hard to watch at times, a combination of a complex offense, unreached potential, injuries and questionable coaching, especially given the top-five signing classes Fisher brought in.
But all hope should not be lost, especially with a fresh start. Florida State returns a wealth of talent, from Cam Akers at running back to Auden Tate and Noonie Murray at receiver and a healthy Francois at quarterback. If Jacques Patrick returns, the Seminoles will have as good a 1-2 combination at running back as any team out there. And these are just the players who have seen time for Florida State.
The recruiting pitch should be an easy sell for Taggart, both on the trail and inside his own locker room. Every offensive player should want to sign up to make more plays in a simpler, faster offense.