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How Syracuse helped butterfly-effect Willie Taggart to Florida State

No, not the Ashton Kutcher film...

NCAA Football: South Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

When the Syracuse Orange and Florida State Seminoles face off this Saturday, SU will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline.

New ‘Noles head coach Willie Taggart has been on the job for just two games, but he’s seen Syracuse before (and recently), going 2-0 against them between 2015 and 2016 with the USF Bulls.

You probably remembered that Taggart coached those South Florida teams. But perhaps you forgot the Orange’s direct (butterfly) effect on the Bulls’ turnaround, Taggart’s eventual hire at Oregon, and then his move to FSU.

Walk with us down short-term memory lane. And if Florida State beats us on Saturday, you know who to blame: Ourselves.

Willie Taggart enters third USF season on very hot seat read the Tampa Bay Times headline going into the 2015 season. The former Western Kentucky coach had gone 6-18 over the course of his first two years and there was a high demand on engineering a turnaround.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Taggart wouldn’t necessarily respond in kind to that desire from the fan base. The Bulls beat Florida A&M to kick off the year, then dropped consecutive contests to Florida State, Maryland and Memphis. USF was 1-3 and on the verge of a potential 1-4 start with a 3-1 Syracuse squad coming to town in early October.

It was against the Orange that Taggart finally took the reins off of dual-threat QB Quinton Flowers and let him create within the spread offense he’d installed. The then-sophomore hadn’t topped 200 passing yards in the first four games that year. Against SU, he’d throw for 259 and two scores with a 68 percent completion rate. He also ran for another 55 yards and a score.

“It just goes back to when Coach T gave me the go word,” Flowers told the Tampa Bay Times.

That word “go” never let up for the rest of the time Taggart was at USF with Flowers. Following the 48-27 win over the Orange, South Florida went 16-4 with “Coach T” at the helm (plus another win in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl, though Taggart was not on the sidelines for that one).

Taggart had been dedicated to a power rushing attack out of the spread, but with his job on the line (Flowers’s account to the Tampa Bay Times says the coach would’ve been fired had the Bulls dropped that game), he simply let the dynamic QB loose and rode the wave from there.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The approach served him well for a year and a half in Tampa before he got the Oregon job. Though the Ducks went just 7-6 in 2017, it was a vast improvement from 2016’s 4-8 mark. And Oregon also lost standout passer Justin Herbert just as they were hitting their early season stride. Still, averaging nearly 441 yards and 36 points per game, that was enough to get the call from the Seminoles this offseason.

Taggart didn’t have to “install” a spread at Oregon because the offensive philosophy has been in their DNA for some time. At FSU, though, they’re coming from Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style scheme that was about as slow as it gets.

The Seminoles have the athletes to adapt, but things haven’t necessarily gained traction yet as the team’s struggled through much of the first two games this season. Taggart isn’t faced with the prospect of losing his job in this matchup against Syracuse. But a quick survey of FSU fans says they’re at least getting a little antsy about things so far. A strong effort against the Orange could once again catapult him to some semblance of safety (or at least peace of mind).

And if not? Well, at least Scott Shafer did him a solid by getting stomped in 2015 and propelling what was to come next. It’s rare one game defines a career. But for Taggart, that’s certainly the case right now, “thanks” in part to SU.