Virginia Tech dominates Florida State, spoiling Willie Taggart's debut

Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Damon Hazelton, left, and quarterback quarterback Josh Jackson (17) celebrate a touchdown on their first drive against Florida State during an NCAA college football game in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Willie Taggart’s Florida State debut did not go very well.

Taggart’s Seminoles welcomed Virginia Tech to Tallahassee on Monday night and were outclassed from the jump. By the time the dust settled, the Hokies emerged with a decisive 24-3 win.

Virginia Tech set the tone from the beginning. The Hokies received the opening kickoff and marched down the field without much resistance, going 75 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Josh Jackson to Damon Hazelton.

After taking an early lead, Virginia Tech’s defense took over

Taggart is known as an offensive coach. His teams at his past stops — Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon — all routinely put up huge numbers. But the Virginia Tech defense had other ideas.

Florida State’s first drive ended in just four plays with a fumble in the backfield by receiver Nyqwan Murray on a sweep play. That set up a field goal for the Hokies and a 10-0 lead.

And while Virginia Tech’s offense would never establish a rhythm again like it did on the opening drive, the Florida State offense was just totally out of sorts. Deondre Francois, in his first start at quarterback since a serious leg injury to open last season, showed flashes when he had time to throw. But that was the problem, FSU’s line rarely gave him a chance. And the line did a worse job blocking in the run game.

Much of that was to Virginia Tech’s credit. Bud Foster’s unit was constantly in the backfield and finished the night with five takeaways and a whopping 14 tackles for loss. The Hokies also only allowed FSU to gain 94 yards on the ground on 28 attempts. Eighty-five of those yards came on one carry.

An appearance from Beamer Ball, and more dominant defense

There was a point late in the first half when it looked like FSU could cut into Virginia Tech’s lead. But then Beamer Ball struck.

With the Seminoles punting from their own end zone, Virginia Tech’s Chris Cunningham busted through and blocked the punt in the air. The ball fell right into the arms of Eric Kumah for a touchdown.

It only got worse from there. FSU’s next two drives ended with an interception and a turnover on downs just outside the red zone. That kept Virginia Tech’s lead at 17-3 at the half.

In the third quarter, Florida State mustered minus-7 yards. Yes, minus-7. But the defense kept the Hokies in check, too, so FSU was still within striking distance.

In the fourth, FSU running back Cam Akers broke loose for an 85-yard run all the way to the VT 6-yard line. But three plays later, Florida State would squander yet another opportunity, this time with a fumble. That prompted this incredulous reaction from Taggart:

(via ESPN)

On the ensuing drive, Virginia Tech put the final nail in the coffin with another Kumah touchdown, this time a 49-yard catch-and-run.

What does this mean for Florida State?

Let’s start with the positives. After Virginia Tech’s opening scoring drive, the FSU defense looked really good, forcing six three-and-outs and even stuffing the Hokies on the goal line.

But it was the offense that was majorly concerning. First of all, the offensive line play was shaky, and that’s putting it mildly. The overall approach didn’t seem overly cohesive. There were a lot of plays with side-to-side action that didn’t fool the Hokies in the slightest. Sure, FSU wants to get its playmakers the ball in space, but when your attack is easy to sniff out, it’s not going to be successful.

Part of that is working in a new scheme under a new coach. That’s going to take time, but it should not have looked this bad to start the year.

What does this mean for Virginia Tech?

Entering the season, there were plenty of questions about how the defense was going to replace eight starters. Because of that, many thought the Hokies may not be a true contender in the ACC Coastal. But those questions were answered quickly on Monday night, and new starters like Caleb Farley, Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers, plus proven weapons like Trevon Hill and Ricky Walker, all thrived.

It’s just one win, of course, but the Hokies look like there won’t be a talent drop-off on defense. And that means the Hokies will be a dangerous team yet again, especially if the offense builds on a decent opening-night performance on that side of the ball.

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