Although most were expecting a smoother transition, 2018 showed Florida State fans that head coach Willie Taggart has his work cut out for him.
While Taggart did not achieve anything close to what fans had hoped for in 2018 and put his future in Tallahassee significantly more in doubt than when he was first hired, the situation did prove to be more of a rebuild than initially thought — although talent isn’t the issue. Rebuilding programs, fortunately, has been Taggart’s forte.
After looking at how Taggart took his alma mater Western Kentucky to new heights to open our 3-part series, we looked back on Taggart’s four years at South Florida. The final part of the series reexamines 2017 — his lone season at Oregon.
The Ducks were just three years removed from an appearance in the national championship game. Following a 42-20 loss to Ohio State in 2014, Oregon finished 9-4 in 2015 before going just 4-8 in 2016 — the worst finish for the program since 1991.
Taggart fell just short of doubling Oregon’s win total in his only year in Eugene and likely would have had it not been for an injury to quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon went from 4-8 in 2016 to 7-5 in 2017. In Pac-12 play however, the Ducks were just 4-5.
Oregon raced to a 4-1 record with the only blemish being a 37-35 loss to Arizona State in which Sun Devils’ kicker Brandon Ruiz kicked the game-winner with 2:33 to play. Oregon did not begin to sputter until a 45-24 win over California in which Herbert suffered a broken collarbone.
After averaging nearly 50 points per contest with Herbert at the helm, the Ducks dropped four of their next five. In those four losses, Oregon never scored more than 14 points.
With Oregon now 5-5, Herbert returned for a home contest against Arizona and helped fuel a 48-point, 588-yard effort in a 48-28 victory.
In what would be Taggart’s final game at Oregon, the Ducks hosted Oregon State in the annual “Civil War”. Oregon would score the most points ever in the history of the rivalry and notch the largest margin of victory in its history, winning 69-10.
Taggart would leave for Tallahassee prior to Oregon’s 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, but in one season, Taggart had increased the Ducks’ win total by 75 percent and doubled their win total in the Pac-12.
Offensively that season, the Ducks finished 31st in total offense, 13th in rushing and 18th in scoring, but with a healthy Herbert, Oregon averaged more than 52 points per game and better than 550 yards. There’s no guaranteeing Oregon would have been able to keep the pace, but those totals would have ranked third and first nationally, respectively.
Herbert finished fourth nationally in passer rating while running back Royce Freeman finished in the top 15 nationally with 1,475 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Junior Kani Benoit averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns for an Oregon offense that ranked seventh nationally with 40 rushing touchdowns.
The biggest improvement however, may have been on defense, which went from 126th in total defense in 2016 to 41st in 2017. In terms of scoring defense, Oregon went from 126th to 77th.
Unlike at Oregon, Taggart was unable to improve FSU in year No. 1, but that doesn’t mean his tenure can’t be a successful one. Of his four stops, Oregon was the only one where Taggart has a winning record.