Tag­gart get­ting an early look

In­com­ing Owls coach on side­line for bowl vic­tory

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Khobi Price

Wil­lie Tag­gart served more as a highly in­vested celebrity fan than head coach while he pa­trolled Florida At­lantic’s side­lines dur­ing its 52-28 vic­tory over SMU in the Boca Ra­ton Bowl.

He con­ducted in­ter­views with the me­dia, on and off the field, and greeted mem­bers of the Owls com­mu­nity while in­terim head coach and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Glenn Spencer and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Char­lie Weis Jr. coached the game.

But that didn’t stop Tag­gart from shar­ing sim­i­lar emotions as the FAU play­ers whom he’ll soon be coach­ing. Like the play­ers, he cel­e­brated each game-chang­ing play the Owls made en route to clinch­ing their sec­ond bowl win in the past three years.

“I don’t know if I’d say it’s fun,” Tag­gart said about be­ing on the side­line as a fan. “You want to help … you’re in it. It’s like, I’m an Owl now.

“I want ev­ery­thing to go, and then just be­ing there you can’t do any­thing. And then you see them mak­ing a play, [so] you’re ex­cited.

“It is dif­fer­ent, but again that’s an­other rea­son why I couldn’t sit at home no more. I need to be coach­ing. That’s hard, sit­ting over there and you can’t do any­thing. It’s in some­one else’s hands.”

Tag­gart will soon have greater con­trol of the team’s fate with na­tional sign­ing day on Feb. 5 and spring prac­tices shortly af­ter that.

Through an­other ma­jor re­cruit­ing cy­cle and team prac­tices with his staff, Tag­gart will be able to place his im­print on the Owls. Luck­ily for Tag­gart, he’ll in­herit the core of a ros­ter that Spencer re­ferred to as the “great­est team that FAU has ever had.”

FAU’s 2020 team won’t be the same as the 2019 ver­sion, which won its sec­ond con­fer­ence ti­tle in three years and tied a pro­gram record with 11 wins. The Owls will lose mul­ti­ple play­mak­ers on both sides of the ball, in­clud­ing unan­i­mous All-Amer­ica tight end Har­ri­son Bryant, line­backer Rashad Smith and sev­eral line­men.

But as FAU showed in its bowl game — when it was with­out 11 key play­ers for var­i­ous rea­sons and could’ve been dis­tracted by the whirl­wind sur­round­ing the pro­gram the past two weeks — it should be able to com­pete with some of the na­tion’s top teams in 2020.

“Con­sid­er­ing some of the guys out of this ball­game and our guys [are] still com­pet­ing and play­ing like they’ve been play­ing all year long, [that] says a lot about those guys,” Tag­gart said. “They’ve been through a lot [with] coach­ing changes and some of the bet­ter play­ers that they count on not play­ing in this game, and they’re still out there com­pet­ing and play­ing at a high level.”

FAU’s re­siliency was show­cased on a na­tional stage and gar­nered re­spect from its op­po­nents.

“When the coach leaves like that, there are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent ways you can re­spond, and their guys came out and ral­lied and played in­cred­i­bly hard,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “Hats off to them be­cause they re­sponded to ad­ver­sity the way you’re sup­posed to.”

And many of the play­ers who helped the Owls re­spond to their ad­ver­sity in dom­i­nant fash­ion against the Mus­tangs will be el­i­gi­ble to re­turn next sea­son.

John Raine showed glimpses of what the Owls can ex­pect from him next sea­son as the No. 1 tight end with Bryant out for Satur­day’s game. Raine caught seven passes for 73 yards a touch­down.

Wide re­ceivers Bran­don Robin­son and Wil­lie Wright stepped up in the ab­sences of Tavaris “Pico” Har­ri­son and Dean­gelo An­toine. Robin­son fin­ished with five re­cep­tions for 78 re­ceiv­ing yards, while Wright recorded a team-high eight re­cep­tions for 59 yards.

Run­ning backs BJ Em­mons and James Charles com­bined for 126 rush­ing yards and three touch­downs on 26 at­tempts.

Mal­colm David­son, who didn’t play in Satur­day’s game and was ar­guably FAU’s best tail­back this sea­son, will be el­i­gi­ble to re­turn next year.

The Owls held a team un­der 30 points for the sev­enth con­sec­u­tive game. Line­backer Ak­ileis Leroy, who didn’t play in Satur­day’s game, is ex­pected to re­turn for the 2020 sea­son af­ter be­ing named to the All-Con­fer­ence USA sec­ond team.

But most im­por­tantly for Tag­gart, he shouldn’t need to worry about who’s go­ing to be the start­ing quar­ter­back.

Red­shirt sopho­more quar­ter­back Chris Ro­bi­son is a first-team all-con­fer­ence hon­oree and has proved to be one of the best quar­ter­backs in the con­fer­ence.

He fin­ished 27 of 37 pass­ing for 305 yards and two touch­downs against the Mus­tangs.

Ro­bi­son now holds the sin­gle­sea­son FAU record for most com­ple­tions (290) and pass­ing yards (3,697).

Rusty Smith held the pre­vi­ous records with 281 com­ple­tions and 3,688 pass­ing yards from the 2007 sea­son.

“He al­ready knows what’s here,” Ro­bi­son said about Tag­gart. “Why would he be here if he didn’t?”

If the glimpse Tag­gart got of his new team from the side­lines Satur­day is a sign of what’s to come, both the Owls and their new head coach will have a bright fu­ture ahead of them.

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