Taggart getting an early look
Incoming Owls coach on sideline for bowl victory
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.