Game Preview: #4 Florida State at Virginia
Oct 14, 2005While fans in Charlottesville are trying to run the 3-4 defense out of town, suggesting it can't be played at the collegiate level, fans in Tallahassee are raving about it and wondering why it wasn't implemented sooner. And just like with the defense, Bobby Bowden has proven that even with all of his success, he's still willing to change the way his team plays to win.
Under a new offensive line system and a four-wide spread scheme, a very predictable FSU offense of the last three or four years once again resembles the high-octane attack the Seminoles were known for in the '90s. The 'Noles are playing more cohesive football, with all three aspects (offense, defense, special teams) performing at levels not seen in Tallahassee since 1999. To call Saturday's game a challenge is a significant understatement.
For notes, stats, articles, depth charts, a roster card, a weather report and more, check out the Florida State game information page below.
Virginia Offense vs. Florida State Defense
Former Carolina Panthers coach and new FSU linebackers coach Kevin Steele has modified the Seminole defense with a frequent three-down, four-linebacker set, designed to take maximum advantage of Florida State's exceptional depth at linebacker.
The change has paid dividends. The Florida State defense has now recorded 20 sacks through five games. The defense is on pace to total 48 sacks this year, which would be the most since the 1997 team had 64. Last year the Seminoles finished the season with 39 sacks. They will blitz from anywhere on the field, including the corners and safeties. But the bulk of the pressure comes from a linebacking unit that goes six deep with talent and speed.
Virginia may look to use the Seminoles' aggression against them with deep routes, wide and in the middle zone to pull the secondary away from the line of scrimmage and allow Marques Hagans to find some open lanes between the hash marks.
The Seminoles have yet to face a quarterback with the mobility and elusiveness of Hagans. Defenses typically have two options in defending Hagans: run him out of the pocket and run the risk of him creating big plays, or run a containment scheme and try and force Hagans to throw the ball from the pocket. Boston College opted for the latter, going upfield with the pass rush on the edge, controlling the middle, and leaving a lineman or a linebacker as a spy. Look for FSU to do the same.
With the FSU defensive ends focused on containment, Virginia may also look to attack the Seminole interior with an inside running attack. Moreover, there is just too much speed on FSU's defense to run to the perimeter.
In order to do this, Virginia's young offensive line will need to block FSU's outstanding linebacking corps, blocks that require getting leverage and holding their blocks long enough to allow the running backs to hit the holes and then make cuts to the open lanes in the defense.
Forcing the ends to play contain may limit the use of the FSU cornerbacks in the 'Nole blitz package, which should create man situations for the receivers. The Seminole corners are all under 6-2; with freshman left corner Tony Carter coming in at just 5-9.
But the 'Noles can get enough pressure on Hagans from the linebacker position without involving the corners. The FSU zone blitz has been difficult for teams to handle and, as a struggling Miami offensive line proved, unless you have a very experienced and disciplined offensive line, the Seminole pass rush is difficult to handle. Also, don't look for the 'Noles to start blitzing right away. They try to get pressure with the down linemen first and only if that proves ineffective will they look to the linebackers for heat.
To enjoy any success against the Seminoles, I believe Virginia will have to run the football better than it has at any time this season and go vertical with the passing game. The Eagles did not blitz frequently, opting to contain Hagans and cover the receivers with a zone defense. Frankly, the Eagles did not do a great job defending the pass, but they were helped by poor passing and dropped passes.
The Seminoles, however, have the ability to cover in man and feel they have the athletes to free linebackers for blitzing and still handle the Virginia running game. So how might the 'Hoos approach the Seminole defense? First, run Hagans out of the shotgun to allow more time to handle the pass rush as well as give Virginia's quarterback better recognition of the underneath passing lanes. The 'Hoos will likely look to use slants and crossing routes to attack the vacated linebacker spots, as well as use vertical timing routes in man coverage to allow Hagans to throw to spots as opposed to taking time to go through numerous progressions to find an open target.
Virginia may look to deploy the same attack early as it did a week ago against BC, attacking downfield and over the middle with the passing game in order to slow the rush and keep the secondary honest and out of the run support.
If the Cavaliers are successful, then Ron Prince may look to the inside running attack. But Virginia's offensive coordinator can't stop there. Prince needs to mix the run and pass, using play-action after establishing a moderately successful running game. The Cavs will also need to get creative by using screens and draws to attack the aggressive Seminole defense.
This game requires Prince's best coaching effort ever. It is not impossible to run on the Seminoles. Virginia posted 140 yards on a BC defense that was second in the nation. Miami, BC and Wake all put up 300 yards of total offense against Florida State and the 'Canes and Eagles had some success in the air. But the 'Hoos must find ways to limit the rush on Hagans without relying on maximum protection sets, while finding running lanes on the inside.
Two other keys. While the Cavaliers must be aggressive in the passing game, they must keep drives alive, keep the FSU offense off the field and, most importantly, convert EVERY opportunity in the red zone into touchdowns.
Florida State Offense vs. Virginia Defense
Like with the defense, Bobby Bowden is showing that he's willing to change his offense. The end of the Chris Rix experiment also ended a four-year stint in which the Seminole offense could have appropriately been called vanilla by FSU standards.
While some Seminole fans are concerned about the rushing attack, they shouldn't be. It's true that FSU is averaging fewer yards rushing per game this season than last year and that the backs are getting fewer touches. But they are averaging 8.6 yards per touch compared to 6.3 last season and the backs are getting more touches in the passing attack.
The passing game overall is becoming dominant. The 'Noles have passed for 1,581 yards this season (15.1 yards per reception) compared to just 892 (9.8 YPC) through five games last season. The offensive success is a surprise considering the relative youth of the offense and the fact that three of the 'Noles' first four opponents had defenses that were ranked highly.
With the addition of former Marshall offensive coordinator Mark McHale as offensive line coach, a very predictable FSU offense over the last three or four years once again resembles the high-octane attack the Seminoles were known for in the 90's.
McHale completely revamped the offensive line system and this unit, considered one of the biggest question marks as the 'Noles entered 2005, has exceeded expectations. Under the new line system and with a four-wide spread offense, the passing game has flourished through the first five games. FSU currently leads the ACC in passing offense, averaging 316.2 yards per game. The Marshall influence and McGill's input as part of the offensive game planning is clearly evident. Freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford had his best game as a Seminole last week against Wake Forest, going 20 of 31 for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
The new spread offense is opening running and passing lanes for Seminole running backs. The four-wide system has involved tailbacks Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington more in the passing offense to take advantage of their speed and elusiveness in space. Booker and Washington have combined for 24 receptions and 314 yards. Both have delivered with long receptions, including a 61-yard screen for a touchdown for Washington and a 72-yard screen reception for Booker.
And here's a scary thought - some are suggesting this may be the best group of receivers ever at FSU. And they will be around for a while. Nearly half of the team's receiving yards and touchdowns have come from freshmen and sophomores. Last Saturday against Wake Forest, four of FSU's five touchdowns were recorded by freshmen.
Even though the passing game has been superb, I would be surprised if the Seminoles did not come out and run the ball against Virginia as they have done successfully for the last three years.
So how does a defense that has been giving up yardage in chunks defend the ACC's #2 scoring offense and #1 passing and total offense?
One thing that might slow the Seminoles is the loss of senior offensive guard Matt Meinrod, who dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula against Wake Forest. John Frady will start in his place at right guard.
Everyone has tried to make FSU's rookie quarterback and young receivers beat them, and they have. There's really little to lose in focusing on stopping the pass and trying to limit the running game with a four-man front.
Virginia fans don't like the bend-but-don't-break defense, but that may be the best way to keep the 'Hoos in a position to win. Teams have tried to blitz the 'Noles and while they have gotten to Weatherford at times, the FSU quarterback has burned opponents more often than not. Wake blitzed on virtually every play and rarely got to the quarterback and FSU made them pay with big plays. They'll do the same to the 'Hoos if they try that tactic.
The 'Hoos do not have a pass rush that can get to Weatherford and the corners are not ready to defend the athletic Seminole receivers with little to no pressure.
FSU is a big-play offense and Virginia's inexperienced secondary has been prone to the big play of late. Virginia will likely try and keep the Seminole offense in front of it to limit the big play, and make FSU produce long, multiple-play drives. If this is the strategy, Virginia will want to continue its heavy rotation of players and continue to deploy multiple formations.
Creativity and new offensive wrinkles have not only been prevalent in the Seminole passing game, Virginia's defense must look to slow a reshaped FSU running attack.
The 'Noles are running the ball more out of the shotgun, utilizing a zone-blocking approach and allowing the backs to pick their spots. The 'Noles run power plays, options and sprint draws from the gun. The inside power play is similar to the Maryland cut-option, also run from a passing set, that gave the 'Hoos so much trouble in College Park. The good news is the 'Noles have shown it, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to Al Golden and his defensive coaches.
The defense must guard against the big play and must limit the 'Noles to field goals in the red zone, something it did effectively against Boston College.
It used to be that opponents could count on inconsistent Florida State special teams, but not anymore. Now they have to deal with what is the most effective Seminole special teams unit in years.
Ray Guy Award candidate Chris Hall is averaging 38.9 yards per punt through the first five games. Hall is enjoying an outstanding senior season with 21 of his first 27 kicks pinning opponents inside the 15 while allowing only 16 yards on five returns. Freshman receiver Kenny O'Neal, who is also an All-American sprinter, has returned five kickoffs for 158 yards in the last two games. Washington and receiver Willie Reid are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in career punt return yards in Florida State history.
Who has The Edge?
Quarterbacks - Even
Running Backs - Florida State
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends - Even
Offensive Line - Florida State
Defensive Line - Florida State
Linebackers - Florida State
Secondary - Florida State
Special Teams - Even
Coaching - Florida State
Absolutes and DesirablesAbsolutes are things UVa must do in the game. Desirables are things we'd like to see from the Cavaliers.
1) Special teams dominance - Prior to the BC game, the 'Hoos fielded one of the best special teams units in the conference. No, they don't run a kick or punt back for a touchdown every week or block four punts a game, but they do kick and cover pretty well. This is the type of game where Virginia needs a special effort from the special teams. The Cavaliers must win the field position battle, creating short drives for the offense and long-yardage drives for the Seminoles. The special teams need to make something happen. When a team is an underdog in a big game, it needs to play mistake free and create some game-breaking plays. Special teams are an area where Virginia could minimize FSU's offensive and defensive advantages.
Chris Gould needs to provide more field-position changing kicks just as he did last week in Chestnut Hill, as well as avoid any hangover from last week's blocked punt. Connor Hughes needs to continue his perfect effort and Kurt Smith must be a force in limiting the Seminole return game. This is clearly an aspect of the game that Virginia can and must win.
2) Do not allow the big play - Last year the Seminoles did not have a pass completion over 50 yards. This season Florida State has totaled eight pass plays of 50+ yards to Kenny O'Neal (75 yards), Lorenzo Booker (71), Greg Carr (63, 54), Leon Washington (61), Chris Davis (56), Fred Rouse (54) and De'Cody Fagg (51). In addition, seven different players have recorded a receiving touchdown and that is two more than last season's total.
The 'Hoos need to limit the big-play ability of the Seminole offense. There is speed on the return teams, speed at running back and big-time playmakers at the wide receiver position. Virginia must force the 'Noles to drive slowly downfield, thus increasing the opportunity for the defense to force Weatherford into making mistakes, something he has rarely done this season.
Virginia also needs to get a solid performance from its own playmakers like Deyon Williams, Marques Hagans, Michael Johnson and others. In games where one team appears to be overmatched, big plays on offense, defense and special teams can change the dynamic. Virginia must produce some game-changing plays and limit FSU's ability to do so.
3) Slow the FSU running game - The Seminole offensive line may be young and not resemble the dominant unit of two years ago, but it is strong and solid and FSU has arguably the most outstanding tailback duo in the nation. Stopping the Florida State running game entirely is a lot to ask. However, slowing it down is not out of the question for the Virginia defense.
One key is to close the cutback lanes and keep Washington and Booker from attacking those open spaces. The 'Noles have had a lot of success with cutback runs, so the Virginia linebackers and safeties must be aware that whenever Washington and Booker attack the force, they may not necessarily remain outside the tackles.
The 'Hoos also need to be assignment-oriented. The new FSU offense will run out of the shotgun as well as from passing sets; a combination Virginia struggled with at Maryland. BC did the same thing, departing from established passing set tendencies to take advantage of Virginia's inexperienced linebackers and secondary. Acquiring quick post-snap reads, maintaining contain and not over-committing will be essential to keeping the 'Noles running game and big-play potential under control.
1) Good production on first down - One of the best ways to limit an effective pass rush is to keep the chains moving, have a good run/pass mix and stay out of third-and-long situations. It's critical for the Cavs is to have solid 5-7 yard production on first down. The 'Noles lead the conference in limiting opponents' abilities to convert third downs (28.9%). Against FSU, third-and-long will mean a heavy dose of Seminole pressure - and it will make for a long, difficult evening if Virginia finds itself in long conversion situations against the type of pressure the Seminoles can bring.
2) Make it count in the red zone - This sounds like a re-occurring theme and it is. Virginia left 16 points on the table against Maryland and four points against BC. The 'Hoos will not get a lot of scoring opportunities Saturday night and they must capitalize with touchdowns on all of them. Virginia is fourth in the ACC in red-zone efficiency (87%) but has scored only 12 touchdowns in 23 opportunities. The Seminoles have allowed opponents into the red zone just 11 times and have given up a microscopic four touchdowns.
3) Protect Marques Hagans - If there is a game to be short an offensive lineman, this isn't the week. Florida State is one of the top pass-rushing teams in the nation, recording 20 sacks in five games. And the sacks do not tell the complete story of the FSU pass rush. The Seminoles have 55 quarterback hurries and are adept at blocking passes at the line of scrimmage, a habitual problem for Hagans. So it's not just about protection, it's about play-calling. It's utilizing deep timing routes, moving the pocket and protection.
Greg: Let me say for the record that I would love nothing better than to see a repeat of 1995. But that is simply an unrealistic expectation. The Virginia offensive front is wounded and depleted, the secondary is still struggling with poor reads and miscommunication and team morale could not be any lower.
Maybe the 'Hoos pull it all together and do something incredibly special. The facts say they can't, but as they say, the game's not played on paper. I'm going with the facts.
Florida State 35, Virginia 17
John: C'mon, Greg, you gotta believe! OK, you don't gotta.
Here's what I see: Beautiful night at Scott Stadium. Electric atmosphere. Crowd going crazy. Seminoles ranked in the top five. FSU throws for 400 yards but UVa answers with great special teams, a versatile offense and a defense that makes the big stop right at the goal line as time expires.
Oops, I'm watching ESPN Classic, and that was 10 years ago.
In reality, can the Cavs recapture that moment, that feeling, that magic? I don't see it. That '95 UVa team, which will be honored at halftime, may have been the most talented in school history. This one may be missing both of its starting tackles. Two of its biggest playmakers, Ahmad Brooks and Wali Lundy, haven't done anything this season. Jermaine Dias is out. Marcus Hamilton may be the only capable corner. This team is banged up, demoralized and distracted. And the Seminoles are damn good.
The only real hope is that the 'Hoos will get caught up in the emotions of the night and of the past week. Perhaps their inner flame, which hasn't been lit all season, will be sparked by the Brad Butler brouhaha. But that strikes me as a strange cause to rally around.
Close for a half, then all downhill.
Florida State 31, Virginia 10
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