ACC Championship Preview: Florida State Seminoles at Virginia Tech Hokies

Christian Ponder throws a touchdown for the 'Noles

Finally, the ACC has the matchup it wants.  The Florida State Seminoles at the Virginia Tech Hokies in the heart of ACC country, Charlotte, NC.  The winner goes to the BCS in the Orange Bowl in Miami.  The loser will play in the Peach bowl (Chick-Fil-A) in Atlanta.  For the 'Noles, this game is a bonus.  FSU has already accomplished all reasonable goals it set for the season.  While some expected FSU to win the division, nobody thought Florida State would win the conference.  Yet here are the Seminoles with a chance to do just that in their first season under coach Jimbo Fisher.  All the pressure is on the Hokies here.  Tech was supposed to be in the hunt for the national title.  Tech has 11 All-ACC Players.  Florida State has 4.  Virginia Tech is the first team to finish undefeated in conference since division play began.  FSU finished 6-2 in conference after going 16-16 over the last four years.    Both teams, have a lot of athletes, however, and both sport excellent senior quarterbacks.  

First-year head coach Jimbo Fisher isn't worried that the 'Noles will have a letdown following an emotional win over rival Florida.

"I have always said one of the toughest things is the way the schedule is for Florida and Florida State, and if you are going into a conference championship game the very next week coming off of a game that is not a conference game, but is so meaningful and then you have to come right back and play another meaningful game the next week I think is very tough. You have to deal with the hand your dealt, and I don't think our kids know because they are so hungry for success and they are proud of what they're doing, confident in what they're doing and where our team is and the way they carries itself I think we will be ready to play."

Time: 7:45 PM
Line: VT -4
TV: ESPN

Injury Report: (Starters in Bold, key reserves in Italics)

OUT
RB: Jermaine Thomas (knee)- until bowl game, Tavares Pressley (ACL)
WR: Jarmon Fortson (kicked off team)A.J. Alexander (left team)
OL: David Spurlock (concussion)Blake Snider (lower leg-season) [FSU is on its 4th-string guard.]
DE: Jamar Jackson (left team)
DT: Moses McCray (ACL done for year)
LB: Nigel Carr (kicked off team)JaJuan Harley (left team)

Questionable
RB: Ty Jones (ankle)
LG: Bryan Stork (mono)

Probable
QB: Christian Ponder (elbow)
RB: Chris Thompson (deep thigh bruise)

Virginia Tech's Offense v. Florida State's Defense

Tech has the 13th-best offense so far this year while FSU has the 39th-best defense.

Personnel

QB 5 Tyrod Taylor 6-1 210 Sr. - Enormous arm, great legs, finally has a good head.
QB 3 Logan Thomas 6-6 242 r-Fr. Stud who everyone in the country wanted.

LT 72 Andrew Lanier 6-5 275 r-Jr. - replacement of Becton.
LG 75 Greg Nosal 6-6 293 r-Jr. - very average
C 60 Beau Warren 6-4 286 r-Sr - Good center
RG 68 Jaymes Brooks 6-2 296 r-Jr. - Quality right guard.
RT 62 Blake DeChristopher 6-5 320 r-Jr. - Excellent run blockers, inconsistent pass pro.

RB34 Ryan Williams 5-10 202 r-So.  - Best of the backs and has amazing lateral agility and explosion. Great vision, good power, and breaks a lot of tackles. He has been banged up most of the year but is now healthy.
RB32 Darren Evans 6-0 220 r-Jr.- Straight line, but legs go dead on contact.
RB4 David Wilson 5-11 200 So. - Complete burner.  Sometimes misses the hole.

FB 31 Kenny Younger 6-0 228 r-Sr.- good blocking fullback.  

WR 81 Jarrett Boykin 6-2 215 Jr. A good receiver.  
WR 19 Danny Coale 6-0 200 Jr.  Classic possession guy who runs good routes underneath.  Like a Wes Welker.
WR 7 Marcus Davis 6-4 229 r-So. Talented but not consistent and not super fast.  

TE 88 Andre Smith 6-5 272 r-Sr.- Tremendous blocking tight end, quality wideout, potential NFL guy.  
TE 86 Eric Martin 6-2 268 r-Fr. Woodbridge, VA

Scheme

Virginia Tech runs a pro-style scheme utilizing the I-formation and the gun.  It's pretty bland but they do have good players and a serious stud at quarterback. 

They struggle with heavy zone teams, like Florida State and sometimes against teams with good corners that can go man/press (Xavier Rhodes). Most teams that have slowed them down rush 4, and play a mostly cov 2/4 and some mixed zones as well.  Some teams have been really passive with their rushes and really do not get up field with their DL at all. Teams with athletic DLs (Like FSU) will probably try to force Taylor out of the pocket more, instead of slow-playing it.  

This year they are willing to throw more on 1st down.  That makes them much tougher to defend, because if they didn't you could just play cover-3 with 8 in the box all the time.  They are good at the bubble game as well.  But Taylor doesn't hit the seams all that well, which does suggest playing some cover 3.  

Tyrod really struggles going to his left.  FSU needs to focus on taking away the run (obviously), but in terms of Taylor it must push the pocket, not rush the pocket.  Wildly rushing upfield is a great way to get blown out here.  FSU must make Taylor complete intermediate routes over the middle while applying pressure in his face (up the middle and from his right side).  That means Markus White and Bjoern Werner need to have big and disciplined games.  Brandon Jenkins must be patient and not lose contain as he is there to clean up the back side.  

Florida State's linebackers must get off blocks in this game and the defensive backs (looking at you, Greg Reid) must tackle because FSU will be playing a lot of 8-man fronts to stop Tech's run game.  

Strength v. Strength | Weakness v. Weakness

Viirginia Tech rates 17th in explosive drives.  Florida State's defense rates 15th in preventing explosive drives.  That seems really quite even to me.  Meanwhile, Virignia Tech is 102nd at methodical drives, while FSU is 112th at preventing them.  Again, quite even.  

Virginia Tech is an offense that will get frustrated if forced to march on multiple-play drives.  FSU's defense is fine allowing those because it affords more plays (opportunities) for turnovers.  

The 'Noles know that they won't shut down this Virginia Tech attack.  But FSU should be able limit it somewhat. 

Additional intrigue is added to the matchup because Jimbo Fisher is quite tight with Nick Saban, and Mark Stoops is tight with the Pelini brothers.  Why does that matter?  Those two defenses held Virginia Tech to pedestrian totals in 2009.  However, they were the two best defenses in the country.  Players matter. 

Florida State's defensive line looked quite gassed in four of the last five games of the season.  Can they somehow reach down and play well again after doing so against Florida?  I doubt it, but I also don't see them getting completely dominated.

I see the Hokies running 70 plays for 406 yards.  That's 5.8 per play.  

Inside, find the preview of the Florida State offense!

Florida State's Offense v. Virginia Tech's Defense

Florida State's offense has been the 8th-best in the country while Tech's defense has been the 19th-best in the nation.

Personnel

RE 82 Steven Friday 6-4 250 r-Sr.- Pure pass rusher, doesn't play the run well.  Andrew Datko can handle him.
DT 91 John Graves 6-3 278 r-Sr. - 3-tech penetrator but can't bull Rodney Hudson.  Will give Bryan Stork trouble.
NG 56 Antoine Hopkins 6-1 302 r-So.- quality nose may give Ryan McMahon trouble
LE 33 Chris Drager 6-4 255 r-Jr. Not explosive, ok against run.  Even matchp v. Sanders.  

This defensive line jumps counts a lot so Christian Ponder will have to vary cadence and FSU may get some offsides calls here.  

ILB 51 Bruce Taylor 6-2 246 r-So.  Excellent run stopper, not great in pass defense, poor change of direction.  Overly aggressive.
ILB 44 Lyndell Gibson 5-11 232 r-So.  Nothing special.  

OLB43 Jeron Gouveia-Winslow 6-2 207 r-So. 
ROV 2 Davon Morgan 6-0 196 Sr. Savvy senior playmaker.  Occasionally overaggressive.  
BCB 21 Rashad Carmichael 5-11 186 r-Sr. Tremendous cover corner, will see lots of man from him.  Might not be 100%
FS 15 Eddie Whitley 6-1 195 Jr. A pure coverage safety who shies away from the run game.
FCB 20 Jayron Hosley 5-11 170 So. Excellent zone corner.  

I included Winslow with the DBs because he is so small.  The Antone Exum kid isn't listed as a starter but he plays a ton.  Very athletic.  This is an excellent secondary.

Scheme

Virginia Tech runs a very complex scheme, much more varied than in the early part of the decade.   They will run man, zone (many types), and man/zone combo.  They do a great job of disguising coverages as well and don't give away much.  Ponder is so excellent with his pre-snap stuff, but here it may be hard to get much of a tell.  They do a great job of going from a two-high look to an 8-man right before the snap, AKA "stemming".  

So with that great secondary and awesome coaching, why isn't this defense better?  FSU has already faced defenses in Miami-FL, Clemson, Oklahoma, BC, NC State, and Florida that were better than, as good, or close to the Virginia Tech defense.  

The answer is in the front seven.  

Sizes Of The Front Sevens Florida State Will Face
  Sam OU BYU WF UVA UM BC NCST UNC CLEM MD UF VT
DL 270 267 295 255 275 285 251 260 245 275 255 255 250
DL 285 301 307 240 270 293 295 289 275 310 295 307 278
DL 280 284 261 285 275 305 309 297 305 315 285 302 302
DL/LB 245 251 239 235 265 251 257 259 260 260 275 250 255
LB 212 240 232 215 215 227 238 239 230 215 230 226 246
LB 245 225 225 240 225 240 235 231 235 230 250 238 232
LB 220 232 225 225 230 220 215 224 230 220 235 223 216
 Total 1757 1800 1784 1695 1755 1821 1800 1799 1780 1828 1825 1801 1779

As you can see, Virginia Tech's front seven isn't enormous like a Clemson.  And it's just not super talented.  Foster has done an excellent job molding this into (again) one of the twenty best defenses in the country, but the front will not be a significant challenge for the 'Noles, who have already seen better fronts than this in their last few games.

This FSU offense is battle tested.  It is one of the ten best offenses in the country.  Florida State has faced far-and-away the toughest schedule of defenses in the country.  

But Virginia Tech presents some unique challenges.  

As I mentioned above, to compensate for the lack of size and talent in the front seven, Tech is quite skilled at slipping the extra defender into the box to stop the run.  That's great, but historically Fisher's offenses at Florida State really shred smaller defenses.  This defense isn't tiny, but it can't exactly dominate with the front four and play two-high coverage all day either.  

Florida State should be able to both run and pass block against this front.  The questions in my mind are all about the backs and receives.  Neither Ty Jones nor Chris Thompson are healthy.  Both are expected to play (I am skeptical on Ty Jones).  How will they run?   

How will FSU's young, inconsistent receivers play against perhaps the best secondary they have seen all season?  This won't be as simple as winning a 1-on-1 matchup against Florida.  This game will be mental as well as physical.  Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith must be precise with their routes and sure handed.  This game will be more about getting open and making the catch than it will be about making huge plays.  

I also worry about the different blitzes Tech will bring and how FSU's inexperience at right guard (5th guard of the year) will play.  How will the backs pick them up?  

FSU needs to exploit Tech's weaker players while holding serve against the stars.  

That means winning on first and second down.  Like the FSU defenses of 2007 and 2008, Tech is beastly when it gets to third-and-long.  That's when turnovers occur.  Florida State must stay balanced and ahead of the chains, something Fisher's boys do quite well.  

Reliford must have a good game walling the edge against this front seven.  I expect FSU to have enough success running the ball to be able to hit a big play out of play-action.  FSU will also look to hit short passes in early downs to move the chains; particularly with the running backs being less than 100%.  

FSU may be forced to use the shotgun a lot, probably with Lonnoe Pryor in the backfield.  Pryor isn't a great runner, but he is capable from the gun and he is an excellent pass protector in blitz pickup.  

I expect FSU to run 63 plays for 397 yards, about 6.3 per play.  

I believe Virginia Tech's offense is better than Florida State's defense by a wider margin than FSU's offense is better than Tech's defense.  However, I think the matchups favor FSU here, and FSU has better special teams by a slight margin.  

ACCCG Prediction
Team Plays Yards/Play
FSU 63 6.3
VT 70 5.8

I give FSU a 50% chance of winning and predict a score of Noles 24, Hokies 23

As a fan of the Noles, this really is a bonus game.  Sit back and enjoy, realizing that due to recruiting and continued maturation of the young talent, FSU should again dominate the conference in the coming years.  

If you're a fan of Virginia Tech, enjoy this game as well.  It's likely the best chance the Hokies will have to beat FSU in a championship-game setting for a while.  

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