Florida State Preview: Seminoles' Defense at Virginia Cavaliers' Offense

Welcome to the most in-depth preview of Florida State Football you'll find anywhere aside from the coaching offices in the Doak.  This week FSU takes on the Virginia Cavaliers.  Today we'll cover UVA's offense and Florida State's defense. Both schools feature new head coaches in Virginia's Mike London and FSU's Jimbo Fisher, and both teams are significantly better than they were a year ago.  

From a motivational angle, this game means much more to Virginia than it does to Florida State.  UVA has had a bye week and a week against a D1-AA team (Virginia Military) to prep for Florida State.  FSU is undoubtedly looking ahead to the Miami game.  Games like this are won and lost during the week when the preparation is done.  This is the biggest game UVA has played in years.  The Cavs are even planning a "white out."

UVA runs a decidedly pro-style offense.

There's very little difference between the London offense and the offense Groh ran for most of his tenure. It's very pro-style; London brought in Bill Lazor from the NFL ranks to run it. Plenty of tight end and fullback involvement, which is what we're used to seeing the last decade. The big difference is from the disastrous spread experiment last year; Groh's extremely short leash meant that the necessary 100% commitment to the spread wasn't there, and by midseason nobody could tell exactly what the hell kind of scheme this was supposed to be. The O-line was just lost last year. Now that we're back to something familiar (an actual scheme as opposed to some spliced-together Frankenstein of an offense) and not lined up in line splits you could drive a bus through, the linemen have their head screwed on straight and are blocking competently again.

Virginia really wants to run the football and shorten the game.  UVA runs a ton of motion with its tight ends and fullbacks.  If the defense doesn't adjust its alignment, then the Cavs have successfully created an extra gap.  It's a numbers thing.  UVA typically operates with only two receivers.  This is basically the offense you see most NFL teams run, with more motion.  UVA doesn't motion its receivers much.  

Virginia features a decent offensive line of

LT 67 Landon Bradley 6-7 280 Jr.
LG 63 Austin Pasztor 6-7 320 Jr.
C 68 Anthony Mihota 6-4 280 Jr.
RG 65 B.J. Cabbell 6-6 310 Sr.
RT 72 Oday Aboushi 6-6 295 So.

Of that group Pastzor is the best.  There will be an intense battle between Pasztor and FSU RsSo DT Everett Dawkins.  This is probably the tallest group of linemen FSU will see all year.  That's both good and bad for UVA. The length could give Jacobbi McDaniel problems since he has the bad elbow and already has short arms.  FSU will need to be active with their hands to swat away UVA's blocks and will need to stay quite low.  

As I mentioned UVA heavily uses its tight ends and fullbacks.  The tight ends are  83 Joe Torchia 6-6 260 Sr. & 89 Colter Phillips 6-6 250 So.  These are pretty decent tight ends.  Torchia is a big target in the pass game and also does a nice job down blocking.  I really haven't seen much of Phillips.  UVA also uses its fullback a decent bit, FB 36 Max Milien 6-0 215 Jr.  He can catch the ball and block a bit.  

All that blocking benefits two talented backs in 33 Perry Jones 5-8 185 So. & 22 Keith Payne 6-3 255 Sr.  [Insert your nickname here signifying the size difference between the two backs].  Payne reminds me a bit of the NY Giants' Brandon Jacobs, though softer.  Jones has good quicks and patience but isn't a burner.

As I said before with UVA it is all about creating the extra gap.  Proper alignment post motion will be key here.  FSU cannot stop UVA's run game unless it gets lined up properly.  That means the linebackers and safeties must adjust their leverage on the ball before the snap.  Even awful teams can block FSU if the Noles aren't lined up right and the team has angles.  Plus, UVA's offensive line isn't awful.  UVA loves to run the power, often to the short side of the field.  UVA also runs some counter too. 

Inside, I have two videos on this and a breakdown of the UVA passing offense.  

The Power Play (via joeburton757)

Here's a video on defending it

Defending The Power Running Game (via EAPlayMaker)

This reminds me a lot of UNC's offense from last season, only with a better offensive line and worse skill guys.  UVA knows it's not going to torch anyone, so it tries to open gaps via motion and break big plays off of that.  

It goes without saying that the defensive line must win the battle at the point of attack.  But the linebackers and the secondary will play a key role in stopping the run game as well.  As I explained in the FSU Defensive Scheme piece, safeties have to fill the alley, plug gaps, spill, etc.  Terrance Parks has done a good job of this of late, but Nick Moody has been very sloppy and out of control.  Sure, he has hit people very hard if he lined them up, but he's begging to be exposed.  FSU will need him to stay disciplined on Saturday.  It's much more important to be in the right spot and make the tackle than it is to make a huge hit.   

The reason UVA really wants to run the ball is because its passing game is not good.  QB 6 Marc Verica 6-3 215 Sr. leads the attack and while improved over last season, he still isn't much.  Verica possesses an average arm and while he is more mature than in previous years, he still makes poor decisions.  It's as if he thinks his arm is much better than it really is.  His accuracy is a bit better this year, it seems.  Verica can scramble a bit but he isn't a dangerous runner.  

It's not as if Verica has a lot of help from the skill guys.  WR 18 Kris Burd 5-11 195 Jr. & 81 Dontrelle Inman 6-3 200 Sr. are decent college receivers but aren't anything special.  

Virginia's offensive line does a decent job of pass blocking.  It is definitely better than Wake Forest's offensive line. They will have quite the task against a good FSU pass-rush:

"We didn't get a lot of blitzes out of them ... those were just four-man pressures," Grobe said of the FSU pass rush. "Physically, they had us overmatched."

Virginia tries to base its passing game off the run game.  They run play-action whenever possible, and a decent amount of boot-leg action.  I expect UVA will try to move the pocket and do some designed rollouts, much like FSU did in 2008 when it had the youngest offensive line in the country.  

One key matchup will be the Seminoles' rising star at defensive end, Brandon Jenkins, against Virginia's Landon Bradley.  I wasn't blown away by Bradley against USC.  Fisher described Jenkins like this:

"Everybody thinks of ends as speed guys, but you've got to have power too," Fisher said. "He's both-he has power and speed. He's a fast-twitch, he's a good athlete. He can bend, he can play low to high and he's learning to use his hands and counter-move."

Verica seems particularly awful rolling to his left, so rolling him away from Jenkins is a great move.  

Here's UVA's game chart from its trip to USC:


The bottom line here is that UVA's offense isn't going to physically beat FSU over and over again.  It might get a few decent drives, but if UVA wants to score more than three touchdowns, it will need multiple busts from FSU's secondary, short field due to turnovers, or both.  

I expect FSU to play a lot of cover-3 against UVA.  It just makes sense to give Verica the short and intermediate stuff while taking away the deep ball and the run.  He's not a consistent quarterback and making him play with consistency should be the plan.  I have no doubt that UVA will have some trick plays for FSU.  

I see Virginia trying to slow the game down, which means fewer plays than normal.  I believe Virginia will have 37 running plays for 145 yards and 28 passing plays for 170 yards.  That seems right for about 17 points.  This isn't a good UVA offense, but it will beat FSU's defense a few times due to all the game-planning and being extremely focused on a game that FSU is not particularly motivated for given the Miami game on deck.

Given that prediction, will FSU's offense do enough to get the win?  Check back tomorrow to find out!

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