Virginia Cavaliers at Florida State Seminoles: Game Preview

The surprising Virginia Cavaliers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) come to Doak Campbell stadium to take on the Florida State Seminoles (7-3, 5-2 ACC). It's homecoming and senior day for the 'Noles.

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN 2 | Vegas Line: FSU by ~17 | Weather: Low 70s for tailgating, low 60s for game

Mike London seems to have things moving in the right direction in his second season on Charlottesville. His Cavaliers play tough, physical football. And he's doing great things to improve the talent level. 

How did Virginia get to 7-3? 

Beat William & Mary 40-3 | Eeked out a win over Indiana | Turned over the game to UNC 28-17 | Lost to Souther Miss at home! | Needed overtime to beat Idaho in UVA | Used some special knowledge and a bye week to beat Georgia Tech | Lost at home to N.C. State | Beat Miami at Miami 28-21 | Beat Maryland in Maryland | Beat Duke at home   

I said earlier this week that UVA has the worst resume of any BCS team with at least seven wins. I stand by that. I will also say that they've improved since ending the rotating QB experiment.

UVA Offense v. FSU Defense

Virginia Offense
WR 18 Kris Burd 6-1 200 Sr.
2 Dominique Terrell 5-11 170 Fr.
LT 72 Oday Aboushi 6-6 310 Jr.
LG 63 Austin Pasztor 6-7 305 Sr.
C 68 Anthony Mihota 6-4 285 Sr.
RG 70 Luke Bowanko 6-6 295 So.
RT 78 Morgan Moses 6-6 335 So.
TE 89 Colter Phillips 6-6 245 Jr.
88 Paul Freedman 6-6 260 Jr.
81 Jeremiah Mathis 6-3 245 So.
83 Jake McGee 6-5 235 R-Fr.
QB 16 Michael Rocco 6-3 225 So.
5 David Watford 6-1 190 Fr.
TB 33 Perry Jones 5-8 185 Jr.
25 Kevin Parks 5-8 195 R-Fr.
10 Clifton Richardson 6-0 215 Fr.
FB 36 Max Milien 6-0 220 Sr.
WR 20 Tim Smith 6-0 185 So.
6 Darius Jennings 5-11 165 Fr.

By the numbers: UVA's offense ranks 45th, FSU's defense 10th. I think UVA's offense is slightly better now, because of the commitment to play the better QB and not play a freshman due to a recruiting promise. 

UVA's offense is all about running the football and throwing off play action. They'll use a talented and big offensive line to get the job done. Personally, I think these guys are more tall than huge, but the rest of the media wants to make them out to be enormous. That's really not the case.

That said, they are a good group. UVA pulls a bunch (less zone blocking). And they'll use some very short backs to hide behind the height of the offensive line. Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are both 5'8". They're good backs, but they aren't difference makers. UVA doesn't have a Lamar Miller or C.J. Spiller.

FSU will need to be gap sound against this group, particularly on early downs. Expect FSU to load the box an slow UVA's run game. A disciplined effort will be key, as UVA's run game can hit the big play against sloppy teams. Luckily for FSU fans, the 'Noles didn't get to the #10 defensive ranking via sloppy play.

All good defensive coordinators dare to make the opponent succeed after taking away what the offense does best. In UVA's case, this is the run game. FSU will make UVA try to beat them via the pass. 

Michael Rocco isn't a good quarterback, but he's not awful, either. He's just an average ACC QB. And Vrginia doesn't exactly have difference makers (plural) on the outside. Kris Burd is UVA's best receiver. Of course, any team can have a big day passing if the defense doesn't cover well or bites on play action. 

And that gets back to the discipline mention. FSU will likely let UVA complete short passes early on if they can complete them. But this is not a precise Cavalier attack, and Stoops knows that UVA can't consistently drive on this defense without the help of the big play.

And speaking of big plays, watch out for the trick play. UVA loves to run them. 

UVA has not seen a defense like FSU's. it could be culture shock for this group.

Goals

- Hold UVA to no more than 4.8 yards/play before garbage time. Examples: 60-288 65-312 70-336 75-360

- Force two turnovers

- Less than 50% TDs allowed in the red zone

- No more than four big plays (pass plays of 25+, runs of 15+)

UVA Defense v. FSU Offense

Virginia Defense
DE 90 Jake Snyder 6-4 275 So.
99 Brent Urban 6-7 280 So.
DT 94 Matt Conrath 6-7 280 Sr.
54 Justin Renfrow 6-6 300 So.
DT 96 Nick Jenkins 6-3 275 Sr.
93 Will Hill 6-4 280 Jr.
DE 56 Cam Johnson 6-4 270 Sr.
47 Billy Schautz 6-4 250 Jr.
SLB 26 Ausar Walcott 6-4 240 Jr.
52 Aaron Taliaferro 6-2 230 Sr.
MLB 53 Steve Greer 6-2 225 Jr.
44 Henry Coley 6-2 235 R-Fr.
WLB 9 LaRoy Reynolds 6-2 230 Jr.
30 Daquan Romero 6-1 230 Fr.
CB 1 Demetrious Nicholson 5-11 165 Fr.
22 Drequan Hoskey 6-0 175 R-Fr.
FS 7 Corey Mosley 5-10 200 Sr.
27 Rijo Walker 5-10 185 So.
SS 4 Rodney McLeod 5-11 180 Sr.
28 Anthony Harris 6-1 180 Fr.
CB 13 Chase Minnifield 6-0 185 Sr.
23 Dom Joseph 6-1 195 Sr.

By the numbers, Virginia's defense ranks 41st. FSU's offense? 32nd. That's a relatively even matchup, given the M.A.S.H. unit that is FSU's offense. 

UVA plays an aggressive, physical brand of defense. The Cavaliers put an enormous amount of trust in their secondary. They take a lot of chances. They blitz a lot. They load the box and play a bunch of press coverage. They dare you to go deep.

Hmm, this sounds a lot like what Mickey Andrews did to terrorize college football for 20 years. And without elite talent, the results will be really inconsistent. 

From an offensive standpoint, expect FSU to be inconsistent. It's just what this defense dictates. Rush for 10, rush for loss of 3, pass for 40, pass for 20, sack, interception. Etc.

As a big underdog, this strategy actually suits UVA pretty well. UVA will need a lot of breaks. This strategy is conducive to pulling upsets. It can also lead to getting blown out. 

Like I said, this is pressure, pressure, pressure. UVA is prone to giving up the big play because it is about 90% aggression and 10% discipline. They do have some athletes. It's a strange defensive front, in that the ends are about as big as the tackles. 

FSU's missing 5 of its top 9 offensive linemen since spring ball, including 3 starters, and I'd expect them to struggle here. UVA will definitely get some tackles for loss and sacks. 

And FSU's EJ Manuel appeared to be significantly more limited due to his injury v. Miami than he did in the previous four games. Virginia's coaches watch tape and are paid to know this. If EJ can run, bet UVA will struggle with it. They are planning on him not running. The question is, how healthy is he really? 

The linebackers are not great, though they are improving. 

UVA has a nice secondary. CB Chase Minnifield is a stud and perhaps the ACC's best. They put a ton (too much, IMO) on the safeties to play the run and the pass. Look for FSU to hit some big play-action passes on this group, but also look for UVA to blow up some of the play action with blitzes that get through. Devonta Freeman needs to be big in blitz pickup this week. And look for some screen game to the backs as well.

That said, what if UVA realizes FSU's wideouts are studs and that manning up on them all game might not work? Then I don't know. 

Goals

- At least 5.5 yards/play before garbage time. Examples: 60-345, 65-373, 70-402, 75-431

- No more than 1 turnover

- At least 60% TDs in the red zone

- No more than 1 operational penalty (false starts, substitutions, etc).

Other Notes and Prediction

FSU has great special teams. Virginia's special teams have not been great. That'll need to continue.

Prediction: UVA 13, Noles 27

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