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Florida State defense keys win over Virginia

FSU's defense forced three turnovers and held Virginia under 300 total yards.

Jeff Gammons

It's 25 wins in a row now for the Seminoles, as Florida State topped Virginia Saturday, 34-20.

Florida State misfired on its first drive, with a few passes just in and out of the hands of receivers, but its defense made an early statement, as Mario Edwards, Jr., forced a fumble on Virginia's opening play, and defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell made the recovery at Virginia's 23.

After a Jameis Winston scramble and a Karlos Williams run, the Seminoles were in business in front of a packed homecoming crowd that resulted in a sellout despite the lack of Virginia fans.

Florida State's defense, facing a depleted Virginia offensive line, then forced a three-and-out. This was significant, since the "last time the defense didn't allow a first down on either of the first two drives of the game for opposition was Week 1 against Oklahoma State", according to ESPN.

Florida State drove 30 yards to the 47, but Jameis Winston was intercepted on a pass over the middle. After the play, coach Jimbo Fisher was irate with freshman Travis Rudolph, likely for some sort of issue with a missed route.

Virginia took advantage of the turnover, driving 53 yards on nine plays, capped by a contested touchdown catch along the sideline by Andre Levrone over P.J. Williams to tie the score at 7-7.

Florida State then had another pass intercepted, as Jameis Winston tried to hit Nick O'Leary, but the ball was tipped up in the air and intercepted by a defensive lineman, on what might have been pass interference. Afterward, Winston and O'Leary had continued discussion on the sideline, and Jimbo Fisher and Winston had a heated conversation.

Virginia converted the second interception for a touchdown, as well, going 45 yards on seven plays, including converting a crucial third down with a well-executed middle screen. P.J. Williams was once again beaten on the touchdown play, as UVA got the throw off before the blitz. The Cavs missed the extra point, though, making the score 13-7.

Florida State did nothing with the next possession, but punter Cason Beatty hit a monster punt of 67 yards, pinning Virginia deep in its own territory. The Noles immediately picked off the Wahoos, as Terrance Smith stepped in front of a late pass in the flats. Karlos Williams punched the ball in on a run of three yards, putting FSU up 14-13 with 14:26 left in the second quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Virginia tried to set up a backwards pass, which was fumbled, but the refs called it incomplete and blew the play dead, denying defensive tackle Eddie Goldman a 20-yard fumble return touchdown. Upon review, FSU was rewarded the ball, but not the score. It wouldn't cost the Noles any points, however, as Jameis Winston hit Rashad Greene for a 22-yard touchdown on the next play. Winston stood in against a heavy blitz, and Greene embarrassed the cornerback to get wide open, making it 21-13 Seminoles.

Virginia's next drive went for 32 yards, but stalled right inside Florida State territory, with the string of four consecutive third down conversions finally coming to a halt, as the Seminoles' pressure forced a quick throw.

On the next drive, Bobo Wilson became the first player other than Rashad Greene to catch a pass in the ballgame. Florida State marched 80 yards on 15 plays, converting several third downs. Jameis Winston scrambled for the touchdown on third and goal, with an excellent pump fake, before diving into the end zone. On the drive, left tackle Cameron Erving, with his right elbow in a brace, came in to snap for two plays as Ryan Hoefeld left the game with some medical issue.

The next Virginia drive went just 15 yards on six plays, but FSU elected not to use any of its timeouts, choosing instead to head to the locker room with a 15-point lead, likely because Jameis Winston had been repeatedly hit hard, possibly aggravating his injured ankle.

Second half

Florida State and Virginia traded punts to open the second half, but on Florida State's second possession, freshman running back Dalvin Cook was hit & fumbled, with Virginia recovering the loose ball. Cook was helped off and could not put pressure on his right leg. Cook did not return to the game.

The Cavs scored on the ensuing play, a 23 yard pass to the back shoulder of Jalen Ramsey, drawing Virginia within eight, 28-20.

The Seminoles then drove 60 yards on nine plays, but stalled after a false start by Cam Erving & had to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo that put FSU up 31-20.

FSU's defense immediately forced a punt, and a kick catch interference penalty gave the Noles the ball at their 40. Florida State drove 38 yards on eight plays, again kicking a field goal to go up 34-20.

Once again, Florida State's defense, using many young players, stopped Virginia, allowing just five yards on seven plays, and FSU took over on its own 25.

The offense went nowhere, however, as Jameis Winston was sacked for a loss of nine, before a false start set up a third and 24, on which FSU ran a draw play to make sure Winston wasn't hit.

Virginia took over on its own 42, but needed 14 plays to drive 44 yards, before giving up the ball on downs.

Did FSU cover?

No. The line closed at 21.

What's next?

Florida State plays Miami Saturday at 8 ET on ABC.