Thursday, September 30, 2010

game preview: Florida State

Date/Time: Saturday, October 2; 12:00

TV: ACC Network (formerly Raycom)/ESPN3 for those of us blacked out

History against the Seminoles: 2-13

Last matchup: FSU 33, UVA 0 - game vacated by FSU

Last week: UVA 48, VMI 7; FSU 31, WF 0

Line: Florida State by 7

Opposing blogs: Tomahawk Nation, Scalp 'Em

Injury report:


TE Jeremy Dollin
WR Bobby Smith
WR Tim Smith
WR Eric Thornton




OT Landon Bradley
WR Kris Burd
RB Raynard Horne
S Corey Mosley
S Brian Oden
LB LaRoy Reynolds
TE Joe Torchia

Uniform combination: blue jersey, white pants

Other useful stuff:
Q&A with Tomahawk Nation
Other half of the Q&A
FSU season preview

Things looked a lot different last time we saw this. Two old dudes roamed the sidelines in Bobby Bowden and Al Groh, and FSU was ranked in the top 5. In fact, the last time FSU came to Charlottesville not ranked in the top ten is probably never. Now Groh is gone, and so is Bowden (significantly decreasing FSU's dislikability factor), and for the first time, UVA fans aren't looking to next week's game with this one already written off as a loss.

There's also a lot of looking back, of course. "Florida State at Virginia" brings back pleasant memories of two of UVA's best upsets since the Welsh era began - heck, maybe the two best ever. It's a disappointing side effect of the expanded ACC that the opportunity to really relive 1995 and 2005 will now come up just once every five years, but that's the way it is. In 1995 I hadn't yet added orange to my maize-and-blue loyalties, but I do have pretty strong and exciting memories of an autumn evening in 2005 - which you would admit is impressive if you'd seen the roughly gallon-and-a-half of beer I'd imbibed through the afternoon. The date has special significance for UVA fans and Michigan fans alike, so combined with the Boston bar-hopping it's been the football Saturday by which all other football Saturdays are judged in my book. Can similar memories be made on Saturday?


- Christian Ponder isn't much of a deep thrower. His triceps are probably better than they were, but they're still not 100% and I still don't expect a lot of big bomb-type throws. Roughly 10 yards per completion against Wake - that's a fairly low number. Combine Ponder's wonky triceps with the likely absence of LT Andrew Datko, and FSU's likeliest course of action in the passing game is quick slants and dinking and dunking their way down the field. That means plenty of throws to possession receiver extraordinaire Bert Reed, Ponder's favorite target. Reed will probably match up with Chase Minnifield, but what I'd really like to see is Minnifield on Taiwan Easterling and the comparatively monstrous Ras-I Dowling on Reed. (Reed is teensy.) If Dowling has regained his quicks, he can use his size to limit Reed. I think Minnifield can hang with Easterling. Additionally, we'll need outstanding side-to-side play from our linebackers.

- Because of the short passing game, I don't expect the pass rush to be a huge factor unless the cornerbacks are really doing a good job on the FSU receivers. So more run-stopping beef on the D-line - that is, more playing time for Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins over John-Kevin Dolce, except in obvious passing downs - should be of greater help against the very efficient FSU running game.

- Is there a weakness in the FSU defense? The only team yet to find one is Oklahoma, which doesn't have a monster running game but did shred FSU through the air. Nobody's really run successfully on FSU this year, and my thought is UVA will need heavy doses of the pass to keep the run defense honest. Getting the tight ends open will be key. FSU has very, very good linebackers, but they can't step up for run defense if they're in pass coverage against our tight ends. A successful offensive attack might start with a few strikes to TE's Torchia and Phillips, and draw plays when Lazor wants to run the ball.


- The worst thing that can happen is for FSU to be able to establish their running game. Not unlike Payne and Jones, FSU has a quality tandem of big-and-small running backs. Level of competition obviously has to be taken into account when considering the impressive run-game results, but the only team to date to stop FSU has been Oklahoma, and, you know, we're not Oklahoma.

- Under no circumstances whatsoever should Greg Reid be allowed to field a punt.

- Remember how, before the season, every preview of the offense written anywhere began with "if the offensive line...."? This is why. USC aside (and UVA wasn't especially effective on offense there), this is really the kind of game that that phrase was meant for. FSU will just bulldoze the offense if they're allowed to and it'll be the kind of long, frustrating afternoon that ends up with a score of 34-6 if the O-line doesn't give the skill players room to work. Their defense is more than good enough to just shut us right down.


Really, it'll hinge on the two O-lines. And Ponder. UVA's is healthy but still of questionable ability - we don't really know yet if they're a good, ACC-caliber unit or not. FSU's is not healthy and in a little bit of flux: Datko, their top tackle, is out, and Zebrie Sanders may or may not move to left tackle for the game.

Ponder, meanwhile, is a bigger mystery than Verica. FSU pushed him as a major-league Heisman candidate, but that was borderline silly. Ponder isn't a Heisman-caliber quarterback. But he does have the ability to drive the offense down the field and hurt you. He also has the capacity to miss receivers he should hit. Verica's a wild-card in a different fashion - you know the giant brainfart is coming, you just don't know when and you hope it doesn't hurt you too bad. But otherwise Verica is Verica and you know what you're getting. Sometimes with Ponder, the whole game is a lost cause, though that sort of thing is getting less frequent as he gets older.

Really, FSU should win this game. There's still a talent gap. But even though both teams are under new management, there's a difference in the change. As FSU fans will point out, the team is being coached again. Bobby Bowden, the thinking goes, didn't do much of that. Fisher's introducing plays and schemes and stuff, and the thought process no longer stops at the assumption that being Florida State is enough to make them bigger better faster and that's all it takes. Contrast that to the change here at UVA, where the problem was not undercoaching, but overscheming. The schemes of Mike London, Bill Lazor, and Jim Reid are still schemes and they're still coaching, but they demand much less thought, much less "if A then B" going on inside a player's head while the play goes on around him. Makes playing easier. For this reason, you will see UVA overachieve relative to expectations, while FSU has ups and downs, good games and bad, and may or may not play up to their talent level while they get used to being coached again.

And don't forget the overlook aspect: FSU has Miami next week. We're just little ol' Virginia. You always beat us. No need to get too excited.

So I'd be surprised to see a blowout. UVA may still lose - in fact, I think the chances of that are better than even. But since we've been reminiscing about FSU's past trips to Charlottesville, let's talk about 2003. The Hoos lost, 19-14, playing a very solid game (particularly on defense) but were done in by one really glaring, ugly weakness and a couple ill-timed mistakes. In that team's case, the weakness was punting and the worst mistake was a poor snap that ruined a crucial third down. This seems like the kind of game we're in for. Fortunately, nothing on this team is as bad as the punting was in that game, although there's no Matt Schaub or Ahmad Brooks, either. But - eliminate the mistake(s), and what happens instead? A Virginia win may be the answer. It'll be close enough that we might just get to find out.


Miami @ Clemson, 12:00
Virginia Tech @ NC State, 3:30
North Carolina vs. East Carolina, 3:30
Duke @ Maryland, 6:00
Georgia Tech @ Wake Forest, 7:00
Boston College vs. Notre Dame, 8:00

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