Friday, November 18, 2011

game preview: Florida State

Date/Time: Saturday, November 19; 7:30


History against the Noles: 2-14

Last matchup: FSU 34, UVA 14; 10/2/10; Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 31, Duke 21; FSU 23, Miami 19

Line: FSU by 17.5

Opposing blogs: Tomahawk Nation

Injury report:


S Pablo Alvarez, WR E.J. Scott, WR Bobby Smith, WR Matt Snyder

SS Rodney McLeod, RB Kevin Parks, TE Colter Phillips

**I've limited the names that appear on the injury report to those that appear on this site's depth chart; the availability, or lack thereof, of the 3rd-string long-snapper is of questionable impact.

Florida State

WR Willie Haulstead, OL Henry Orelus, DT Darious Cummings, OT Andrew Datko, DT Moses McCray, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, RB Chris Thompson

How do you know a big game is at hand?  When it's in prime time, and ESPN Classic runs historical replays of famous games past to get you good and built up for it.  UVA has never won in Tallahassee, and this doesn't look like a great chance to break that streak, but at least UVA is good enough this time to hold out hope for it.  You know the stakes as far as the postseason goes; the best way I've seen it described is that it's tournament time.  Win and you advance.  UVA got past the cupcakey first round and is now in the heat of it.

-- UVA run offense vs. FSU run defense

Top backs:
Perry Jones: 162 carries, 856 yards, 5.3 avg.
Kevin Parks: 125 carries, 616 yards, 4.9 avg.

UVA offense:
187.6 yards/game, 4.56 yards/attempt
42nd of 120 (national), 5th of 12 (ACC)

FSU defense:
85 yards/game, 2.35 yards/attempt
2nd of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

FSU fans are extremely confident about their ability to shut down the UVA run game, and they have a right to be; those are scary numbers.  Certainly the best run defense we've faced all year. Outside linebackers Nigel Bradham and Christian Jones make plays.  The defensive line is big and athletic.  And as Dylan from Tomahawk Nation told us, the defensive line rotates a lot of players; at least 10, according to him, where UVA rotates 6 regularly and sometimes 7.

But this is a strength of the UVA attack, as I'm sure you know.  Against UNC, currently the 13th-best run defense in the country, Kevin Parks was able to average 7 yards a carry.  And FSU is tough, but not impenetrable; Oklahoma and Miami were able to grind out between 3.5-4.5 yards a carry for their running backs.  And Wake Forest's Josh Harris went crazy on them for 136 yards.

Any team that has been able to keep it close on FSU, or even beat them, has squeezed some production out of the running game.  This is the strength-on-strength aspect of the game right here, and UVA and Bill Lazor shouldn't fall into the trap of abandoning the run early.  UVA has a big offensive line - a little bigger than what the Noles are used to - and there's nothing wrong with three yards and a cloud of dust.  I don't think UVA will be able to fancify their way to yardage, and if they insist on going back to a huge pet peeve of mine (sweeps and tosses and the like to the short side of the field) they'll be murdered, because FSU's linebackers can get there in a hurry.  Keep it simple and see what happens, I think is the key.

Barring any big plays, you won't see us getting five, six yards a carry.  That's for the crappy defenses like GT.  So how will we do?  Here are some comparisons for you: Oklahoma and Miami are very, very close to UVA in terms of run game prowess.  UVA gets 4.56 YPC; Oklahoma gets 4.67 and Miami gets 4.59.  Miami's Lamar Miller averaged 4.2 last week, and Oklahoma's top two backs combined for 3.7.  Is there a good reason UVA can't get to about those numbers?  After all, we bottled up Miller better than that; he averaged 4.4 against us but was getting 1.5 until UVA backed off to prevent any lightning strikes.  If Lazor commits to the run, I think UVA can make it work.  Nowhere near as well as we're used to, but 4 yards a carry would be good work.  I think Parks and Jones will combine for about that, maybe a little less, and between them have about 130 yards.  That would be good enough to keep this game close.

-- UVA pass offense vs. FSU pass defense

Mike Rocco: 158/267, 59.2%; 1,910 yds, 10 TD, 9 INT; 7.15 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Kris Burd: 47 rec., 630 yards, 1 TD
Perry Jones: 32 rec., 354 yards, 2 TD

UVA offense:
232.9 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
73rd of 120 (national), 8th of 12 (ACC)

FSU defense:
194.5 yards/game, 6.4 yards/attempt
20th of 120 (national), 1st of 12 (ACC)

We've been spoiled's been a while since we went against a good pass defense.  FSU's run defense is really good, but even as good as they are, I think the difference is greater between the pass defenses we've seen lately, and FSU's.  However, that's on the surface - in terms of YPA.  Lurking behind that number is a beatable pass defense.

As Dylan from TN pointed out in the Q&A session, FSU's linebackers are relatively deficient in pass coverage, so FSU goes to the nickel a little more frequently.  But I suspect that what the numbers show is that teams find some success dinking underneath: despite the solid YPA number, FSU allows about a 60% pass completion rate, which is only 69th in the country; not bad, not great.  And they don't pick off a lot of passes.  Safety Lamarcus Joyner has three (and Joyner is also a force in run defense so he's a lot like Duke's Matt Daniels in terms of type of player) but nobody else has more than one, and FSU only has nine INTs on the season.

To me, the biggest concern in this aspect of the game is defensive end Bjoern Werner.  Werner is a pass rush force with six sacks and six pass knockdowns.  He'll go against Morgan Moses, and Oday Aboushi will work on Brandon Jenkins, who has 4.5 sacks.  You're looking at another strength-on-strength matchup here; FSU's 32 sacks mean only two teams in the country have more, and UVA's 8 sacks allowed is 10th best nationally.  UVA has neutralized opposing pass rushes by not running slow-developing routes and having Rocco be quick about delivering the ball; it helps that the O-line is pretty good, too.

We have a true sophomore quarterback and the game atmosphere will be rowdy.  Rocco has done well on the road, but in front of sparse crowds.  Given that, I hesitate to say that UVA will find consistent success here.  The key is not converting third downs; the key will be to convert before it gets to third down.  Or at least set up a third and short that can be run for.  However, what we do have going for us is that the UVA passing game style tends to play into how you want to attack the Seminole defense.

Rocco's been playing well of late, and I think he'll continue to boost that TD/INT ratio.  He started the season, what, 1-to-6 or 7?  And now he's in the black.  But we need a big game from Kris Burd.  That means no drops; there have been too many of those this season from a guy whose reputation is of better hands than that.  And no balls bouncing off Darius Jennings' face mask, either.  On-target passes have to become receptions.  Because of the athleticism in FSU's linebackers, I don't think we'll see much success in the passes-that-are-runs game, meaning screens and the like, so the receivers need to step up.

-- FSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Devonta Freeman: 86 carries, 443 yards, 5.2 avg.
E.J. Manuel: 77 carries, 145 yards, 2.1 avg.

FSU offense:
120.1 yards/game, 3.65 yards/attempt
93rd of 120 (national), 9th of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
117.1 yards/game, 3.46 yards/attempt
31st of 120 (national), 4th of 12 (ACC)

This is the one part of FSU's game that has sputtered some.  It took them a while to settle on a running back; they finally handed the keys to Devonta Freeman about halfway into the season.  Injuries have shuffled the Seminole offensive line more than would be good for them, though they'll be pretty healthy coming into this Saturday.  But most of the individual players haven't been able to settle in to a position and make it their own.

The option is a significant part of the Florida State run game, which could be pretty favorable for UVA; after all, we defended it pretty well against Georgia Tech.  The trick is that against GT, you always know it's coming, and E.J. Manuel is more athletic than Tevin Washington.  Manuel is a tough customer, but when it comes to defending him, it's not the designed runs that I worry about.

As for Freeman, he's built like Kevin Parks: low to the ground and stocky.  I wouldn't call him a home-run threat.  He had a 41-yard carry against Maryland (which is Maryland) but otherwise his longest run of the year is 23 yards.  Freeman is averaging 5.2 yards a carry, but I don't think he'll get there against UVA.  In fact, I think the result here will be that FSU and UVA have very similar rushing totals.

-- FSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

E.J. Manuel: 159/236, 67.4%; 2,152 yards, 15 TD, 8 INT; 9.12 yds/attempt

Top receivers:
Rodney Smith: 29 rec., 507 yards, 4 TDs
Rashad Greene: 29 rec., 476 yards, 6 TDs

FSU offense:
282.7 yards/game, 9.2 yards/attempt
5th of 120 (national); 2nd of 12 (ACC)

UVA defense:
215.1 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
29th of 120 (national), 2nd of 12 (ACC)

FSU's run defense is outstanding, and I'm sure it'll be productive, but it doesn't scare me.  Their pass defense is solid, but it doesn't scare me.  The 82,000-seat stadium will be sold-out and raucous and loud, but that doesn't scare me either.  This scares me.

All season, UVA has not had to deal with a mobile quarterback like E.J. Manuel.  Sure, there was Tevin Washington, but he was an option facilitator, not a mobile, scrambling, strong-armed quarterback.  Manuel is good.  Really good.  And FSU has managed to dig up receivers from everywhere; UVA should be able to neutralize one of them by planting Chase Minnifield on him, but FSU spreads the ball around a lot.

One guy you'll see a lot of is Dom Joseph; a nickel package will be critical here.  Because I'm not sure I trust our linebackers in pass coverage.  Steve Greer and Aaron Taliaferro just don't have the athleticism.  Laroy Reynolds will be called on a lot.

Defending this attack will start with the defensive line.  They'll have the dual responsibility of containing Manuel so he can't take off running, and giving him less time to throw than he'd like, because I suspect that if FSU comes out three and four wide, which they will at some point, those receivers will be able to do the scramble drill and get open after their routes have been exhausted.

Manuel can be both efficient and spectacular when needed.  I just know at some point FSU will be facing third down, and they'll pick it up in a spectacular way.  We need a ton of discipline from the safeties; Corey Mosley did a poor job of that against Duke, falling for play-action time and again.  If he doesn't stay good and deep, at some point he will find himself chasing a Seminole receiver into the end zone.  In order to keep UVA in the game, there can't be any big plays like there were against Duke.  That was the entire Duke offense; FSU is a little more capable and versatile.

Unfortunately, I don't see us keeping them off the big-play scoresheet.  At some point during this game, I think FSU will score from the wrong side of midfield.  If we can keep the FSU passing game in front of the defense, that's a win, but if Manuel gets loose and players lose track of assignments, it'll all go downhill in a big hurry.

-- Outlook

The outlook is that UNC ain't worth shit.  Because UNC is useless, and ACC refereeing crews like to do things like hand VT free bogus pass interference penalties and not penalize them for helmet-to-helmet hits, VT is now in position to clinch the Coastal Division on Saturday - if we lose.  So the division comes down to Saturday.  Unfortunately, I think the Heels were in a much better position than we are.  Tallahassee at night is a tough place to play, and UVA will have its hands full with E.J. Manuel.

Now, here's your silver lining of hope: Last week, Florida State played a tense, perhaps draining game against archrival #1, Miami.  Next week, they will play an even tenser game against archrival #1A, Florida, in Gainesville.  UVA is the dreaded sandwich game, and now they know for a fact that there's something tangible to play for besides just a win and "improved bowl prospects," which are always fluffy and hard to make out.  Florida State is not invincible; there are exploitable matchups.  However, they're also, on paper, much more talented overall.  Not bringing the A-game to Tallahassee isn't an option.  I think the Hoos will, and I like the possibility of being overlooked, but there's too much going against us here.

-- Prediction summary

- Perry Jones and Kevin Parks combine for about 3.8-4.0 yards per carry.
- The UVA rushing game totals about 140 yards.
- Mike Rocco throws more TDs than INTs.....if even any INTs at all.
- Devonta Freeman also gets about four yards a carry.
- Florida State has at least one scoring play of 50+ yards.
- FSU converts a long third down (10 yards or more) by picking up at least twice the necessary yardage.

- Final score: FSU 27, UVA 17

-- Rest of the ACC:

- Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 21 (Thanks for nothing, Heels. You too, Ron Cherry. Penalty for giving UNC the business.)
- Georgia Tech at Duke, 12:30 (What will happen of course is that Duke will win, meaning we should've been pulling hard for GT all along last week.)
- Maryland at Wake Forest, 3:00 (I got nothing.  This game is pretty much meaningless.)
- Miami at South Florida, 3:30 (USF once put up a billboard telling the big 3 in Florida to move over and make room for a fourth.  I think Miami obliged.)
- Clemson at NC State, 3:30 (If NC State wants to go bowling, they've gotta beat a one-loss team to get there.  Any other team but Clemson, I'd count 'em out, but Clemson has a way sometimes.)
- Boston College at Notre Dame, 4:00 (This is a rivalry supposedly because BC is Jesuit and ND is not.  I think it's really just about helmet rights.)

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