2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Florida State

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Saturday, October 25th, 2008, 3:30

TV: ABC (coverage
map
) or ESPN2

Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):

Click the “Tallahassee, FL Weather” link to the right.
Game day forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy, high of 76.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/FSU roster card


Game Preview: Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-1 ACC) at #25 Florida State (5-1, 2-1
ACC)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

In 2006, Virginia Tech rebounded from the loss to Boston College by winning
six straight games. In 2007, they rebounded from another loss to BC by winning
five consecutive games. In 2008, they’ve got a chance to do the same thing, but
this time they have to travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State in a place
they haven’t won since 1974.

It’s no secret that Frank Beamer has never had much success against Bobby
Bowden. The talent level tilted Virginia Tech’s way last year, and the Hokies
finally got FSU in Lane Stadium, and they were able to blow
the ‘Noles out in the fourth quarter
. This year the game is in
Tallahassee, and the Hokies don’t hold the talent edge they had last season.

The Florida State Offense

Florida State’s offense has done well statistically this year. The Seminoles
are averaging 419 yards per game, and they rank 29th nationally in total
offense. However, those numbers are slightly misleading. FSU hasn’t exactly
played murderer’s row as of yet.


FSU Offense

Opponent

Defensive
Rank

FSU
Yards

Western Carolina

84*

561

Chattanooga

110*

494

Wake Forest

30

220

Colorado

66

378

Miami

21

469

NC State

103

392

*1-AA rankings

The ‘Noles racked up a bunch of yards against a couple of awful 1-AA defenses.
They did put up 469 against Miami, but Miami is playing a lot of freshmen, and
they have built their #21 defensive ranking by playing a lot of poor offensive
teams. More on that in a few weeks, when we preview Miami.

Still, the FSU offense has improved. However, are they consistent? They were
dominated by Wake Forest, and while Miami gave up a lot of yards to the ‘Noles,
they also forced some turnovers. FSU will also not have the services of a couple
of valuable players this weekend, including an important offensive lineman.

The FSU offense is led by Christian Ponder (6-2, 220, r-So.) Ponder saw his
first game action last season against Virginia Tech, and he played well. He has
been inconsistent this year, but he definitely has talent. The passing game is
struggling a bit as Ponder adjusts to the starting lineup. He is 77-of-145
(53.1%) for 960 yards, with eight touchdowns and six interceptions.

His lines against 1-A competition have been much less impressive however.


Christian Ponder vs. 1-A Competition

Opponent

Comp.

Att.

Yards

TD

INT

Wake Forest

6

18

52

0

3

Colorado

10

22

119

0

1

Miami

14

31

159

1

2

NC State

23

35

254

1

0

Totals

53

106

584

2

6

Efficiency rating: 91.2 (would not rank in the
top
100 nationally
)
Tyrod Taylor’s efficiency rating is 104.6

Ponder completed less than 50% of his passes in his first three games against
1-A opponents. His only saving grace came against NC State, but the Wolfpack are
105th nationally in pass defense.

However, Ponder is a very mobile quarterback. He has rushed for 291 yards on
the season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. After seeing the success that Western
Kentucky and Boston College had against Virginia Tech with the read option, it’s
likely that FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will use it quite a bit this
weekend.

The most impressive player for Florida State’s offense is tailback Antone
Smith (5-9, 190, Sr.). Smith is a very fast player who is having a good season,
despite playing behind a very young offensive line. For the season he has rushed
for 483 yards and 10 touchdowns, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Smith is an explosive player. He’s trouble if he gets in the open field. The
Hokies need to control the line of scrimmage and not let him get up to speed.

Controlling the line of scrimmage shouldn’t be a huge issue this time.
Florida State is starting three true freshmen on the offensive line on Saturday.
Think about that for a second. Three true freshmen!


Florida State Offensive Line Dept Chart

Position

Name

Height

Weight

Year

LT

Andrew Datko

6-6

276

Fr.

LG

Rodney Hudson

6-2

282

So.

C

Ryan McMahon

6-3

282

r-So.

RG

David Spurlock

6-5

286

Fr.

RT

Zebrie Sanders

6-5

280

Fr.

David Spurlock steps in for Will Furlong (6-5, 275, r-Fr.), who was injured in
practice the week before the NC State game. FSU has pretty much no depth at this
point. Their only backup scholarship linemen are a r-freshman, a true freshman
and a r-sophomore. The ‘Noles have no offensive lineman in their two deep older
than a r-sophomore.

Despite that, FSU is playing pretty well up front. Rick Trickett has done a
great job in molding together a unit that fits his coaching style. They are slim
and in shape. Antone Smith is running well behind this line, and the team has
only allowed eight sacks. One of the reasons FSU went with the sophomore Ponder
over the senior Weatherford was because Ponder can escape pressure and avoid the
sack. He’s a big part of the low sack totals.

Kent
Square Condominiums – Blacksburg’s Premier Address!

So while Florida State’s offensive line is playing well to be so young, they
are still young. Bud Foster’s defense generally eats young offensive lines
alive, and then snacks on raw quarterbacks like Ponder for dessert.

Florida State’s top receiver is Preston Parker (6-0, 197, Jr.). Parker missed
the first two games of the season due to a suspension. He has 11 catches for 110
yards on the season, but is still waiting for that breakout game. FSU will also
use Parker on reverses, and they’ve even used him in the backfield at times in
the past.

The leading receiver for FSU is Taiwon Easterling (5-11, 190, r-Fr.).
Easterling has been consistent, starting two of the six games. He is effectively
Florida State’s third receiver, though he does lead the team in catches. He has
18 receptions for 207 yards.

The big mismatch of the receiving corps is Greg Carr (6-6, 214, Sr.). Carr is
obviously a huge target that the ‘Noles like to use in the red zone. He is much
taller than any cornerback he faces. He has two touchdowns receptions on the
year, and 16 overall catches.

FSU will likely be without their third leading receiver this week, Bert Reed
(5-11, 165, r-Fr.). Reed has 12 catches for 208 yards, and tied for a team-high
three touchdown catches on the season.

One more receiver to watch out for is Corey Surrency (6-5, 220, Jr.).
Surrency is a talented JUCO player in his first year for FSU. He is
inconsistent, but he is a big play guy. Surrency has eight catches for 158 yards
and three touchdowns.

Overall, the Florida State offense is talented, but raw and inexperienced at
the key positions of quarterback and offensive line. Considering how much
inexperience these positions have, the offense is doing well. However, against
the defense that most closely resembles Virginia Tech that they’ve faced, the
offense struggled. Wake Forest held FSU to 220 yards of offense and forced seven
turnovers.

I doubt FSU’s numbers will be that bad against the Hokies, but I do think
Tech’s defensive front should be able to control the line of scrimmage against
such a young offensive line. As a result, FSU will have inconsistent results on
the offensive side of the ball.

The Florida State Defense

The Florida State defense has a scary amount of speed and talent. Defensive
coordinator Mickey Andrews always puts a quality product on the field. Here’s a
look at their numbers thus far.


FSU Defensive Numbers

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rush Defense

79.5 ypg

1

7

Pass Defense

168.5 ypg

3

16

Total Defense

248 ypg

1

3

Scoring Defense

16 ppg

3

17

Pass Efficiency Defense

102.76

3

18

Tackles for Loss

7.67

2

16

Sacks

2.67

3

23

Those are some outstanding stats no matter the competition. FSU is no worse than
third in the ACC or 23rd nationally in any category. That said, the offensive
competition has been pretty poor. Not that it will change much this week for the
‘Noles, but it’s worth taking a look at.

Florida
State Offensive Opponents

Team

YPG

National
Rank

Yards
vs. FSU

Western Carolina*

337.8

71

176

Chattanooga*

232.0

115

164

Wake Forest

312.3

99

276

Colorado

316.3

96

278

Miami

307.9

102

256

NC State

284.4

112

338

* 1-AA Teams

That’s perhaps the worst collection of offenses I’ve ever seen. Throw in the
Hokies with their 110th ranked offense this weekend, and FSU hasn’t faced any
offensive juggernauts. Apparently Colorado is the best offense they’ve faced,
and the Buffs are 96th nationally. Putting these offenses on the field against
the FSU defense just isn’t fair.

Fair or not, it’s something Tech will have to deal with this weekend. The
defensive success of the ‘Noles starts up front with a very talented and fast
defensive line. Everette Brown (6-4, 252, r-Jr.) is the biggest playmaker of the
group. He has 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on the season. Brown will be
matched up on Ed Wang. Wang should be able to hang in there. He normally
struggles with big, physical linemen, but plays pretty well in space.

Markus White (6-4, 241, Jr.) is a JUCO who is in his first year at FSU. He
was expected by many to start for the ‘Noles this year following his record
setting 24.5 sack performance last year in the junior college ranks. However,
like JUCO wideout Corey Surrency, he’s still adjusting to the D1-A college game.
He has three tackles for loss and no sacks thus far. He backs up Everette Brown
at right defensive end.

At left end, Neefy Moffett (6-1, 255, Sr.) holds down the fort. Moffett is a
very experienced player who is second on the team with two sacks on the season.
He’ll be matched up with r-freshman right tackle Blake DeChristopher. His backup
is Kevin McNeal (6-2, 257, Jr.), who has 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack on the
season.

Florida State’s defensive tackles are the polar opposites of Boston College.
They are small and fast. Budd Thacker (6-2, 280, Jr.) and Justin Mincey (6-5,
261, Jr.) hold down the nose tackle position, while Kendrick Stewart (6-2, 265,
r-Jr.) and Paul Griffin (6-2, 280, r-Sr.) handle the nose guard spot. These
players have combined for 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks on the season.

If that doesn’t seem like a lot, keep in mind that Thacker, Mincey and
Griffin missed the first three games of the season due to suspensions. This is a
very productive group, and they are tough to block.

Florida State always has good linebackers, and it’s no different this year.
Middle linebacker Derek Nicholson (6-2, 233, Sr.) leads the team with 35 tackles
and nine tackles for loss. He is a very experienced player who Virginia Tech
recruited heavily out of Winston-Salem, NC.

At strongside linebacker, starter Dekoda Watson (6-2, 221, Jr.) has been
nursing a hamstring injury and is questionable. He has 13 tackles, two tackles
for loss and an interception on the season. In his place, Kendall Smith (6-1,
224, So.) would get the start. Smith is a true sophomore who has already started
three games this season, and he’s played well.

The wildcard at linebacker is Kenny Ingram (6-6, 228, r-Sr.). He’s a very
athletic player who has been a special teams player for his entire career. He
missed the 2006 season while concentrating on academics. With so many
suspensions at the beginning of this season, Ingram finally got playing time. He
has made 3.5 tackles for loss and broken up four passes with his impressive
reach.

Toddrick Verdell (6-3, 225, r-Sr.) is the starter at weakside linebacker. He
is third on the team with 25 tackles. Nigel Bradham (6-2, 238, Fr.), a highly
touted true freshman, has also seen some snaps at this spot. He has 17 tackles
thus far.

The secondary is also good. Tony Carter (5-9, 177, Sr.) starts at the field
corner position, and he could arguably be the best player on defense. He leads
the team with two interceptions. He has been starting every game since he was a
160-pound true freshman. He has come quite a long ways since he was abused by
UVA’s Marques Hagans in Scott Stadium in 2005.

At boundary corner, FSU will play Korey Mangum (6-0, 191, r-Jr.) and Patrick
Robinson (5-11, 192, Jr.). Mangum has broke up five passes on the year. Robinson
has been banged up this year and has only played in two games, but Mangum has
plenty of talent to play the position by himself.

The safeties are good, with Jamie Robinson (6-2, 192, r-Jr.) starting at free
safety and Myron Rolle (6-2, 218, Jr.) starting at rover. Rolle will has also
broken up five passes this year. He is perhaps the most hyped member of Florida
State’s defense. He also excels in the classroom, graduating in just 2.5 years.

Darius McClure (5-11, 205, r-Sr.) could also get the start at free safety
this year. He and Jamie Robinson have been splitting time at the position.

Overall, this defense is very talented and very fast. Mickey Andrews locks
his defenders in man-to-man coverage and forces the other team’s athletes to
beat his athletes. On most occasions, they are not able to do so. Last season,
the Hokies had future NFL players at wide receiver and a quarterback that FSU
wasn’t prepared for, and they were able to out-athlete the ‘Noles in Lane
Stadium.

This year however, the Hokies are playing three freshmen at receiver, and
there isn’t much of a running game outside of Tyrod Taylor’s legs. Florida State
isn’t likely to come out of their base man-to-man defense. They will spy Taylor
with one of their athletic linebackers and force Tech to beat them in one-on-one
matchups. Taylor will probably have some nice runs in this game, as the FSU
linebackers turn their backs to the line of scrimmage, but I don’t look for the
Hokies to get much done in the passing game.

Special Teams

Let’s break down some of the special teams battles in a quick table.


Special Teams Comparison

Category

VT Rank

FSU Rank

Net Punting

117

95

Kickoff Return

112

24

Punt Return

22

39

Kickoff Return Defense

28

35

Punt Return Defense

118

48

Average

79.4

48.2

Florida State has beaten Virginia Tech quite a few times over the years, and
when they do, most of the time it’s because the ‘Noles “Beamerball”
the Hokies to death. FSU generally outplays Tech on special teams, even when
Tech has good special teams. This year, as you can see from the table above, the
Hokies are not particularly good on special teams.

Thanks mostly to a bad punt team, which has surrendered two punt returns for
touchdowns and two blocked punts, the Hokies are ranked 117th and 118th (out of
119 teams) in net punting and punt return defense. Tech is also just 112th in
kickoff returns.

Thinking about Florida State’s athletic punt return team against Tech’s punt
team, which is filled with walk-ons and others who don’t appear to be adept to
tackling in the open field, should worry you. Tony Carter only has four returns
this year, but one of them went 68 yards for a touchdown.

One would think that the Hokies might have an advantage at placekicker, but
not this week.


Placekicker Comparison

Team

Kicker

Made

Att.

Long

Florida State

Graham Gano

10

11

53

Virginia Tech

Dustin Keys

14

16

45

If this game comes down to a battle of field goals, the Hokies don’t have the
definite advantage like they have in the past.

Conclusion

There are certain things I like about this game, and certain things I don’t.
I do like the Tech defensive line against the FSU offensive line. I also like
Bud Foster against a quarterback who has shown a tendency to throw interceptions
against good defenses. Beyond that, I also like the fact that the Hokies are #1
nationally in turnover margin while Florida State is 99th.

The fact that the game is at Florida State doesn’t really bother me. Tech
will be fired up for this one, I’m sure, and I think they’ll play better than
they did last week against Boston College.

While I doubt the Hokies will have a whole lot of success moving the ball
against the FSU defense, the ‘Noles do have a tendency to lose focus at times,
so the Hokies will probably make a few plays against the man-to-man.

What I don’t like is that Florida State will probably be pretty fired up for
this game too. They’ll be playing with plenty of confidence. If I’m an FSU
player, and I just watched the Tech-BC game, I’d be confident too.

Right now, when I watch the Hokies play, I don’t have a lot of confidence,
with the exception of the defense and the field goal unit. I don’t have
confidence that the offense can score enough points to win this game, and I
don’t have confidence that Virginia Tech’s special teams can play well enough to
win the game. The only unit I trust right now is Bud’s defense, and Dustin Keys.

With that, I’m not expecting a lot in this game, thought I wouldn’t be
shocked at all if the Hokies won it. Florida State has made a habit over the
last few years of handing games to other teams on a silver platter. With the
luck, or lack thereof, the Hokies have had against the ‘Noles over the years,
FSU is probably due to toss VT the game. However, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The way I see it, this season will come down to the last four games of the
season. Assuming Georgia Tech loses one more ACC game (I think they will), VT
will need to finish 6-2 or better to win the conference. They need to win their
home games against Maryland, Duke and UVA, and win one on the road against
either FSU or Miami. The last four games are very winnable, even with Tech’s
offense not performing very well.

In fact, my preseason pick was for the Hokies to be 5-3 after eight games,
with back-to-back losses to BC and FSU. At that point, they’d win their last
four games and go to the ACC Championship. The Hokies can lose this game and
still meet their main goal: winning the Coastal Division.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t seem all that fired up about this
game. It would be nice if Tech won it, but I’m not expecting it. I’m not going
to allow myself to get upset about if they lose, because this is one they are
supposed to lose. If they manage to win it, great. If they don’t, no big deal.
There’s no better position in football, in my opinion.

I’m pulling for the Hokies hard in this one, but my biggest hope is that they
get through it with no injuries. I think they have a decent shot to win this
one, but I think they have a much better shot at the last four.

Chris’s Prediction: Florida State 24, Virginia Tech 13

Will Stewart’s Take: There’s a lot to worry about in this game. If the
Hokie defense controls the line of scrimmage, Christian Ponder has the
athleticism to break off a first down run, anyway — and the Hokies don’t have
Xavier Adibi there to chase Ponder down anymore.

Florida State has the athleticism to take advantage of Hokie mistakes on
defense and special teams.

Defensively, FSU doesn’t have the run-stoppers like Brace and Raji for BC,
who were so problematic last Saturday night, but the Seminoles do have
high-motor speed guys at DT. Virginia Tech might be able to misdirect FSU’s
defensive tackles and spring Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby through some holes,
but neither one of the Hokies’ tailbacks has shown the ability to shake
linebackers like the ones FSU puts on the field.

The hope for VT on offense is that a scrambling Tyrod Taylor will be able to
exploit FSU’s man coverage schemes for long runs, like he did last year. A lot
is made of Tyrod Taylor’s 92 yards rushing against FSU last year, but equally
important were Taylor’s 204 yards passing, one of just two times that he has
passed for over 200 yards (Ohio 2007 was the other). It’s not likely that Taylor
will duplicate that this year.

I’m looking around, and I don’t see anywhere to go. I said prior to the BC
game that I was going to pick VT to win until they did otherwise, and last week,
they did otherwise, so my confidence in them has waned. I think the Hokies will
play better in this one — at least, I hope they do — but I think they’re
outgunned. I always ask myself, if these two teams played ten times, who would
win the most? The answer here is Florida State, so that’s how I base my pick.

Will’s Prediction: Florida State 27, Virginia Tech 13

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