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Virginia Tech has lost games to Pitt, Cincinnati, UNC, Clemson and Miami. Thursday night they’ll host Florida State, and one thing’s for sure: Florida State is no Pitt.
This Florida State team is the best team on Virginia Tech’s schedule. They are well-coached, they block extremely well, they can run, and they can tackle. Were it not for one mysterious second half performance against an average NC State team, the Noles would be in the middle of the National Championship race. Their November 24th matchup with Florida is already going to be a big one, and if not for that NC State loss, it would have even more meaning.
The Noles are 8-1, ranked #10 in the BCS standings, and they’ve had an extra week to prepare for the Hokies. Does Virginia Tech have a chance of winning this game?
Let’s take a look at Florida State’s personnel.
The Florida State Offense
Florida State’s offensive numbers are as impressive as it gets.
Rushing offense: #14
Passing offense: #26
Total offense: #7
Scoring offense: #3
Pass Efficiency: #3
Sacks allowed: #35
Florida State’s offensive line is big and bad. They are the main reason the Noles have been so good offensively this season, so that’s where we’ll start our look at the FSU offense.
LT Cameron Erving (6-6, 309, r-So): Erving was a backup defensive tackle last year, but his switch to starting left tackle has been successful.
LG Josue Matias (6-6, 326, So.): Matias has been starting since Florida State’s Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame last season.
C Bryan Stork (6-4, 312, r-Jr.): Stork is the most experienced offensive lineman on his team. He has starting experience dating back to his r-freshman season. He started at guard against Virginia Tech in the 2010 ACC Championship Game.
RG Tre’ Jackson (6-4, 328, So.): Jackson made his first career start in last year’s Champs Sports Bowl, and he hasn’t looked back. He’s a very promising young lineman with great size.
RT Menelik Watson (6-6, 320, Jr.): Watson was one of the top JUCO linemen in the country. From Manchester, England, he adds more international flavor to FSU’s roster, along with defensive end Bjoern Werner.
There are no senior starters on this offensive line. Overall, it’s a very talented and very young group of players. The Noles have talented running backs and one of the top running games in the country. Check out this list of FSU running backs, and their numbers on the season:
Chris Thompson (5-8, 187, Sr.): 91 carries, 687 yards, 7.5 ypc, 5 TDs
James Wilder, Jr. (6-2, 226, So.): 74 carries, 439 yards, 5.9 ypc, 8 TDs
Devonta Freeman (5-8, 209, So.): 53 carries, 391 yards, 7.4 ypc, 5 TDs
Lonnie Pryor (6-0, 229, Sr.): 30 carries, 195 yards, 6.5 ypc, 6 TDs
Totals: 248 carries, 1712 yards, 6.9 ypc, 24 TDs
Thompson is normally the starter, but he is out for the season with a torn ACL. No matter, because FSU’s backups are just as good. Devonta Freeman has a low center of gravity, and he has put up a very high yards per carry number this season. Wilder is a big back who can run, and he’s one of my favorite backs to watch play because of his physical style of running. Lonnie Pryor is FSU’s starting fullback, but he is a former tailback who still gets carries.
All of FSU’s backs appear to be good blockers. They like to line up in shotgun, with Pryor and one of the tailbacks flanking quarterback E.J. Manuel (6-5, 238, r-Sr.). Because both backs can run and block, the Noles can run it to either side of the field effectively.
Florida State uses their excellent running game to work the playaction pass. They have shown a tendency to pull an offensive guard on some of their most effective playactions, especially in the Clemson game. Defensive players are coached to read and react based on their run/pass keys. Many inside linebackers are coached to react based on the first step of the offensive guard. When an offensive guard starts pulling, it looks like a running play, and when the linebacker reacts to defend the run, it opens up the middle for playaction passes. FSU exploited Clemson on several occasions with that type of playaction pass.
Manuel has been a very good quarterback for the Noles this year. The FSU passing game is nothing fancy. Their running game sets up their passing game. Manuel has been very efficient, going 161-of-230 (70%) for 2,315 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Noles have run the ball 348 times this season, and passed it just 230 times. Obviously there have been a few sacks that count as runs, and some scrambles by Manuel, but in general, FSU likes to run the ball more than they like to throw it. With that offensive line and those running backs, who can blame them?
FSU has solid wide receivers, but none of them will wow you statistically.
Rashad Greene (6-0, 170, So.): 28 catches, 374 yards, 13.4 ypc, 2 TD
Rodney Smith (6-6, 219, Sr.): 26 catches, 435 yards, 16.7 ypc, 3 TD
Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 242, r-Fr.): 23 catches, 443 yards, 19.3 ypc, 4 TD
Greg Dent (5-11, 195, Jr.): 19 catches, 235 yards, 12.4 ypc, 1 TD
Kenny Shaw (6-0, 170, Jr.): 18 catches, 378 yards, 21 ypc, 3 TD
There is no standout wide receiver, but they certainly get it done as a group. Kelvin Benjamin has great size and he runs very well. He’s a name to watch out for in the future, and he certainly poses a threat in this game as well. The Noles also have a good receiving tight end in Nick O’Leary (6-3, 238, So.). He has 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown on the season.
Frank Beamer said this Florida State team reminds him of the old Bobby Bowden teams. He’s right, to a certain extent. However, this offense is a much different offense than the one Virginia Tech faced in the National Championship Game so many years ago. That old FSU offense would out-athlete you. The Hokies were more physical than FSU that night on both sides of the ball, but the Noles threw the ball around to Peter Warrick and that group of receivers and won the game. This current FSU offense is a lot different. They would rather smack a defense right in the mouth and physically dominate them. Jimbo Fisher has brought an SEC mentality to what was developing into a soft program as Bobby Bowden’s career declined.
If I had to use one word to describe this FSU offense, it would be “brutal”. The offensive line embraces the personality of their coach, former US Marine and Vietnam veteran Rick Trickett. He’s tough, disciplined and hard-nosed, and that’s how his offensive line plays. The running backs and wide receivers also block very well. In fact, that’s the thing that stands out the most to me about this offense: they have mastered the mysterious art of blocking defenders, which has eluded the Virginia Tech offense for most of the last six years.
All that said, the Virginia Tech defense is the best defense the Noles will have faced this season. Bud Foster’s defense has rapidly improved over the last three games, and I believe they’ll play a good football game on Thursday night. Will that be enough? Probably not, considering the defense that the Virginia Tech offense will be facing.
The Florida State Defense
Recall Virginia Tech’s last two games against Clemson and Miami, and remember that the Tech offense struggled to score points against two defenses that just aren’t very good. Now read Florida State’s defensive statistics:
Pass Efficiency: #2
The Tech offense will face the best defense in the country, statistically. That defense is coached by Mark Stoops, who is very highly thought of as a defensive coordinator. I know what you’re thinking … this isn’t going to go well.
It all starts up front for the Noles, who have a pair of very talented defensive ends who can play in the backfield.
DE Bjoern Werner (6-4, 255, Jr.): The Berlin native has 12.5 TFL and 8 sacks on the season.
DE Cornelius “Tank” Carradine (6-5, 265, Sr.): Carradine has 9 TFL and 8 sacks. He wouldn’t be starting, but Preseason All-American end Brandon Jenkins is out with a torn ACL
Those two guys are the top playmakers on the defensive line. Defensive tackles Everett Dawkins (6-3, 300, r-Sr.) and Anthony McCloud (6-2, 310, r-Sr.) don’t play in the backfield much, but backup tackle Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 298, So.) does have 5.5 TFL so far this year. These guys will be facing a Virginia Tech interior line that has closely resembled a matador holding up a red cape this season. After watching the Hokies on tape, you know that the FSU defensive tackles are licking their chops. They are expecting to have a big game.
Florida State’s linebackers are big, and they can run. Christian Jones (6-4, 232, Jr.) is basically Kam Chancellor playing linebacker. At times he was matched up in man coverage against Sammy Watkins in the slot during FSU’s win over Clemson. That’s a great example of how athletic he is.
Vince Williams (6-1, 247, r-Sr.) and Telvin Smith (6-3, 212, Jr.) are splitting time at the middle linebacker spot. Williams is listed as the starter, but Smith has played more, and has better numbers: 37 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack.
Weakside linebacker Nick Moody (6-2, 237, r-Sr.), along with Vince Williams, is one of the leaders of the team. Knowing that losses in past seasons had hurt team chemistry, they held a barbeque at their house for their teammates following the loss to NC State. They took the bull by the horns when the team needed leadership, and the Noles have blown out everyone they’ve faced since that loss.
The Florida State secondary features the talented Xavier Rhodes (6-2, 217, r-Jr.). Rhodes is a big cornerback who can lock up big receivers. Virginia Tech’s receivers have not been physical this season, so they aren’t likely to have much success against the talented Rhodes, who is projected as a late first/early second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft if he chooses to leave early.
If Virginia Tech wants to go after a cornerback, they will likely have more success on the other side of the field against either Nick Waisome (5-10, 170, So.) or Ronald Darby (5-11, 189, Fr.). Both guys are young, inexperienced players. If there’s a spot to attack the Florida State defense, I suppose this would be it. However, for the #1 statistical defense in the country, Waisome and Darby are only relative weaknesses.
At safety, FSU has two experienced players in Lamarcus Joyner (5-8, 195, Jr.) and Terrence Brooks (5-11, 197, Jr.). These two guys are big parts of a secondary that ranks #2 nationally in pass efficiency defense.
So, exactly how good is this Florida State defense? Well, they started the season against two 1-AA teams: Murray State and Savannah State. The rest of their schedule looks like this:
Wake Forest: #107 in total offense
Clemson: #9 in total offense
South Florida: #63 in total offense
NC State: #60 in total offense
Boston College: #90 in total offense
Miami: #58 in total offense
Duke: #72 in total offense
The only good offense they have faced was Clemson, and the Tigers put up 426 yards and 37 points. I do believe FSU’s defense stats are skewed a bit by a lack of quality competition. Of course, that has no bearing on this game. This will easily be the best defense on Virginia Tech’s schedule, and I think we all have a pretty good idea about what will happen to the Tech offense in this one.
Net Punting: #100
Punt returns: #9
Kickoff returns: #6
Punt return defense: #47
Kickoff return defense: #3
Florida State has one of the best kickers in the country. Dustin Hopkins (6-2, 190, Sr.) is very close to breaking two NCAA records. With 10 more points, he’ll tie the 1-A record for career points by a kicker at 439. He is also just five field goals shy of the NCAA record for field goals in a career. He isn’t likely to break the field goal record against Virginia Tech, but it’s very possible that he could break the points record.
Punting is probably the only thing that Florida State doesn’t do well. Cason Beatty (6-3, 229, Fr.) is a true freshman who has averaged 38.2 yards per punt, and the Noles have had a two punts blocked as well. FSU only ranks #100 in the country in net punting. It’s critical for Virginia Tech to win the field position battle if they want to have a chance to win this game. To win the field position battle, they must win the punting battle.
In the return game, Florida State has proven to be very good. Lamarcus Joyner has averaged 28.8 yards per kickoff return, with a long of 90 yards. Karlos Williams (6-1, 230, So.) has averaged 28.9 yards per return, with a long of 60 yards. They have been equally effective on punt returns. Rashad Greene has returned two punts for touchdowns, while Tyler Hunter (5-11, 190, So.) has also taken one to the house. The Hokies must be very good with their punt coverage, and that means Alonzo Tweedy must have a great game at gunner.
It’s imperative that the Hokies avoid that one (or two, or three …) bad special teams play that has plagued them in games against good teams (or not so good teams). If they give up a blocked punt or some kind of a return for a touchdown, they’ll be in a hole, and they probably won’t be able to dig themselves out.
I decided to use mock draft at walterfootball.com to come up with an NFL talent comparison between these two teams. I found the following FSU players projected to be selected in the first three rounds in April:
DE Bjoern Werner: 1st round, #6 overall
CB Xavier Rhodes: 2nd round, #35 overall
DE Tank Carradine: 2nd round, #43 overall
QB E.J. Manuel: 2nd round, #45 overall
Also, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is considered a possible first rounder in 2014. Meanwhile, the following Virginia Tech players are expected to go in the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft: none.
Florida State simply has better players, and there’s no way around that fact. E.J. Manuel is better than Logan Thomas. Any of Florida State’s running backs would start for Tech. Their receivers are better, and they have more of them, and their offensive line is light years ahead of Virginia Tech’s. Defensively, their linebackers are faster and have better range, and their secondary is much more experienced.
Besides having better players, I believe they are better coached. Their offense has an identity, and in my opinion, Rick Trickett is one of the best offensive line coaches in college football. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has done an outstanding job of molding this team into his type of team, with an SEC attitude. Florida State lines up, smacks you in the mouth, and then laughs at you after they knock you out. If you like tough, physical football, then they are fun to watch play.
It’s true that Virginia Tech is playing at home in Lane Stadium, on a Thursday night, and they have nothing to lose. The Hokies usually play well in those types of situations. However, this isn’t your usual Virginia Tech team. Tech is usually good, and this year they are not. That’s the simple fact of the matter. The Hokies just aren’t good. They aren’t good enough to beat Florida State.
Florida State can certainly beat themselves, though. Just ask NC State. The Wolfpack are a very mediocre football team that just got flattened by struggling UVA, and somehow they managed to beat the Noles 17-16 in a night game in Raleigh earlier this season. The Florida State offense is capable of bogging down.
It’s generally not a good sign when you have to depend on the other team to play poorly in order to win the football game. Actually, I don’t even think Florida State has to bring their A-game to win, and maybe not even their B-game either. All they’ll probably have to do is sit around and wait for the Hokies to beat themselves, as Tech did against Clemson and Miami.
I’m not expecting to win, and I really only want to see one thing in this game. I want to see Florida State earn the win. If the Hokies lose, I want it to be to the other team, not themselves. Unfortunately, after a season full of mistakes and miscues, I don’t expect things to start changing now.
Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Florida State 34, Virginia Tech 6
Will Stewart’s Take: FSU doesn’t play very well on the road, relatively speaking, going 2-1 with an average margin of +8 points. That’s encouraging, but that, along with FSU’s #100 rank in net punting, is the only thing that’s encouraging.
Maybe. FSU is also #79 in the nation in turnover margin, thanks mostly to ten lost fumbles. But while that statistic isn’t very shiny, neither is Virginia Tech’s turnover margin ranking of #91. The culprit for the Hokies in that stat is Logan Thomas’ 12 interceptions. Combined with Marcus Davis’ interception against Clemson, VT ranks #110 in the country in interceptions thrown, with 13.
Turnovers can be the equalizer in a game where the combatants are not closely matched, but the problem, as you can see, is that the Hokies are more turnover-prone than the Noles. In particular, Logan Thomas has become a turnover machine, with nine turnovers (1 fumble, 8 INTs) in the last five games. Logan has yet to have a meltdown game like Grant Noel vs. Miami 2001 (five turnovers) or Marcus Vick vs. Miami 2005 (six turnovers). Let’s hope one like that never happens.
Virginia Tech’s best hope in this game is that Florida State turtles like they did against NC State, and that special teams and turnovers go the Hokies way.
Will Stewart’s Prediction: Florida State 35, Virginia Tech 13
On another note, I have received at least five emails requesting that I “write another inspiring article to get fans to come to the pre-game walk.” I respectfully decline.
Why? Well, in 2003, the article Make It Real was very special. It was unexpected, it caught fire (registering about 40,000 page views as it went viral), and it led to about 10,000 people filling the street to cheer the team on in their pre-game walk. Inspired by the show of support, the Hokies, who were not a good football team in late 2003, played at the peak of their game that night and blew #2 Miami out, 31-7.
After that special night, the Hokies tanked the rest of the season, going 1-4 from that point on.
As the 2005 home game against #5 Miami approached, I was asked by many people to reprise “Make It Real.” I chipped around the edges of it, writing a new article called A Call to Arms that didn’t exactly repeat “Make It Real”, but which instead put a wrapper around “Make It Real” and referred the reader back to the original for inspiration. It didn’t feel right. It felt forced.
It worked anyway. Virginia Tech was 8-0, ranked #3 in the country, and the night of the Miami game was a wild one. The street was again filled with thousands of Hokie fans. And Virginia Tech ran out of the tunnel and got blown out 27-7 by a Miami team that talked the talk and then walked the walk. It was humbling.
I resolved after the 27-7 spanking that I would never write another “Walk” article again. The first one was special, the second one was stilted, and the third one will never be.
Sorry if that sounds like a copout, but I didn’t make the decision — never to write such an article — as a result of this season. I made that decision seven years ago.
Ultimately, Hokie fans have to look within themselves and decide who they want to be, and what they want to do. For years, Hokie fans have said they were different, but they’re not, really. They’re like most other fan bases. They cheer loudly and buy tickets and merchandise when the team is winning, but when the team is losing, they react with disappointment and anger and look for changes to get the team back on track. It’s what fans do.
If you are so inclined as to attend the pre-game walk (two hours before game time), cheer loudly once the game starts, and generally support the team, then do so. The whole point of writing the 2003 article was to get the fan base to realize what a difference they can make. My hope was to inspire you always, not just for that night.
Yes, I know, true leaders don’t just yell “Follow me!” when heading into battle the first time, then sit back and say “Do it yourself” every other time afterwards. True leaders lead, time after time. But then again, we’re not talking about World War II combat here. The future of the free world isn’t at risk.
I also have to be true to myself. As I said, 2003 was special, but in 2005, it didn’t feel genuine, and to do it again at this moment would feel fake and forced. So this time, you’ll have to find your own inspiration. I recommend the original “Make It Real”, linked above. The sentiments expressed there are true and timeless, to this day.