Time for another full, long day of waiting until tonight’s kickoff between Virginia Tech and Florida State. I’ve got you covered. I pushed the matchups post back to today to give everyone something to read leading up to the game.
There were no players listed on the injury report, the weather is going to be cold tonight (40 degrees close to kickoff) and the betting line looks like it’s about FSU by 13.5 this morning.
Now for a look at the matchups …
No. 8/6 Florida State at Virginia Tech
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg
- When: Thursday, 7:31 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Records: Florida State 8-1, 5-1 ACC; Virginia Tech 4-5, 2-3 ACC
- Series: Florida State leads 22-12-1
- Last meeting: Hokies won 44-33 in 2010 ACC title game in Charlotte
- Line: Florida State by 13.5
When Virginia Tech passes
Logan Thomas continues to be just a tick off. He threw for 199 yards against Miami last week but completed only 19 of 37 passes. Worse yet, he had some misses in key situations. A pick at the Miami 11 was a bad read. An overthrow on a fourth-down pass that was wide open crushed the Hokies’ hopes late. Tech still has weapons here, but they show up inconsistently. Marcus Davis was quiet for most of the Miami game, catching three passes for 43 yards. He needs to come up big tonight for Tech to have a chance. Tight end Ryan Malleck had four catches for 58 yards last week, one of his best games. The line needs to be on its game. Thomas has been sacked 16 times this year and took some shots last week.
FSU has probably the best defensive line the Hokies will face this year. Ends Cornellius “Tank” Carradine and Bjoern Werner are tied for the ACC lead with eight sacks apiece. The starting tackles, Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins, are NFL prospects, and backup Timmy Jernigan, a sophomore, isn’t too far behind. The secondary is just as strong. The ‘Noles are allowing only 154.2 yards per game in the air, tops in the ACC and the third-fewest in the country. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a three-year starter who leads the team with two picks. Safety Terrence Brooks is fourth on the team with 34 tackles. Clemson threw for four touchdowns against FSU. Every other team the ‘Noles have played have combined for four this year.
Edge: Florida State
When Virginia Tech runs
The paring down of the running game didn’t quite go to plan last week. Tony Gregory (10 carries, 52 yards), Michael Holmes (8 carries, 25 yards) and J.C. Coleman (5 carries, 23 yards) got about even work. Surprisingly, Coleman didn’t even get a carry until the second quarter. And Holmes was on the field far more than anyone expected. It’s unknown exactly how the split will go this week, although it’s not far-fetched to expect this three-man split to continue. You can’t forget Thomas here. He carried the load at Miami, carrying it a career-high 22 times for 124 yards. He scored on a 73-yard touchdown run up the middle, untouched. But he also ran for some tough yards on read plays. That was against a bad Miami defense, though. Those holes might not be there against FSU.
Another category, another area where the Seminoles dominate. FSU is allowing 72.9 yards per game on the ground. Only Stanford and Alabama are allowing less. That defensive line has a big part to do with that again. So do the linebackers. Christian Jones leads the team with 60 tackles. Backup Telvin Smith is third with 37. Those two have combined for 13 tackles for a loss. The ‘Noles have held six teams to less than 100 yards rushing this year. Two and a half weeks ago, Miami only had 29 rushing yards on 21 carries against this group. FSU has allowed only five rushing touchdowns all season, only three of which have come in their six ACC games. Opponents only have a 2.4-yard-per-carry average against the ‘Noles.
Edge: Florida State
When Florida State passes
It starts with quarterback EJ Manuel, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior who doesn’t have the flashy stats like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd but is every bit, if not more, efficient. Manuel has completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,315 yards this year, with 16 touchdowns to four interceptions. Like usual, FSU has a stable of wide receivers who can be a factor in the receiving game, with five active players with at least 18 catches. Rashad Greene (28 catches, 374 yards, 2 TD) and Rodney Smith (26 catches, 435 yards, 3 TD) start, but Kelvin Benjamin (23 catches, 443 yards, 4 TD) is just as productive. FSU can crank up the passing when it needs to. It threw for 380 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson and 448 yards and four touchdowns against Boston College.
The Hokies’ secondary will have its work cut out for it. Tech is still only allowing 201.9 passing yards per game(30th nationally, 3rd ACC). Even their pass efficiency defense is pretty good (114.7, 25th nationally, 2nd ACC). Last week, the Hokies held Miami to 1-for-12 on third down conversions, a stat you normally see in a victory. Still, there were a couple of breakdowns that led to big plays, a season-long problem. Pressure will be big. Manuel was sacked four times in FSU’s long loss this year to N.C. State. The Hokies had been doing a good job of getting to the quarterback until last week, with 10 sacks against Duke and Clemson. Although they pressured Miami’s Stephen Morris, they didn’t sack him. James Gayle will need a big game. Tech also needs some production from the other end spot, where Corey Marshall and Tyrel Wilson are the co-starters now that J.R. Collins has been demoted and moved inside to tackle.
Edge: Florida State
When Florida State runs
This is starting to sound like a broken record, but FSU is strong here too. The ‘Noles are second in the ACC to Georgia Tech with 234.6 rushing yards per game, a number that ranks 14th nationally. Chris Thompson, who had 687 yards and was on pace to top 1,000, was lost for the year with a knee injury at Miami. James Wilder Jr. (439 yards, 8 TD) and Devonta Freeman(391 yards, 5 TD) have filled in well in his absence. Against Duke they ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns. The key is the line, though. Hokies coaches call it one of the biggest, most athletic ones they’ve seen in a while. No starter is smaller than 6-foot-4 or 312 pounds, so it’s a big group Tech will be going up against.
Virginia Tech still can’t seem to get its rushing defense together. The Hokies are allowing 166.0 yards per game (70th nationally, 8th ACC). Even Miami, which despite having two great backs had struggled moving the ball consistently on the ground, ran for 157 yards last week. The Hokies have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns already this season. They allowed 15 all of last year. The defensive line will have to work to get off blocks, but Tech needs an active game from its linebackers. Jack Tyler (85 tackles) and Bruce Taylor (51) have had decent years. Alonzo Tweedy will move up to start at whip linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound senior isn’t big, but he’s quick. And he’s a sure tackler, as his special teams exploits have shown.
Edge: Florida State
Remember how I’ve always been giving Tech the edge here because its stats in the separate categories look pretty good? No more. The Hokies have too many disastrous errors on special teams to seriously consider giving them the advantage here. Last week, it was a punt they had blocked and a long kickoff return, both of which set up touchdowns. Those are plays they can ill afford against Florida State. Other than that, the stats, as I’ve mentioned, still are pretty strong. Kyshoen Jarrett (16.0 punt return average, 4th nationally) and Demitri Knowles (30.1 kick return average, 10th nationally) continue to do well. Kicker Cody Journell missed an extra point and a 47-yard field goal last week but is still 12-for-14. Punter A.J. Hughes needs to shake off his second mishandled snap that turned into a disaster.
For as good as Tech has been on punt returns, FSU has been even better. Greene thrived on punt returns all year, with a 15.8-yard average and two touchdowns. But he had some trouble catching the ball, so the ‘Noles went with Tyler Hunter. He proceeded to return one 75 yards for a touchdown against Duke last week. FSU is sixth nationally on kick returns and fourth at defending them. Kicker Dustin Hopkins leads the ACC in scoring this season (11.3 ppg) and is the league’s all-time leading scorer. The only black mark is the punt unit. Freshman Cason Betty is averaging 38.2 yards per punt, although he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunities.
Edge: Florida State
FSU’s Jimbo Fisher has always been a strong recruiter whose game management skills seem to always come into question. The Virginia game last year was a pretty good example of that. The N.C. State loss this season provided more fodder. But he’s doing something right in Tallahassee to have this team at 8-1 overall and, at least at the beginning of the year, in the conversation for the national championship. Seminoles defensive coordinator Mark Stoops might be a hot commodity after this season. While Frank Beamer‘s career credentials are obviously impressive, but he hasn’t had to deal with a sub-.500 team this late in the year in a long, long time. It’s a foreign situation, one that you wonder if he’s equipped to handle after such sustained success. Beamer is 4-9 against top-10 teams since joining the ACC but only 1-6 in his last seven tries.
Edge: Florida State.
This is the first time on one of these that every edge has gone to the opponent. But taken part by part, I simply think Florid State is a better team in every category. Now, that’s not to say the ‘Noles are invincible. Their schedule, with the exception of Clemson, isn’t full of world beaters. They obviously lost to a pretty mediocre N.C. State team on the road. In fact, they haven’t been sharp on the road at all, scuffling through a 30-17 win at South Florida and a 33-20 win at Miami. There’s also the cold factor. It’s going to be close to 40 degrees at kickoff. Beamer’s teams are 11-2 when the temperature is less than 40 degrees at kickoff. And Florida State obviously is from a warm state, so that could be an issue.
But I just don’t think an upset is likely. The last time Tech was a two-touchdown underdog at home was against No. 1 Miami in 2001. The Hokies lost that game 26-24, watching it slip through their fingers on a two-point conversion drop by Ernest Wilford in the fourth quarter. But that Tech team was ranked No. 14. This year’s group hasn’t shown any of those signs of breaking out. To beat FSU, the Hokies would need a crisp offensive performance, a strong defensive showing and a flawless special teams night that provides a big play or two. So far this year, the offense hasn’t been able to finish off drives, the defense has had breakdowns at inopportune times and the special teams has had more gaffes than big plays. Could it all come together in a big game? Sure. But nothing Virginia Tech has shown this season, especially lately, suggests that will be the case.
Prediction: Florida State 30, Virginia Tech 13