Three-List Game Preview 2019: Florida State Returning To Scott Stadium

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Joey Blount and the rest of the Cavaliers hope to see a significant home field advantage against Florida State on Saturday night. ~ Photo by Kris Wright

The University of Virginia football program is just 3-15 all-time against Florida State, including 2-6 versus the Seminoles in Scott Stadium. All three victories – at home in 1995 and 2005, and on the road in 2011 – were sweet, coming against ranked FSU squads. However, the victories in Scott Stadium were two of the best in school history.

1995 – Virginia handed Florida State its first ever Atlantic Coast Conference loss since the Seminoles joined the conference in 1992. FSU was 29-0 in ACC play prior to the game, and with a no. 2 ranking Bobby Bowden’s team was a national championship contender. A thriller from start to finish, FSU running back Warrick Dunn was stopped an inch shy of the goal line as time expired and the Hoos celebrated a 33-28 victory.

2005 – Marques Hagans, who is now serving as UVA’s wide receivers coach, threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns as the Cavaliers took down no. 4 Florida State in Scott Stadium.

Florida State, one of the nation’s premier college football programs, is usually the ranked and favored team in this matchup. That was the case the last time the two programs faced off in 2014, when the no. 2 Seminoles defeated the Cavaliers 34-20. The script has been flipped entering Saturday’s matchup in Scott Stadium, with no. 25 UVA the favorite over the unranked Seminoles, who have had back-to-back subpar seasons – 7-6 in Jimbo Fisher’s final season as head coach in 2017 and 5-7 in Willie Taggart’s first season as head coach in 2018.

Building off last season’s 8-5 record that included a Belk Bowl championship, UVA entered 2019 as the preseason pick to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Hoos, led by dynamic dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins and a stingy defense, have responded with convincing wins at Pitt and at home against William & Mary.

Florida State, meanwhile, arrives in Charlottesville with a 1-1 record. Both of FSU’s games have come at home, and both had a similar story line, with the Seminoles starting hot only to see big leads evaporate in the second half. In its season opener, Coach Taggart’s group held a 31-13 first-half lead before watching Boise State score the final 23 points of the game to grab a 36-31 victory. Last week, Louisiana-Monroe rallied from a 24-7 deficit to force overtime before falling, 45-44, when its kicker missed a game-tying extra point.

The Seminole offense is led by sophomore quarterback James Blackman, who appears much improved from a year ago, when he completed 58.2% of his passes while throwing for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Dynamic running back Cam Akers and a fast, athletic wide receiver unit figure to present plenty of challenges to Virginia and its 14th-ranked defense (228 yards allowed per game). Meanwhile, Florida State’s defense has speed and athleticism but has surrendered 1,040 yards of offense, including 621 yards and 38 first downs to Boise State.

Virginia’s goal is the ACC Coastal. A victory on Saturday would have the Hoos off to a 2-0 start in that regard, while the Seminoles are also looking to start strong in what is their first conference clash of 2019. This will be the first road game for a Florida State program that went 1-4 on the road last season.


Three Questions

1. Can Virginia establish a run-game to complement Bryce Perkins?

Bronco Mendenhall was pleased with his team’s rushing output against William & Mary. In addition to 68 yards rushing from its star quarterback, UVA received 78 yards from true freshman running back Mike Hollins and 45 yards from junior running back P.K. Kier. The Hoos totaled 216 yards rushing against the Tribe, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Postgame, the fourth-year Cavalier coach praised the running back unit, saying they have established themselves as one of the deeper units on the team.

Perhaps its time UVA leans on the running backs a little bit more. Florida State’s defense may have surrendered 407 yards passing to Boise State and 241 yards passing to Louisiana-Monroe, and there’s no question the Hoos will look to exploit the Seminole pass defense, but I think the key to opening up the pass game and Perkins in the run game will be establishing Taulapapa, Kier, and/or Hollins early. Boise State and Louisiana-Monroe produced 100-yard rushers to go along with the passing numbers, displaying balance on offense. Perkins has been successful in the pass game, especially early against Pitt and William & Mary, but as the season goes on I think Virginia is going to have to rely on the running backs more.

2. Are last week’s interceptions outliers?

Before throwing an interception to safety Miles Hayes in the second quarter of last week’s game versus William & Mary, Perkins had not thrown an interception in 145 attempts. This was the longest streak by any active Division 1 quarterback. UVA’s senior captain was picked off twice against the Tribe. He easily could have had two more passes intercepted because of poor decisions. Coach Mendenhall believes those mistakes were just outliers. Clearly, Mendenhall needs to be right and Perkins needs to get back on track if the Hoos want to be successful on Saturday.

Florida State’s Blackman has some questions of his own. The sophomore has put up terrific numbers so far in 2019, but he threw two interceptions in the second half of last week’s game versus Louisiana-Monroe. Those turnovers helped fuel ULM’s comeback. The first was returned for a touchdown, putting the visitors within 10 at 24-14. The second resulted in a touchdown, which gave ULM a fourth quarter lead. How will the Seminoles’ signal caller respond against a tough Virginia defense on the road? The Cavaliers have picked off three passes in their first two contests.

3. Will the second half trends continue?

Virginia put away Pittsburgh by dominating the second half. Trailing the Panthers 14-13 at halftime, the Cavalier defense pitched a second half shutout at Heinz Field while the offense posted 17 unanswered points. In two games, Virginia has outscored its opponents 34-14 in the second half.

Second half success has been fleeting for Florida State, which has been outscored 48-14 in the third and fourth quarters combined in its first two games. Boise State blanked FSU, 17-0, in the second half to leave Doak Campbell with a 36-31 win.

The Seminoles have started hot, outscoring Boise State and ULM 35-6 in the first quarter. Virginia has performed well in the first quarter as well, outscoring Pitt and William & Mary 31-0.

Three Opponents to Watch

1. Cam Akers, Running Back, #3

Akers was outstanding against Louisiana-Monroe, totaling 36 carries for 193 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 55 yards and a touchdown receiving. He opened the season with 116 yards on 15 carries versus Boise State. The 5’11”, 212-pound junior has displayed a variety of skills, from being able to put the team on his back to breaking long plays to making plays as a runner and receiver. Virginia certainly will have its hands full containing him.

2. James Blackman, Quarterback, #1

The 6’5” sophomore had the two interceptions in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe. Outside of those plays, Blackman has stepped up his play two games into 2019, completing 53-of-73 passes (72.6%) for 609 yards and six touchdowns. He has a rushing TD as well. If the young signal caller can keep up his play, the Florida State offense will be tough to stop. His top wide receiver target is 6’4”, 203-pound Tamorrion Terry, who has lived up to his preseason All-ACC billing with 10 catches for 156 yards and a 75-yard touchdown in his first two contests.

3. Marvin Wilson, Defensive Tackle, #21

The preseason All-ACC junior, who measures in at 6’5”, 311 pounds, will be hard for the Hoos offensive line to handle in the run and passing games. He has 10 tackles (7 solo), two quarterback hurries, one sack and one forced fumble in FSU’s first two games.

Three Hoos To Watch

1. Nick Grant, Cornerback

With Bryce Hall on the other side, Nick Grant will be tested early and often by opposing teams. He had the 85-yard interception return for a touchdown against William & Mary. Later in the game, however, Grant would have surrendered a Tribe touchdown on a deep pass had the pass been accurate. The junior jumped what he thought was an out, but the receiver ran right by him and could have had an easy touchdown catch. We figured there would be some bumps in the road for Grant, at least early, as he is adjusting to playing a major role for the first time in his career. Florida State will be his toughest test yet.

De’Vante Cross and the Virginia secondary figures to be tested by a fast, athletic group of receivers from Florida State. ~ Photo courtesy of Matt Riley/Virginia Sports

2. De’Vante Cross, Free Safety

Cross has frankly surprised me with how well he has played early in 2019. The free safety position looks like a natural fit for the redshirt junior, who Mendenhall called a “journeyman” position-wise because he has played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and safety in his time at UVA. Florida State will be Cross’ toughest test yet and Virginia will need him to come up big, especially against the pass.

3. The running back position

No specific player here as Wayne Taulapapa, Mike Hollins and PK Kier have all flashed their ability early on in 2019, but how well one of these backs – or the entire group – plays as a complement to Perkins in the run game will be telling in terms of how this Virginia offense performs Saturday night.

Remember when …

Honoring one of the late George Welsh’s best victories as University of Virginia head coach …

It was indeed a memorable night in Charlottesville in 1995, when UVA took down the mighty Florida State Seminoles. One of the most electric atmospheres ever in Scott Stadium. Enjoy, and Go Hoos!

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