Eyeing Four-Game Win Streak, Virginia Football Hits The Road To Take On Florida State

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Virginia football will be without the playmaking and the leadership of Charles Snowden against Florida State on Saturday. ~ Photo courtesy of Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Home proved to be sweet for the University of Virginia football program, which defeated North Carolina, Louisville, and Abilene Christian in Scott Stadium the past three games to even its 2020 record at 4-4. For the winning streak to continue, the Hoos will have to notch their first road win of the season this Saturday in Tallahassee against Florida State.

Virginia returns to the Sunshine State to face a reeling Seminoles squad (2-6) that has lost three straight games by an average of 24 points per game. The matchup begins what head coach Bronco Mendenhall calls the “homestretch” of a trying season during a global pandemic.

“I’ve been thinking about this journey we’ve been on to this point this year,” Mendenhall said. “And the amount of work that’s gone in to get basically to chapter three now of this season. There’s kind of different stages that I’ve seen. We’ve had Brennan Armstrong for six of our eight games, and I really like the way he’s played. And I like our team. And the chemistry we have with him as our leader. Having lost to Clemson and Miami with him completing the games, I think he’s growing, maturing and developing every week. Our team remains resilient, optimistic, positive, hard working. Most of our issues in terms of depth and roster now are not COVID-related, but injury related, which is coming through just the wear and tear of a long season and probably the most difficult schedule that I’ve ever taken on as the head coach or our staff. So, here we are framed now for the homestretch, which are the last three regular season games in the ACC. I just I’m just grateful. I’m lucky to be the coach of UVA and really thankful for this particular team, and all they’ve done to get us to this point.”

The past month has been successful for Virginia in terms of wins, but there have been some significant setbacks personnel-wise. The Hoos lost starting outside linebacker and team captain Charles Snowden for the season with a broken ankle during last Saturday’s win over Abilene Christian. In the days leading up to the ACU matchup, Virginia lost two starters – defensive lineman Jowon Briggs (transfer) and offensive lineman Dillon Reinkensmeyer (season-ending injury). Defensive end Richard Burney, who is also a team captain, was declared out for the season due to a medical condition following the Miami game.

Timely turnovers and clutch plays on defense and quality play – more points, less turnovers – from the Brennan Armstrong-led offense have fueled Virginia’s 3-game winning streak. UVA has scored no less than 31 points in each of its past three outings. Meanwhile, a young Florida State team that is set to feature only four senior starters this Saturday has struggled to score while surrendering 36.1 points per game. The Seminoles are averaging 22 points per game in 2020.


Points For (Per Game Average): UVA – 31.1, Florida State – 22

Points Allowed (Per Game Average): UVA – 28.9, Florida State – 36.1

Total Offense: UVA – 420.2, Florida State – 381

Total Defense: UVA – 431.5, Florida State – 464.2

Passing Yards Per Game: UVA – 256.5, Florida State – 196.6

Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: UVA – 289, Florida State – 270.8

Rushing Yards Per Game: UVA – 163.8, Florida State – 184.4

Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: UVA – 142.5, Florida State – 193.5

Turnovers Forced: UVA – 14, Florida State – 10

Turnovers: UVA – 16, Florida State – 15

Sacks: UVA – 28, Florida State – 9

Sacks Allowed: UVA – 14, Florida State – 28

Penalties Per Game: UVA – 38 penalties for 347 yards (43.4 yards per game), Florida State – 74 penalties for 643 yards (80.4 yards per game)


Three Opponents To Watch

Quarterback Jordan Travis, No. 13: Florida State’s offense has had 33 plays of 20+ yards. Quarterback Jordan Travis, who has started four of the Seminoles’ eight games, is responsible for 19, including 15 through the air and four on the ground. He leads FSU in rushing yards (469) and rushing touchdowns (6), and one of those scores was an 88-yard burst that demonstrated his big-play ability.

Travis has not been efficient as a passer, completing 52.2% of his 113 pass attempts and throwing five interceptions to four touchdowns. He has demonstrated the ability to connect on big pass plays, though. His 15 completions of 20+ yards have totaled 492 yards passing, almost 57% of his total passing yards. Travis has spread around those big pass plays, connecting with eight different receivers on pass plays of 20+ yards.

Travis, who is averaging 14.6 yards per completion, missed the past game-and-a-half with a concussion. Florida State’s other available scholarship quarterback, true freshman Tate Rodemaker, has a completion percentage above 60% but is averaging 7.75 yards per completion. If healthy, Travis is likely to get the start against the Hoos.

Cornerback Asante Samuel, No. 26: Florida State has created 10 turnovers in eight games. Samuel has been involved in five, as he leads the ACC with three interceptions and has recovered two fumbles. FSU’s best coverage corner, Samuel also has nine passes defensed and six pass breakups. As Sabre Editor Kris Wright pointed out in our weekly Podcast, Virginia had its first turnover-free game last week against Abilene Christian has to be careful against a playmaker like Samuel.

Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, No. 5: Florida State’s career leader in tackles and Preseason All-ACC pick Hamsah Nasirildeen made his 2020 season debut against NC State on November 14. The 6’4”, 220-pound safety had four tackles including a half a tackle-for-loss as the Wolfpack rolled to a 38-22 victory. Nasirildeen’s return will be a challenge for Virginia’s passing game, as he matches up well with tight end Tony Poljan and is a physical presence in the secondary.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong has been at the forefront of Virginia football’s turnaround in 2020. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Three Quotes

Coach Mendenhall discusses the specific areas in which Brennan Armstrong has improved: “Great quarterbacks have anticipation and great quarterbacks are really fast decision makers. And so I think Brennan’s accuracy of decisions without compromising speed is improving. So one of the great things is he’s so decisive and so competent. But like any of us, we can be fooled on occasion by an opponent or by a situation. His ability to discern what he’s seeing with accuracy and speed is improving each and every week. That’s what I see, he’s already a good athlete. He already has a strong arm. He already is a great leader, but I would say just the speed and accuracy of his decisions is what I see improving consistently.”

Coach Mendenhall on what challenges Florida State presents: “Yeah talent. There’s always a difference between outcome, and then what’s really happening on the field and what the potential matchups look like. So consistency usually is an issue for any team that’s struggling at the quarterback play in terms of dynamic playmaking. I see that as a huge challenge. But also, the talent throughout. If you put stock into the recruiting rankings, and you look at just the quality of a roster and now you add a new staff, they’re being coached well. And I’m talking about the discipline, the alignments, the assignments, the schemes. I see a transformation happening, as there’s a new staff and players kind of coming together, and again it’s in a pandemic as well so it’s probably slowed maybe their initial progress or as fast as they hope, but the signs are all over the place that there’s improvement in my opinion as I look now, not from the TV copy but just okay what’s really happening there. You have to say the talent on the roster, and you have to say the quality of coaching, in my opinion.”

FSU head coach Mike Norvell on Travis working his way back from a concussion: ““Jordan has looked good,” Norvell said in this article on the Tallahassee Democrat. “He got some work there last week, coming along, with not playing on Saturday, another day and opportunity for his entire body to feel better. Came out and I thought had a really good day today. Moving well, was throwing the ball all around, had some big plays downfield. It was a good workday for him. Just excited with where he’s at and just his continued development.”

Three Key Questions

1. How will UVA’s defense respond to the recent losses?

The departure of Briggs and the loss of Burney has made UVA thin on the defensive line. This does not even include freshman defensive end Nusi Malani, whose status is uncertain after sustaining an injury in the first half against Abilene Christian. The Hoos have two experienced defensive line starters in Mandy Alonso and Adeeb Atariwa as well as true freshman Jahmeer Carter, who has played well in a smaller role this season. Depth is the major concern on the defensive line. True freshman Su Agunloye and redshirt sophomore Jordan Redmond saw significant action against ACU, but that was the first action of the year for both players and Florida State is an increase in talent from the Wildcats.

Charles Snowden had been playing as well as any linebacker in the league before his injury. He led the Hoos in sacks with six, five of which came in wins over UNC and Louisville. Matt Gahm, who is now a starter opposite Noah Taylor, is a good player and Elliott Brown is a mature fourth year with promising athleticism and size. However, replacing Snowden’s versatility, production and leadership will be a challenge.

2. How does Florida State respond to the Clemson postponement?

Florida State decided against playing Clemson on November 21 when a Tigers player tested positive for COVID-19. The postponement made sense, as the player in question traveled with the team to Tallahassee but didn’t receive the test result until the day of the game, after Clemson had made the trek to FSU. Some on the Tigers side accused Florida State of being scared to play the Tigers. For a program with the rich history that the Seminoles have, that accusation alone could be great motivation against Virginia.

3. Can the defenses slow down the dual-threat quarterbacks?

Florida State surrendered over 500 yards of offense and 52, 42 and 48 points against Miami, Notre Dame and Louisville, teams with dual-threat quarterbacks. UVA signal caller Brennan Armstrong is coming off his best passing game as a Cavalier and leads the team in rushing yards. Armstrong has also cut down on the interceptions, throwing only two picks the past four games after opening the season with six interceptions in UVA’s first three games.

On defense, Virginia had played dual-threat quarterbacks well until Malik Cunningham and Louisville came to Charlottesville on November 14. Cunningham, who Bronco Mendenhall compared Jordan Travis to, ran through the Cavalier defense to the tune of almost 200 yards rushing. Assuming Travis is the starter for the Seminoles, keeping him contained will be paramount for the Virginia defense.

Three Picks

Sabre Editor Kris Wright

After winning three straight home games, Virginia heads back on the road this week. The last time UVA was out of town, in fact, it had a road game in Florida just like this week. That Miami game was competitive, but resulted in a 19-14 loss. Can the Cavaliers get their first road win of the year? The opportunity is there.

The biggest questions for me: run defense against a dynamic quarterback and maintaining the reduced turnover trend. The Hoos get a little help with the first one because seeing Louisville’s Malik Cunningham two weeks ago gave the defense a recent example to study and work on improvements. Cunningham ripped off 197 rushing yards and 2 TDs so if the defense can make some adjustments from that experience it could help defend Florida State’s Jordan Travis, who has 472 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry. If the defense can’t contain Travis, he’s capable of a big day and big plays like the 88-yard touchdown against Pitt. That could make it a close game with shootout potential. The other way that the Seminoles can test the Hoos is with turnovers. They’ve created 10 turnovers (5 INTs, 5 fumble recoveries) this season. Virginia has cleaned up its act lately and is coming off its first turnover free game of 2020. The 4 games from Miami through Abilene Christian have featured just 4 turnovers from the Wahoos after they committed 12 in the first 4 games.

Ultimately, I think UVA is more invested at this point in the season and is a more consistent place with its program. The Seminoles are young and appear to be finding their way in Mike Norvell’s first season. The Hoos take care of business.VIRGINIA 37, FSU 24 This season: 6-2.

Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne

Florida State has lost three straight, is 2-6, and has experienced its share of personnel losses the past few weeks, including star receiver Tamorrion Terry (left the team), star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson (season-ending injury), starting offensive lineman Devontay Love-Taylor (season-ending injury) and starting defensive tackle Cory Durden (opted out of the season last week). Still, if Norvell’s young squad comes to play (a question every week in this environment), FSU has the talent and speed to give Virginia trouble.

While depth on defense and a recently struggling traditional rushing attack are concerns for Virginia, I think the Hoos are better in the trenches, play a more solid brand of football in terms of penalties, have the experience edge, and have a quarterback who is a more consistent threat in the passing game and the run-game than either of FSU’s signal callers. This may be closer than some think, but I see UVA returning home to Charlottesville with its fifth win of the season. VIRGINIA 31, FSU 23 This season: 5-3.

Sabre Message Board Fan jdubforwahoowa

I honestly don’t know much about Florida State in the moment. I have been critical of the program’s moves in the time since Jimbo Fisher left and the Seminoles have fallen a long way from a CFP National Title in ’14. They have the one great win in ACC this year over UNC and have lost their other 6 ACC contests, really only staying with Georgia Tech in the opener over 2 months ago. I anticipate that they will have fans in the stands, which will be a novel concept for the Hoos, but they have performed well in the 8 p.m. kicks all year.

With my score pick fairly close, I do anticipate a good effort from the Seminoles and I would think they might be riled up some from Dabo Swinney’s unkind words on Sunday after that game with Clemson was postponed. We have only had marginal success in Florida so I am not anticipating an offensive explosion on our part, but hopefully a balanced attack that includes some yards from Wayne Taulapapa and Shane Simpson is enough to get a win. Ronnie Walker Jr. would be gravy this particular weekend, literally and figuratively to add to those, as well.

I anticipate that the Noles will be pass oriented, given our DB issues all year and our sudden depth issues in the front 7 with the defection of Jowon Briggs and the injuries to Nusi Malani (maybe back) and Charles Snowden (Get well soon, big fella!) plus the earlier loss of Richard Burney. So close game. We have to limit our mistakes and keep pushing forward and make this
a 4 game winning streak. Go Hoos! UVA 27, FSU 21. This season (last week DA LF heckler, win): 6-2.

Remember When …

The only time UVA has defeated Florida State in Tallahassee came in 2011, when Michael Rocco led the Hoos to a 14-13 victory. UVA’s most recent win over the Seminoles came last season, when Bryce Perkins guided the Hoos to a competitive win in Scott Stadium.

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