Up in the first half. Down in the second half. Highs and lows. The range of emotions.
Florida State fans have been on a wild ride already, just two games into the 2019 season. The Seminoles played well enough to win against Boise State. They played poorly enough to lose to ULM. And the knowledge that the team is 1-1 … but could have easily been 2-0 or 0-2.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess, even if the oddsmakers take a good shot at it. Now FSU is a 7-point underdog on the road to a Cavaliers team that was the preseason Coastal Division favorite and is playing the part.
It’s perfectly fair if FSU fans aren’t going into this game with much optimism after what has been a mostly frustrating start. Can the Seminoles pull off an upset? Yes, and it’s easy to say that they need to play well for more than a half. That’s too obvious a key.
Let’s look at five keys to a win over Virginia:
Max protect to keep James Blackman upright: Watching Jauan Williams hobble off with the injury early in the ULM game prompted some immediate reactions: Here we go again. Can Abdul Bello handle this? And if Williams isn’t back for Virginia, this could get ugly. Going into 2019, the big question marks were the health, chemistry and improvement of the line. And already those concerns have been heightened. Bello was very inconsistent as a blocker against ULM. He appears to struggle to block in pass protection as quicker ends run around him. James Blackman needs time to read the defense and make good decisions. FSU coaches may have to make sacrifices and use tight ends Tre’ McKitty and Gabe Cabers as a blocker as well as have Cam Akers or Khalan Laborn ready to chip the big boys as they bring pressure.
Run, run and keep running: FSU’s best chance to win games is to win a shootout Big 12-style or hammer away on the ground against Virginia. We can all acknowledge that there is a fun attached to the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12 and it’s a win even when it’s 58-51. But there’s plenty that can be said for not just establishing the run but also imposing the run on an opponent. Run early, run often, move the chains, extend drives, wear out the Cavaliers. Winning the time of possession battle isn’t a Kendal Briles strength. But the offensive coordinator loves to run. And wants to win regardless of the score. FSU has Akers and Laborn. Ride them to a victory.
Throw Virginia a curve ball: The Cavaliers have two games of film to watch, to construct a list of tendencies of Briles. Pull something unexpected out of the bag of tricks. We all know Briles has stuff. How about some old school FSU stuff? How about a little Kentucky Derby Offense? Maybe a No. 2 quarterback gets a drive with the first-team offense, just for grins, enough to throw the Cavaliers’ defense off its game. How about more formations with Akers and Laborn, both in the backfield or one lined up as a slot receiver?
Minimize damage from Bryce Perkins: Lots of questions of linebacker Leonard Warner, who said, “Obviously he is a pretty good runner,” Warner began as he discussed Cavs QB Bryce Perkins. “But I don’t think we are going to have too much trouble with him. We have a good game plan built up. I think we have pretty good plan for controlling him.” Ooh, boy. Don’t give Perkins bulletin-board material. He’s underrated nationally and a real talent. He can throw from the pocket or on the run. What now? Minimize how much he can run. Blanket receivers. Force him to make a play with his arm on third down and don’t give him rushing lanes.
Limit turnovers and penalties: Taggart said it after the win over ULM: Teams can’t commit 11 penalties and three turnovers and expect to win. The translation was obvious: Teams better than ULM will make FSU pay for mistakes. Give Virginia extra downs or added points due to self-inflicted mistakes and the game gets out of hand quickly. It’s a worn-out football cliche, but until the Seminoles learn they are often their own worst enemy this is an area we should watch each week.
What? A story without a mention of Jim Leavitt? Of course not. The hiring of the senior defensive analyst helps FSU in the long term. How much could he observe and advise in just a few days to provide a meaningful impact for FSU-Virginia? That seems like a tall order, although when Leavitt talks everyone should be listening.
In the coming weeks, the value of Leavitt should be evident. Maybe through game planning, film review and advice, Leavitt can help. Where to line up, evaluating potential backups who should be starters, which freshmen are ready to play?
We’ll see. It’s the kind of in-season addition that adds to what has already been a wild and unpredictable start for the Seminoles.
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