Cavaliers, Seminoles arrive in Tallahassee trending in different directions
Editor's note: Early Saturday morning, the ACC announced that tonight's scheduled game between Virginia and Florida State has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns with the Seminoles.
The rescheduling follows positive tests, subsequent quarantining, and contact tracing within the Florida State football team.— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) November 28, 2020
The team is adhering to the outlined protocols within the ACC Medical Advisory Group report. https://t.co/PA3nlkSSgr
Still, these ACC teams will play a rivalry game this weekend. They'll battle for the Jefferson-Eppes Trophy, which was first awarded in 1995. The Seminoles and Cavaliers seem to be trending in different directions. Since knocking off No. 5 North Carolina, FSU has lost three straight games by an average margin of 26 points to fall to 2-6. Virginia has responded from a 1-4 start with three straight wins to improve to 4-4.
Last season's contest in Charlottesville was a close one between the schools. The Seminoles held a fourth-quarter lead, but Bryce Perkins rallied Virginia for a 31-24 victory. The Cavaliers stopped Cam Akers shy of the end zone on the game's final play. Saturday's contest at Doak Campbell Stadium will be the first meeting between the schools in Tallahassee since 2014.
Virginia at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia -9.5
When Virginia Has the Ball
After a lackluster start to the season offensively, Virginia has averaged 43 points per game during its winning streak. A big reason for Virginia's offensive resurgence has been the play of sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Over the last four games, Armstrong has 13 total touchdowns and just one interception. Like Perkins last season, Armstrong is also a threat with his legs as he leads the Cavaliers with 399 rushing yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Aiding Armstrong in the ground game will be Wayne Taulapapa, Shane Simpson, and Keytaon Thompson. Taulapapa is tied for the team lead with four touchdown runs and found the end zone three times against the Seminoles last season. Armstrong will also have a deep corps of pass-catchers. Billy Kemp IV leads the ACC with 52 catches for a team-high 517 yards. Lavel Davis Jr. and 6-foot-7 tight end Tony Poljan have each reeled in five touchdown passes. As a team, the Cavaliers rank eighth in the ACC in total and scoring offense.
Defensively, Florida State has been atrocious this season, and attrition has not helped. The Seminoles recently lost both of their starting defensive tackles in Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden. Wilson suffered a season-ending injury while Durden opted out. Slowing down the run won't be easy for FSU, but it will be important. The Seminoles will need big games from linebackers Amari Gainer and Emmett Rice, the team's top two tacklers.
Despite losing key pieces, the run defense has actually been better in recent weeks for FSU. In their last two games, the Seminoles have held each of their opponents to fewer than 150 yards on the ground. Asante Samuel Jr. leads the team with three interceptions and headlines an underwhelming secondary. FSU was eager to get safety Hamsah Nasirildeen back in the lineup last time out against NC State. FSU ranks just 14th in the ACC in total and scoring defense. Defensive end Janarius Robinson's three sacks leads an FSU team that has the fewest in the conference.
When Florida State Has the Ball
After missing the last six quarters with an injury, Jordan Travis is expected back at quarterback for the Seminoles on Saturday. Travis is a better runner than a passer but has provided a spark to the offense since being given the keys in the second quarter against Jacksonville State on Oct. 3. Travis is the leading passer and rusher for an FSU team that wants to run the ball.
The backfield is the strength for the Seminoles on offense. Travis is among four rushers for FSU with more than 200 yards rushing and averaging better than five yards per carry. La'Damian Webb, Jashaun Corbin, and Lawrance Toafili — all first-year players — will share the load on the ground.
The Seminoles managed just 95 rushing yards on 3.3 yards per carry last season in Charlottesville. FSU is also without a lot of pieces on offense. Tamorrion Terry, FSU's best receiver, recently opted out while Devontay Love-Taylor, its best offensive lineman, went down with a season-ending injury. Look to see more of wide receiver Ontaria Wilson, who finished with a career-high seven catches for 117 yards in the 38-22 loss to NC State last time out.
As is the case with the Virginia offense, the Cavaliers sit in the middle of the pack in the ACC in total and scoring defense. The bad news for FSU is that Virginia does do a nice job generating pressure. Linebacker Charles Snowden ranks fifth in the ACC with six sacks, and the Cavaliers have six players with at least 2.5 sacks. Unfortunately for Virginia, Snowden suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. Virginia finished with three sacks and nine tackles for loss in last season's win over FSU and could use a similar performance.
Virginia does a nice job forcing turnovers and turning those into points too. The Cavaliers have 14 takeaways this season and two interception returns for touchdowns. Linebackers Noah Taylor and D'Sean Perry each returned picks more than 80 yards for scores this season. The linebacking corps is the strength of the Virginia defense. Along with Taylor, Nick Jackson and Zane Zandier each rank in the top 10 in the ACC in tackles. The two have combined for 152 stops. Safety Brenton Nelson leads the team with two interceptions.
Unfortunately for Florida State, last week's COVID-19 controversy with Clemson stole headlines, but distractions have become all too common for the Seminoles this season. FSU comes into Saturday night in a fragile state, both physically and mentally, while Virginia seems to be turning a corner at the right time. With Virginia's offense clicking, FSU's defensive struggles will be the difference on Saturday night.
Prediction: Virginia 38, Florida State 24
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
(Brennan Armstrong photo courtesy of Virginia Cavaliers Facebook page)