Now they begin ACC play on Oct. 2 with a visit from Florida State (3-1, 1-0 ACC). The Cavaliers are fourth in the ACC in passing yards per game (271.3), but they're about to face a feared pass rush.
The Seminoles lead the nation with 19 sacks. Eleven different players have recorded quarterback takedowns.
"When we were going into the USC game, everybody was talking about how the defensive line, they're everything," Virginia junior left tackle Landon Bradley said. "They're all prospects for the NFL and everything. So you've just got to go into it with the mindset of, I mean, we've put several linemen in the NFL here on the offensive line, so you've got to be able to understand that we all weren't recruited for no reason."
Bradley said the Richmond and VMI defensive linemen were shorter and slower than those at USC and Florida State.
He said that means the Cavaliers will have to take shorter angles to get to the Seminoles' linemen quicker. Florida State had eight sacks in its 34-10 win over Brigham Young. Virginia head coach Mike London said the Seminoles blitz in addition to the pass rush generated by their front four.
"The whole mindset is they get up the field," London said. "They rush the passer. That's what they do. ... So it's going to be a challenge to provide protection for (quarterback) Marc (Verica). So whether that means some out-of-pocket stuff or whether that means quick passing game or whatever it be, we've got to find a solution to try to do something to help us because those ends, and the two guys inside particularly, they get great push up front."
--Virginia leads the ACC in points allowed per game (12.3). The Cavaliers rank seventh nationally in the statistic. Two of their games were against FCS opponents, but Virginia also held Southern California to 17 points. The Trojans have averaged 43.7 points per game in their other three wins.
--The Cavaliers are expecting a fiery crowd at Scott Stadium for their first contest against Florida State since 2006. White T-shirts will be given to fans as the Cavaliers attempt to have a "white-out" effect at the stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads 13-2 (last meeting, 2006, 33-0 Florida State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cavaliers demonstrated a strong running game in their first two contests, but VMI was committed to stopping the run. The Cavaliers passed for five touchdowns in that game. They rank fourth in the ACC in passing yards per game (271.3), but most of the big plays are set up by the rushing attack, led by Perry Jones and Keith Payne (five touchdowns). If the Cavaliers can establish the run against Florida State, they may be able to free up big-play receivers Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cavaliers' switch to the 4-3 from the 3-4 has paid dividends thus far. Players said they're more free to make plays instead of thinking and worrying about mistakes. The unit is faster and has been able to create turnovers. Junior CB Chase Minnifield leads the ACC and is third in the nation in interceptions (three). That's because the front four has been able to generate pressure. Junior DE Cam Johnson leads the team with 3.5 sacks. The Cavaliers lead the ACC and are seventh in the nation in points allowed per game (12.3).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This will be another game to try to see where we are right now. I've always said we're a work in progress, and we're looking to improve and get better. This game will also give me an opportunity to see what we need to work on, continue to work on, what pieces of the puzzle we need to address in recruiting, just a whole lot of questions still left to answer." -- Virginia first-year head coach Mike London on how the Florida State game will be a measuring stick for his program.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State at Virginia, Oct. 2 -- The Cavaliers have played two FCS opponents but they gave a credible performance in their biggest test of the season, a 17-14 loss to Southern California. The contest against the Seminoles will provide head coach Mike London another measuring stick. Florida State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) has a disruptive pass rush (a nation-leading 19 sacks) and a star quarterback in Christian Ponder.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Virginia may have to establish running backs Perry Jones and Keith Payne early. That would allow the Cavaliers to get their passing game going with play-action fakes. The Cavaliers are also wary of falling behind early and having to pass to catch up. That would allow the Seminoles to unleash their fearsome pass rush. Eleven different players have accounted for 19 sacks this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LT Landon Bradley -- The 6-foot-7 junior could have his hands full with Florida State sophomore Brandon Jenkins. Bradley has certainly improved this year, but Jenkins has 4.5 sacks this season. He ranks fourth in the nation in sacks per game (1.22).
DE Cam Johnson -- Johnson has collected 3.5 sacks this season, but all came against FCS competition. For Johnson to take the next step and become a reliable pass rusher, he'll have to perform against the big boys. Florida State will provide a test.
QB Marc Verica -- With two of their three games against FCS competition, the Cavaliers still don't know what to make of Verica. He's appeared sharp for the most part, but he threw a critical red zone interception in the Cavaliers' 17-14 loss to Southern California. Verica threw 16 picks compared to just eight touchdowns when he started nine games in 2008. The Florida State game should show whether Verica has truly become a reliable quarterback.
--Sophomore WR Tim Smith is out for the season because of an ankle injury. Smith has surgery scheduled for Oct. 1. He made three catches for 28 yards in two games. He had one rush for 16 yards. Junior receivers Jared Green and Matt Snyder are expected to receive more playing time in Smith's absence.