What to watch for when Virginia Tech has the ball:
Virginia Tech has uncharacteristically struggled to run the ball this year, with starting tailback Brandon Ore only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. He ran better in the last two games (Boston College and Georgia Tech), averaging over 4.5 yards per carry in each. Most of VT's struggles in the running game have been the result of a young and injury-plagued offensive line. Their starting center is likely out for this game with a high ankle sprain, leaving freshman backup Beau Warren to play through a leg injury of his own. Watch the interior of Virginia Tech's offensive line early; Florida State's strong DT's should win this matchup handily. If they do not, it will be a very bad sign.
Tech's offense is built around a power running attack out of the I-Formation, but they pair this with a play-action vertical passing attack. Receiver Darrell Royal is the one player on their offense whose speed should scare Seminole fans, but Hokie coach Frank Beamer said earlier in the week that it is unlikely that Royal will play due to injury. I expect Florida State to challenge VT's receivers with man-free coverage early while stacking the box against the run in the effort to force the Hokies to beat them with the big play in the passing game.
Despite Beamer's attempt to hide his hand as far as the starting quarterback, the question is largely irrelevant since we are likely to see both quarterbacks. When Glennon is in the game, I expect FSU's corners to play a little softer on the outside while the front seven will blitz more often. Though he is a better athlete than he has been in the past, he is still not particularly mobile, so expect FSU to blitz early and often while he is in the game. Once Tyrod Taylor enters, the ‘Noles will likely blitz less (since his escapability makes the blitz more risky) but will play tighter on the corners. If Florida State is able to get up by a score or two early, they will blitz even more frequently, even when Taylor is in the game. Many of these blitzes will be essentially "run blitzes" through the interior gaps, effectively forcing runs wide and bringing pressure directly in the quarterback's face.
Virginia Tech's offense has struggled most of the year, and FSU's defense is designed to stop exactly what they do best. If Tech is to win this year, it will have to win it with defense and a couple key big plays, because it is likely that history will repeat itself with Florida State's defense having the upper hand in this matchup.
When Florida State has the ball:
Virginia Tech likes to stack the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and their defense is known for its speed and aggressiveness. Despite this, they will play mainly zone coverages designed to minimize the big play. As a result, most of FSU's throws will be of the short to intermediate variety (very similar to what we saw against BC). Tech's linebackers run very well, so the bubble-screen play that has been a big part of FSU's offense the last few weeks will have a tougher matchup this week. It is critical that the receivers block well on the outside. FSU's receivers should have the edge against VT's secondary; as long as the protection holds, I expect FSU to put up some points through the air.
The Hokies' defensive line is fast on the outside and huge on the inside, but this matchup should actually be friendlier to the ‘Noles than it looks on paper. As with last week, watch FSU's offensive guards on the first few running plays. If we are able to get a crease or two, it will be a very good sign. Unlike last week, however, the bigger matchups are on the outside. David Overmyer and Shannon Boatman will have their hands full with Tech's very fast and active defensive ends. This, in my eyes, is the key matchup of the game. Keep your eyes on the ‘Noles offensive tackles on early pass plays—if FSU is able to get a draw at this spot, they will win the game. If not, Weatherford will have trouble establishing the solid rhythm that is even more important on the road.
One thing that should help Florida State in this department is that Weatherford has begun to demonstrate a solid grasp of Jimbo Fisher's system, getting us into the right checks at the line. As long as the ‘Noles are able to do this at the line in the very hostile environment of Lane Stadium, it should make a huge difference in neutralizing a very good Virginia Tech front seven.
Virginia Tech has been a paper tiger most of the season, living off their (generally deserved) reputation. Their close loss to BC in a driving rainstorm two weeks ago only improved their image in the eyes of the media. However, I cannot forget the way that LSU dominated them on both fronts and made the Hokies look slow across the board. FSU does not have LSU's talent, but I expect FSU to win this game by a surprisingly large margin, dominating the game with their defensive front and getting a few big plays in the passing game. ‘Noles win, 27-10.
Gameday Prediction: FSU vs. VT
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