Nov. 18, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Normally, this one would be the definition of a trap game.
You’ve got a season-ending matchup with your biggest rival next week in which a state championship is on the line but first you must play a team that historically you’ve had no trouble handling; the ingredients are there for the trap-game recipe.
But not this time. Not this game.
Yes, the No. 23/25 Florida State football team does have a showdown with Florida next weekend down in Gainesville. And yes, FSU is 14-2 all-time against Virginia, who will come to Tallahassee for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday game. But the Cavaliers are too good to simply take for granted.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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UVa has had too good of a season to warrant an over-look.
“They’ll come in here very confident, fired up and ready to play,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We will definitely have our work cut out for us.”
It’s no accident that Virginia is 7-3 overall and in control of its own destiny in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division with two games remaining. The Cavs have flourished in head coach Mike London’s second season in Charlottesville and boast a big, physical offensive line that paves the way for potential 1,000-yards rusher Perry Jones and rarely gives up a sack.
UVa’s defense also ranks 26th in nation by allowing just 332.2 yards per game.
“Our guys are going to have to in their minds mentally understand how physical and tough this game is going to be, Fisher said. “We’re going to have to be able to control the lines of scrimmage. We just tell them straight up.”
Controlling the line of scrimmage has been the speciality of FSU’s defensive front. The ‘Noles rank fourth in the nation in run defense, 10th in sacks and 16th in tackles for loss.
It’s that trio of statistical rankings that has defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ group ranked fifth overall in total defense. FSU gives up just 279.5 yards per contest.
If Florida State’s defense — and its offense, for that matter — needed any further motivation to not look past the Cavaliers and to keep playing as strongly as it has during a five-game winning streak, Saturday’s game will serve as a celebration of the seniors.
London said earlier this week that he and his team understand that FSU is going to be fired up, ready and waiting for the Cavaliers no matter what the history has been between the two because every player in a garnet jersey and gold pants wants the Seminoles’ fourth-year players to finish their home careers in style.
“It’s been an exciting week to get ready and prepare for a really, really good Florida State team,” London said. “Playing well the last several games. Being on the road. The recognition of their seniors. I know the atmosphere is going to be fantastic with a national audience. Couldn’t ask for more. Look forward to the challenge. Look for having a good game.”
A good game for Florida State is one in which the defense does it job and the offense — led by Virginia native EJ Manuel — sustains its improved ability to hold on to the football.
FSU didn’t turn the ball over in last week’s win over Miami and forced four Hurricanes giveaways. That lead to the ‘Noles moving out of a negative turnover-margin for the first time since week one of the season.
A lot of the credit for the improvement in ball security goes to Manuel, who has thrown just two interceptions in the last five games and has the Seminoles on the cusp of their first six-game winning streak since 2004. Saturday will be the first chance for the Virginia Beach, Va. native to start a game against the program that actively recruited him in high school.
“When he’s in there, our guys feel more confident, they feel better,” Fisher said. “They always feel if EJ is on the field we always have a tremendous chance to win. It’s never over till it’s over. I think that gives your program a great sense of security. He’s just a phenomenal young man all the way around.
“He represents everything that’s right in college sports, but also in life in general. He really does.”
With a win over UVa the Seminoles would secure a third-place finish in the ACC, which will surely come in handy when bowl invites are sent out.
Those that will be in attendance on Saturday are encouraged to get there early. Kick-off is not until 7:30 but the seniors will be honored with a special ceremony at 7:15 p.m. and there will be a flyover by the U.S. Coast Guard at 7:24 p.m.
The game airs live nationally on ESPN2.