WATCH: Kendal Briles, Sept. 10
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After two weeks of encouraging production, the Florida State offense is about to increase its degree of difficulty.
Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is taking the show on the road for the first time, where he and the rest of the Seminoles will play at Virginia on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ACC Network).
Aside from all the usual complications that come with playing away from home – unfamiliar surroundings, a different routine and a potentially hostile environment – perhaps the biggest challenge FSU’s offense will face this week is also the most obvious:
The 25th-ranked Cavaliers appear to have a very strong defense.
After two games, albeit one against FCS William & Mary, UVA ranks 14th nationally in total defense (228.0 yards per game), 28th in scoring defense (15.5 points per game), 27th in passing defense (157.5) and 15th in run defense (70.5).
And while the Cavaliers had their way with William & Mary, they were no less impressive at ACC foe Pittsburgh in week 1. They limited the Panthers to just 263 total yards (78 on the ground) and shut them out in the second half of a 30-14 victory.
“They’re good,” Briles said. “They’re really physical up front. They’ve got guys with experience, they’re really long. … It’ll be a challenge for us.”
The Seminoles, of course, also believe that they’ll be a challenge for the Cavaliers as well.
Through two games, it’s clear that Briles’ effect on the offense is working as intended. FSU has already shown signs of progress at virtually every position on the field – particularly on the offensive line – and, after two games, have increased their scoring average from last year by nearly 17 points per game (21.9 to 38.0). Their 45 points against ULM were the most by an FSU team against an FBS opponent since November 2016.
And, truth be told, things have been far from perfect.
The Seminoles in each of the last two weeks have gotten out to fast starts, only to stall out as the games have worn on.
They’d also like to cut down on turnovers (five in two games) and clean up some of the mistakes and missed assignments that have tripped them up early in the season.
“It’s always good when you can put up 45 points on the board, but it was a sloppy 45,” tight end Tre’ McKitty said.
Added Briles: “We don’t look at the points we’re putting on the board. We look at the production we’re putting on the field.
“And we know we left a lot out there.”
To maximize their efficiency, the Seminoles will need virtually everyone to turn things up a notch.
Running back Cam Akers, the offense’s focal point for two weeks, will be up against a UVA front seven that lists five juniors or seniors among its starters.
Two of the linemen in their 3-4 front – freshman nose tackle Jawon Briggs and senior end Eli Hanback – weigh 295 and 300 pounds, respectively, and junior outside linebacker Charles Snowden stands at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds.
“They’re big bodies, so it makes the field look a little bit smaller,” Briles said.
FSU will also have to contend with a UVA secondary that features preseason All-American Bryce Hall.
A 6-1, 200-pound cornerback, Hall has five career interceptions and 41 passes defended, and many pundits believed he would enter the NFL draft after his junior year.
Hall, however, returned to school, and the stats gurus at Pro Football Focus last month named him the No. 1 defensive player in college football.
WATCH: James Blackman, Sept. 10
“He’s a pretty disciplined corner,” quarterback James Blackman said. “If he gets his hands on you, he’s pretty good. He plays the ball well. We’ve got to get after it.”
And, if recent form holds, the Seminoles’ offense will likely need to make the most of limited opportunities.
Virginia’s slow-paced, balanced offense (they have 52-48 run-pass ratio) has allowed it to amass an average time of possession of 35:28 – the 10th-highest in the country – despite averaging just 69 plays per game.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, are on the opposite end of the spectrum, having achieved their offensive success despite not holding the ball for very long at all. Their 24:38 average ranks 126th out of 130 FBS teams.
As long his unit is producing, though, Briles isn’t bothered by that. Nor is he concerned with what Virginia’s offense is trying to do when it’s on the field.
“It’s not my job to worry about what the defense is doing or what Virginia’s offense is doing,” he said. “We’ve got enough worries trying to get ourselves first downs and touchdowns. No concern there (with UVA’s pace). We’ve just got to do our thing and attack what they’re giving us.”