Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Five storylines: FSU vs. Virginia Tech
By David M. Hale
Three months ago, Thursday night's showdown at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., figured to be the marquee game of the year for Florida State. While the Seminoles have largely held up their end of the bargain, however, Virginia Tech's season has quickly devolved into a train wreck.
Still, there's plenty on the line for both teams Thursday as the Hokies try to salvage some respect and Jimbo Fisher's crew closes in on an ACC championship game berth.
So as we get set for the penultimate conference game of the season for FSU, here are five key storylines to watch.
1. Can FSU create some Doak Campbell magic on the road? At home, Florida State has been utterly dominant, averaging better than 50 points a game and winning all six contests handily. On the road, however, it's been a slightly different story. It's not that FSU has been awful, but the Seminoles haven't shown that same attention to detail. Slow starts at USF and Miami led to unnecessarily close finishes, and a dismal second half at NC State cost FSU a game. The biggest key could be cashing in on opportunities. FSU scores touchdowns in the red zone 78 percent of the time at home (11th-best in the nation) but just 43 percent of the time on the road (97th nationally).
2. Can Florida State hang on to the football? Nothing swings the momentum like a turnover, and the Seminoles have been particularly generous at coughing up the football in their past two games. FSU fumbled 10 times (losing six) against Miami and Duke, and while it didn't cost them the win in either contest, Fisher knows his team might not be so lucky in the hostile confines of Lane Stadium. He's worked extensively on ball-security drills during the bye week, but Fisher said the biggest key is simply keeping a sharp mental focus throughout.
3. Does Virginia Tech have anything left in the tank? It's been a lost season for Frank Beamer's bunch, which is in danger of finishing with a losing record for the first time in two decades. With last week's loss at Miami, the Hokies fell to 4-5 and lost their best shot at making it to the ACC championship game. But Beamer has two things going for him this week. First, Virginia Tech has played much better at home with a 4-0 mark at Lane Stadium this season. Secondly, FSU represents the Hokies' chance at redemption, and the Seminoles figure to get Virginia Tech's best shot. With FSU needing a win to all but lock up an ACC title shot, this game could define the season for both teams.
4. Which Virginia quarterback has the better day? Logan Thomas and EJ Manuel often draw comparisons. They're both from Virginia, and both are physically imposing -- more closely resembling defensive ends than quarterbacks. Entering the season, Thomas was seen as a potential first-round draft pick and Manuel had much to prove. Through nine games, however, the roles have reversed. Manuel leads the ACC in QB rating (174.03) and Thomas is 11th (122.12). Manuel leads the ACC in completion percentage (70 percent) and Thomas is dead last (53.3 percent). Manuel has thrown just four interceptions this season and Thomas has tossed 12. Still, Thursday's game in their home state might be even more telling for both quarterbacks than the first nine have been.
5. Will Florida State's offensive line hold up against the Hokies' pass rush? Virginia Tech's front four figured to be one of the best in the country entering the season, but the unit hasn't exactly lived up to the hype. Virginia Tech is seventh in the ACC in sacks (18) and eighth in run defense (166 yards per game). Thursday could be a chance to improve on those numbers, though. While FSU's offensive line has been exceptional at times this season, things haven't looked nearly as good on the road, where the Seminoles have allowed eight of their 13 sacks and are averaging 69 fewer rush yards per game than at home.