Notebook: Although Struggling, FSU Won’t Be A Day At The Park

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Fans on The Hill celebrate one of Virginia’s numerous first-half touchdowns against William & Mary (Photo by John Markon).

Just because Florida State has fallen upon hard times the past two seasons and has gotten off to a shaky start this season, doesn’t mean that the Seminoles are going to be easy.

FSU (1-1) comes to Charlottesville for the first time since 2010, when the ‘Noles invade Scott Stadium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network). Coach Willie Taggart, in his second season at the helm, has caught plenty of heat after Florida State lost its season opener at home to Boise State (36-31), then narrowly escaped an upset this past Saturday, also in Tallahassee, pulling out a 45-44 overtime victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

The rough start comes on the heels of the end of the nation’s longest bowl streak (36 years) last season when FSU went 5-7. Jimbo Fisher’s exit after a difficult 7-6 record in 2017 was the beginning of the program’s troubles.

While UVA opened as a 7-point favorite in Vegas, Coach Bronco Mendenhall cautioned those expecting this to be a stroll in the park to think again.

“I’m not sure [FSU’s program] has been down a couple seasons,” Mendenhall shot back at a reporter’s suggestion during Monday’s presser. “I think that last year it was a coaching transition, that’s probably what you would characterize as down.

“If Boise State is 18th or 17th or the 20th best team [in the polls], I’m not sure how when you lose to a team like that, that all of a sudden means that you’re down, so I don’t see anything on film that says they’re down.”

Certainly struggling to finish off Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday wasn’t much to get FSU’s fans excited about. The Warhawks, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, missed an extra point that could have extended the game into double overtime.

Mendenhall sees a dangerous FSU team coming to town.

“They’re dynamic and explosive and capable of putting a lot of points on the board and doing it really quickly,” the coach said.

FSU has scored 35 points in the first quarter through two games, the second-highest total in the nation. The ‘Noles put up 21 in the first quarter against Boise before the Broncos staged a late comeback for the win. 

Florida State and Clemson are the only two teams that Virginia’s seniors and fifth-years (even one sixth-year) have not faced during their time as Cavaliers. The only way UVA will face both is if it meets Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

“Florida State every year is full of talent and still full of talent, so it’s a game we’re taking very seriously,” said senior defensive end Eli Hanback. “We’re very excited for this. They have a lot of capable guys on both sides of the ball. It’s a game we have to play at our best. No matter what they’ve been through, they’re capable of winning any game they play in.”

Hanback was actually in attendance at Virginia’s last home game against FSU, a 34-14 Cavaliers loss.

Still, he is pleased that he gets a chance to play against one of the conference’s storied programs before he’s finished his playing days at UVA.

“It will definitely be cool to say down the road that I got to play against one of the historically best teams of all time, but right now, this week, it’s another opponent and we don’t need to be focused on the glamor of playing Florida State, but to just acknowledge they’re a very good football team and to get ready to play them,” Hanback said.

Because UVA hasn’t played FSU in such a long time, the Cavaliers are almost treating this as a nonconference game.

“I haven’t been in the league long enough to go through like — it usually changes for me when we go through [an opponent] twice,” said Mendenhall, into his fourth season in Charlottesville. “But it’s more of like a nonconference team, even though it has conference implications.

“So you can’t say [FSU] fits into either category perfectly, but our preparation would be more like nonconference with in-conference implications is the best way I think I can frame that.”


Gang’s All Here?

With Virginia attracting 45,000-plus fans for last Friday night’s home opening win over William & Mary, might we all expect an even larger crowd for this Saturday night’s game against the Seminoles?

Certainly that would be logical.

“One of my favorite things from Friday night was our student section,” Mendenhall said. “It was jammed. It was so much fun. What a cool thing for college students to have a chance on a Friday night to go to a football game and see good and winning football in an environment like that. I hope it’s just the beginning.

“It was noticeable to me,” the coach said about the student section. “I pay attention usually just before the game, and then they have to be pretty loud for me to notice during the game, and I noticed not only their section, but the grass hill on the end. It just started looking like, ‘Hey, this is starting to take shape.’”

Mendenhall reiterated that he hopes that was the beginning, not only for just the student section, but the community at large, and the state, and that long-time fans that have been so loyal are optimistic and enjoying what is happening with UVA’s program.”


ODU Game Time

ACC officials announced that Virginia’s home game against Old Dominion on Sept. 21 will begin at 7 p.m. and be televised by ESPN2. It will mark the fourth consecutive night game this season for the Cavaliers.


Joe’s 100 Honored By ACC

UVA kick returner Joe Reed was voted as the “ACC Specialist of the Week” after returning a kickoff 100 yards against William & Mary.

It was the longest return by an ACC player so far this season, and the only one returned for a TD. Reed was the fourth Cavalier to return a kickoff 100 yards for a score, and the first to do so since Marquis Weeks in 2004 against North Carolina.

This was Reed’s fourth kickoff return for a touchdown during his UVA career, with two in 2017, and one in 2018. He became the only Cavalier to return a kick for a touchdown in three separate seasons.


Short Yardage…

  • Mendenhall said that playing a Friday-night game, as UVA did in a 52-17 win over William & Mary last week, can be both an advantage and disadvantage. The disadvantage is a short week during that game week, but an advantage in using Saturday as an extra day of preparation for the upcoming opponent, which UVA did in bracing for Florida State. It also gives Cavalier players an extra day of recovery time for the next game.
  • UVA has only been penalized six times in the two wins this season, for a total of 66 yards. Mendenhall credits part of that by adding referees to practice throughout training camp. “We were more consistent with the volume and number and emphasis, which I think has made a difference,” the coach said. “I think that’s really helped. What I ask [officials] to do is if it’s even close, throw a flag. I’m not trying to have [players] build bad habits for the season. It helps us every time the flag is thrown because there is a teachable moment.”
  • Virginia is No. 14 in the nation (No. 2 in the ACC) in total defense, giving up an average of 228 yards per game. The Cavaliers finished No. 20 in the nation in 2018 in that category.
  • Bryce Perkins has become the fastest QB in UVA history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards and 3,000 career passing records. Perkins did it in 15 games, while the previous record was 31 career games by Shawn Moore (1987-90).
  • One of the big keys Saturday night will be how the Cavaliers’ run defense handles FSU running back Cam Akers, who has posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. Akers rushed for 193 yards against Louisiana-Monroe on a school-record 36 carries, and had another 55 receiving. He also scored three touchdowns. Virginia is allowing only 70.5 yards rushing per game to opposing ground attacks, an average of 2.2 yards per carry, much lower than Bronco Mendenhall’s goal of 3.5.


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