CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the second time in its first three games, Virginia will play an ACC opponent. Saturday night’s matchup with Florida State is the next major hurdle between the ‘Hoos and a possible division title.
The Seminoles have dynamic athletes on both sides of the football, but so far this season, they’ve been all offense. Led by running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, FSU has scored 76 points through the first four games.
The problem? The defense has allowed 80.
Curt Weiler, an FSU graduate, is in his fifth season covering the Seminoles and his second year at the Tallahassee Democrat.
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Weiler took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Florida State going into Saturday night’s showdown at Virginia.
For more on the Seminoles and their matchup with the Cavaliers, you can follow Weiler on Twitter @CurtMWeiler and read his coverage at Tallahassee.com.
1) It’s been a rocky start to the year for FSU. What is the mood in the locker room and where is the team’s confidence level?
In the wake of FSU’s season opening loss to Boise State, the team talked at length about how it was more mature and mentally prepared to not let things spiral like they did last season when the team faced adversity. An overtime win over ULM that only lasted a single overtime because of a missed extra point isn’t exactly an on field performance to back up what the team is saying off the field.
FSU head coach Willie Taggart talked after the ULM win about how his team is still learning how to win again as they look to get back to where the program should be and that they’ll take any win they can right now. That being said, he talked more at his weekly press conference Monday about all the areas the team has for growth and that they know they can play better. The players seemed to appreciate the win over ULM despite how close it was to a loss and is entering the Virginia game with displayed confidence, knowing how good the Cavaliers are and how important this game is for FSU’s season.
2) How will FSU’s defense attack the dual-threat capabilities of Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins? How have the Seminoles fared against mobile QBs, dating back to last year?
Through two games, FSU’s defense has had plenty of areas of weakness, but none more than the team’s inability to stop the run. In games against Boise State and ULM, FSU has allowed a combined 392 rushing yards, better than just Georgia Tech, West Virginia and Oregon State among Power Five teams.
Much of this has come from opposing running backs as the Seminoles’ linebackers have struggled to fill the proper gaps and stop the run effectively. However, FSU also struggled in shutting down ULM quarterback Caleb Evans on the ground, especially in the red zone, last weekend. Evans had two rushing touchdowns as FSU has also struggled to set the edge correctly and maintain contain on read options and outside run plays after instituting a new multiple defense this offseason.
On the list of all that was wrong with FSU last season, struggles against mobile quarterbacks wasn’t especially high on the list. However, early returns say that FSU’s run defense hasn’t improved at all and the Seminoles’ early season issues could definitely make Perkins’ legs a valuable asset to the UVA offense.
3) FSU has been outscored 48-17 in the second halves of its first two games this season. Hydration questions aside, what’s going wrong after halftime?
As mentioned above, Taggart has talked about his team—which has blown leads of 18-plus points in each of its first two games—still learning how to win after each of FSU’s first two games. However, in my opinion, FSU is simply getting out-adjusted by teams during the halftime break.
In each of the Seminoles’ first two games, FSU’s high powered offense has been overmatched in the second half. This was especially true in the first game when Boise State took away the deep passes that FSU was relying on in the first half and the Seminoles had no answer. The FSU defense’s inability to get off the field and keep drives short has also led to these players getting worn down over the course of each of the team’s first two games.
It’s been a precipitous fall for the FSU fanbase. FSU went from a head coach in Jimbo Fisher who is considered among the best in the game at in game adjustments to a coaching staff in Willie Taggart’s that doesn’t seem to have any answers or adjustments when things start going south.
4) Cam Akers went to FSU amidst much hype. In the last game, he looked like he’s living up to his potential. How much are the Seminoles leaning on Akers this season?
Akers’ promising development has been one of the few upsides for the Seminoles through two games. He was a five star recruit and the No. 1 running back in the 2017 recruiting class, but he’s struggled at times behind an underwhelming offensive line while he’s transitioned from quarterback, where he played in high school, to the backfield. This culminated with his program record 36 carries and 248 all purpose yards in the Seminoles’ win over ULM.
Through two games this season, Akers has looked more like a complete running back than he ever did in his first two years. He’s developed better instincts for finding the hole, improved at making defenders miss and used his physicality to his advantage. It hasn’t hurt him that his offensive line has improved significantly at run blocking from last season. He already has nearly twice as many yards before contact as he did over the entire 2018 season.
FSU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will continue to use the pass consistently. James Blackman has shown promise at times and FSU’s wide receiver group is among the deepest on the team. However, Akers has proven he’s capable of being that workhorse for the team and looks as dangerous now as he ever has during his FSU career.