It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since Virginia Tech was a double-digit underdog for a home game, let alone a Thursday night affair at raucous Lane Stadium. Then again, it’s hard to believe the Hokies (4-5, 2-3 ACC) enter tonight’s nationally televised matchup with No. 8 Florida State (8-1, 5-1) sporting a sub-.500 record, needing two wins just to make another bowl game.
Not many believe Virginia Tech can win this game, even though it is 11-3 in Thursday night home games and 4-0 at Lane Stadium this year. The Hokies are 14.5-point underdogs, but senior Marcus Davis believes a win over Florida State would erase some of the sting from a season that has spiraled to depths nobody imagined.
Wide receiver Corey Fuller talked this week of a renewed spirit around the practice facility once the team recovered from last Thursday’s demoralizing loss at Miami and even laid out a scenario in which Virginia Tech emerges with a win.
“I just see offense, we’re finally clicking, moving the ball down the field, making big plays,” Fuller said. “Defense, stopping big plays from happening. And really, I’m looking at the end of the game, I can just see when the clock hits zero, we’re above. Virginia Tech has more points than FSU up on the scoreboard. It’d be great. I can just see fans rushing the field and they’re so excited after a semi-bad season.”
But imagining an upset and actually pulling one off are two different tasks, especially because the Seminoles are a bad second half at North Carolina State away from being squarely in the national championship picture. Here are three things that could determine the outcome of this one.
Virginia Tech’s OL vs. Florida State’s DL
One of the main reasons Florida State ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense is its ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with just four pass rushers. Senior defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine lead the ACC with eight sacks apiece, and it left tackle Nick Becton and right tackle Vinston Painter who will be counted on to slow them down.
Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas has been erratic when facing pressure this year, and Virginia Tech has yet to find a running back that can consistently pick up yards. Freshman JC Coleman is listed atop the depth chart this week, but considering how much the Hokies have shuffled tailbacks in and out of the lineup this year, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will see the majority of the carries Thursday. But Virginia Tech’s offensive line needs to pave the way for a consistent running game to stem the tide against a Florida State defense that has been dominant most of the season.
An underlying reason for Virginia Tech’s struggles this year is its turnover margin. The Hokies have committed too many and not forced enough. This week, defensive coordinator Bud Foster altered his depth chart to get more speed on the field, and linebacker Alonzo Tweedy and defensive end Dadi Nicolas are both expected to see extensive playing time. Florida State doesn’t have a receiver among the top 15 in the conference in receptions this year, but the Seminoles lead the ACC in plays of 60 or more yards (six). Keeping that offense off the field with some turnovers would do Virginia Tech good, especially since its offense has struggled to put up points of late.
No special teams gaffes
The last thing Virginia Tech wants to do is give Florida State free points from some sloppy special teams play, but the Hokies have done just that in three of their past four games. While the errors have mostly been fluky, they add up. Facing a team like Florida State, where there’s little margin for error, any kind of miscue would be disastrous.
The Hokies will have to put all three facets of the game together this week to beat the Seminoles, something they haven’t done all season. Given the Thursday night spotlight and the home crowd, my guess is Virginia Tech gives Florida State a run for its money. Ultimately, though, it won’t be enough.
My prediction: Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 23
What do you think? Can the Hokies salvage their season to a certain extent, score an unlikely upset on national television and open the door for Clemson to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division? Or will Coach Frank Beamer fall to 2-14 all-time when facing Florida State. Vote in the below poll and let me know how you think this game plays out in the comments section.