-- Virginia's football team may be faster, stronger and deeper than ever before, but Saturday night's 36-3 loss at seventh-ranked Florida State showed that the sixth-ranked Cavaliers still aren't ready for prime time.
After rolling over lesser competition in its first five games, Virginia never challenged the Seminoles, who have won the ACC championship in all but one of their 12 seasons in the conference. Florida State won for the 12th time in its 13 meetings against the Cavaliers, who have never won in 23 road game against top-10 opponents.
Even though Virginia entered the game with a higher ranking, Florida State showed once again that it has superior talent, speed and strength. Wherever the Cavaliers ran, more than one FSU defender was waiting. Whenever Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans threw, the Seminoles were bearing down on him. And wherever the Seminoles ran and threw, the Cavaliers weren't there quickly enough.
"They had too much for us," Virginia tailback Alvin Pearman said. "They just dominated us from the start."
The Cavaliers (5-1, 2-1) seemed overwhelmed from the beginning, playing in front of a crowd of 84,155 fans, the second-largest in Doak Campbell Stadium history. Virginia made a plethora of mistakes, from a missed field goal attempt to a blocked punt to untimely penalties, helping FSU (5-1, 3-1) take a 12-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
"We didn't get off to a good start doing anything," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "I thought it would be a very difficult test. It was far and away the best team we've played, maybe the best Florida State team we've encountered since we've been here."
Seminoles quarterback Wyatt Sexton was simply too good, completing 20 of 26 passes for a career-high 275 yards and one touchdown. His 24-yard touchdown pass to Chauncey Stovall, who out-jumped cornerback Marcus Hamilton on the right side of the end zone, gave FSU a 19-0 lead with 2 minutes 33 seconds left in the first half.
Sexton, the son of Seminoles assistant head coach Billy Sexton, was making just his third career start but played like a seasoned veteran against Virginia's young secondary. He completed two long passes to Willie Reid to set up FSU's first two second-half scores, Xavier Beitia's 32-yard field goal and tailback Leon Washington's five-yard run, which made it 29-3 with 141/2 minutes remaining.
FSU sophomore Lorenzo Booker, who ran 15 times for a career-high 123 yards, scored two touchdowns, including a five-yarder that made it 36-3 with 6:38 left. The Seminoles ran 39 times for 192 yards against a Virginia defense that allowed an average of only 85.4 yards in its first five games, and FSU out-gained the Cavs, 470-281.
"I thought the key to their team was the two [running] backs," Groh said. "We certainly thought those two backs would be terrific coming in here, having played them before, and they were as terrific as we thought they'd be."
Virginia's offense struggled mightily, with its only points coming on junior Connor Hughes's 23-yard field goal at the end of the first half. The Cavaliers averaged 42.4 points and 275 rushing yards in their first five games, but it was much more difficult against the Seminoles. Hagans played admirably, completing 20 of 30 passes for 214 yards before leaving early in the fourth quarter because of a hip injury. But the Cavaliers ran 29 times for only 20 yards, and Hagans was sacked four times.
"We wanted to run the ball against them, and they were just too strong up front," Pearman said.
Along with scoring a safety, the Seminoles missed a field goal attempt and made one, and then they made the Cavaliers pay dearly for their mistakes with less than nine minutes remaining in the half.
After Sexton threw a 32-yard pass to Stovall at the Virginia 24, the Cavaliers appeared to have the Seminoles stopped at the 21. But on third down and seven, Cavs defensive tackle Andrew Hoffman was penalized five yards for being offside. On third down and two, linebacker Kai Parham stuffed Washington for a loss, but Parham was penalized five yards for grabbing Washington's face mask, giving FSU a first down at the Cavaliers 11. Booker scored on a six-yard run two plays later, and Beitia's extra point gave the Seminoles a 12-0 lead with 8:46 remaining in the half.
On Virginia's first drive, after Hagans threw a 40-yard pass to Pearman, Hughes missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. FSU pinned the Cavaliers at their 11-yard line on their next possession, and they weren't able to generate anything offensively. On fourth down, FSU linebacker Ernie Sims blew past Pearman to block Sean Johnson's punt through the end zone for a safety and 2-0 lead with 7:20 left in the quarter.
The Cavaliers seemed to get a break on the final play of the first quarter, when the Seminoles tried a fake punt from the Virginia 42, with punter Chris Hall throwing back across the field to defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. Virginia linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba stopped Wimbley for a six-yard loss, but he grabbed Wimbley's face mask and was penalized five yards, leaving the Seminoles with fourth down and one from the 38. Fullback James Coleman ran for two yards and a first down, and Beitia kicked a 26-yard field goal five plays later for a 5-0 lead.
"With our team, with the talent we have, I would have never imagined us losing like this," Virginia cornerback Tony Franklin said.