7 -- A top 10 ranking, an undefeated season and the ACC lead all came crashing down for Virginia's football team in an all-too-familiar place Saturday night. With a chance to grab sole possession of first place in the ACC, the Cavaliers were thoroughly over-matched and outplayed by Florida State in an ugly 36-3 loss at Doak Campbell Stadium.
It was supposed to be a coming-out party for Virginia, which had rolled over its first five opponents in securing a No. 6 ranking, the program's highest in 14 years. Instead, Florida State quarterback Wyatt Sexton came of age, throwing for a career-high 275 yards and one touchdown on 20-for-26 passing in his third start. The Seminoles (5-1, 3-1) beat the Cavaliers (5-1, 2-1) for the 12th time in 13 meetings, and Virginia has lost each of its last four games here by 21 points or more.
"I have always believed that every [game] just counts one, until they put a weighted average on every one of them," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "Somebody asked, 'Will this be the biggest win in the history of the program?' You don't have big wins in midseason. You have big wins in championship games. . . . It's a disappointing one, but it just counts one."
Certainly, it was a demoralizing and deflating one for the Cavaliers, who fell eight spots to No. 14 in the Associated Press top 25 poll. Virginia's offense looked explosive in its first five games; it was ineffective running (29 attempts for 20 yards) and throwing (quarterback Marques Hagans was sacked five times) against the Seminoles. It was Virginia's fewest points since losing 24-0 to N.C. State on Oct. 27, 2001.
Virginia's defense, which looked fast and stout during the Cavs' 5-0 start, couldn't run with Florida State's speedy running backs and receivers. The Seminoles ran 39 times for 192 yards, with sophomore Lorenzo Booker gaining a career-high 123 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Sexton completed six passes of 20 yards or more, including his 24-yard touchdown to Chauncey Stovall that gave FSU a 19-0 lead late in the second quarter. Virginia's special teams also had too many breakdowns, as the Cavs missed a field goal and had a punt blocked for a safety.
"The players knew what had to be done," Groh said. "They were very anxious for the competition. I think Florida State played very, very well, and it's one of the best Florida State teams I've seen."
Virginia has almost a month to prepare for its next big test, No. 4 Miami in Charlottesville on Nov. 13. The Cavaliers play at Duke (1-5, 0-3) on Saturday, and then face reeling Maryland (3-3, 1-2) on Nov. 6. Virginia will probably have to win its last five games to win the ACC, and then hope the No. 5 Seminoles lose at least one more conference game (they play at N.C. State on Nov. 11).
"We're not going to go hide in the closet," Virginia cornerback Tony Franklin said. "We made an incredible number of mistakes in this game. We'll correct them and move forward. It isn't over yet."
Cavaliers Notes: Groh said he won't know for a few days whether Hagans (hip) and senior guard Elton Brown (left knee) will play against the Blue Devils. Groh said Hagans showed improvement Sunday . . . . The Duke game has a 1 p.m. kickoff and will not be televised.