Only seven FBS defenses in the nation have allowed a lower percentage of red zone touchdowns than Virginia this season, and indeed, it was the Cavaliers’ stinginess when backed up against their own goal line that kept Virginia in contention Saturday night at No. 25 Florida State. The Cavaliers ended up winning, 14-13.
With just more than nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel completed a 68-yard pass to wideout Bert Reed. Were it not for Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield’s touchdown-saving tackle at the one-yard line, the Cavaliers would have found themselves in a two-possession hole.
Instead, the Virginia defense stopped Florida State on three straight plays, and the Seminoles settled for a 21-yard field goal. The Cavaliers allowed a multitude of big plays on the night, but they gave up just one touchdown.
Thirteen points tied a season-low for Florida State, which is averaging 32.6 points per game this fall. Oklahoma was the other defense that contained the Seminoles as effectively as Virginia did.
Scoring at all in the red zone against the Virginia defense has proven difficult for opponents this fall. The Cavaliers are tied for fifth place in the country in red zone scoring defense.
But that’s not to say the Virginia defense coasted Saturday night. Far from it. The Cavaliers gave up 186 rushing yards, marking just the third time this season an opponent has rushed for more than 150 yards against Virginia. And the Cavaliers gave up their share of long pass completions, as well.
But when the Virginia defense most needed to stand tall, it did. Minnifield, reserve defensive end Bill Schautz, linebacker Steve Greer and reserve cornerback Drequan Hoskey were among the Cavaliers defenders who made big plays against Florida State.
Florida State had little trouble running the ball in the first half against a Virginia defense that had been much improved in that regard this season. The Seminoles – who had gained 63 rushing yards the week before against Miami and entered Saturday averaging 120.1 rushing yards per game – recorded 155 rushing yards before halftime.
A week after not allowing a single rush of 10 or more yards in a 31-21 win over Duke, the Virginia defense was gashed in the first half Saturday by several long Florida State runs. The first one came on a reverse by wideout Rashad Greene that gained 53 yards and put the Seminoles deep in Virginia territory with just less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Virginia allowed Florida State to tally seven rushes Saturday that gained 10 yards or more.
The Cavaliers entered the game having allowed the fewest first-quarter points (10) among FBS teams in the nation, and they kept that number stagnant thanks in large part to the fumble Schautz forced while sacking Manuel on the Virginia 18-yard line two snaps after Greene’s long run.
The Seminoles went scoreless in the first quarter Saturday for the first time since Oct. 28, 2010, a string of 16 games.
Also, it should be noted that Florida State’s rushing potency did not carry over into the second half, during which the Seminoles carried the ball 17 times for 31 yards.
As far as pass defense goes, the Cavaliers followed their recent pattern: Give up a number of long completions, but otherwise perform adequately. Virginia allowed Florida State to complete five passes that gained 15 yards or more (including completions of 45, 68 and 23 yards). But none of them resulted in touchdowns*.
In fact, Florida State’s lone touchdown occurred on a second and goal play from the Virginia one-yard line. The Cavaliers appeared to be stacking the box to defend against the run. Seminoles reserve tight end Ja’Baris Little released from the line of scrimmage and ran a crossing route. Manuel found him wide open in the back of the end zone.
Take away those five passes, and this would be Manuel’s passing line on the night: 13 for 26 for 32 yards.
For the most part, Virginia was able to take advantage of an inefficient and undisciplined Florida State offensive line. The Cavaliers got decent pressure on Manuel and recorded three sacks in a game for the fourth time this season. Virginia’s pass rush has not been consistently effective this season, but when it’s on, it’s pretty useful.
Late in the fourth quarter, Florida State – which at that point led by six – faced third and 11 from the Virginia 30 yard line. The Seminoles barely were in field goal range, and another three points to their tally would have given them a two-possession advantage with less than three minutes to play.
But then Greer recorded his second sack of the night, a 14-yard loss that pushed Florida State out of field goal range and forced the Seminoles to punt. Florida State converted on just 3 of 13 third downs (23.1 percent) on Saturday.
Virginia ranks No. 11 in the nation (No. 2 in the ACC) in third down defense, having allowed opponents to convert 32.1 percent of the time this year.
Following the Florida State punt after Greer’s second sack, Virginia marched 75 yards in five plays and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
On Florida State’s final possession, Manuel attempted a 30-yard pass into the end zone intended for wideout Rodney Smith. In coverage for the Cavaliers was redshirt freshman cornerback Drequan Hoskey, who has been seldom-used on defense this season. He was in the game only due to a hamstring injury to fifth-year senior cornerback Dom Joseph.
Hoskey had good positioning and broke up the pass. It was an admirable effort for someone who suddenly was rushed into service in a critical situation. London said Sunday he hadn’t wanted a “60 or 70 percent Dom,” so instead he opted for a fully healthy Hoskey.
“Drequan was probably doing his special teams thing, watch the game and all of the sudden, ‘You’re in there,’” London said. “His eyes got big, but he went in there and he played, and that one long pass, he actually played his hands through the hands of the receiver like (cornerbacks coach Chip) West teaches the corners. … He had a chance to step up and actually made a crucial play in the game. That confidence for him is immeasurable.”
Here’s a rundown of how the Cavaliers fared against Florida State, based on some of the goals defensive coordinator Jim Reid has said they try to meet each game:
Rushing yards allowed
Goal – 105
Florida State – 186
Passing yards allowed
Goal – 225
Florida State – 200
Total yards allowed
Goal – 330
Florida State – 386
Goal – at least 3
Florida State – 2