In his second season at Florida State, Willie Taggart may be under more pressure to win than any head coach in the ACC. The Seminoles, once seen as a perennial national title contender, struggled last fall to a 5-7 record.
We continue our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview series with Florida State, which will be hungry to shut down one of the conference’s up-and-comers when it invades Scott Stadium on Sept. 14 for the Cavaliers’ third-straight kickoff in prime time (7:30 p.m.).
The Seminoles’ offense will adopt a wide-open passing attack under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, and they’re waiting to see who is going to win the job at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore James Blackman is the favorite after splitting time last season with Deondre Francois. He’s competing with Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook, and FSU is still waiting on the NCAA to rule on Louisville transfer Jordan Travis’ eligibility.
Fixing the O-line
Of the many un-Florida State like things about last season, the most perplexing was its struggles on the offensive line. The Seminoles used nine different starting combinations, which tied for the most of any Power 5 program, and each one struggled as much as the next. In 2018, Florida State ranked dead last in the ACC with 91.1 rushing yards a game, and it was No. 12 in the 14-team conference after giving up 36 sacks.
The Seminoles graduated starters at left tackle and center. Redshirt senior Cole Minshew leads the returners with 23 career starts, and after playing primarily guard the past two seasons, he’ll likely move to left tackle. Tackles Landon Dickerson and Juan Williams and guard Mike Arnold all saw starts last season as redshirt sophomores, and this offseason, FSU added Northern Illinois transfer Ryan Roberts, who started 10 games at right tackle the past two seasons.
Sneaky good defense
As much as the Florida State offense struggled to consistently produce last season, the defense put on some impressive performances and finished the year No. 4 in the ACC in rushing defense (147.5 ypg). Despite losing pass-rusher Brian Burns and tackle DeMarcus Christmas to the NFL, the Seminoles’ defense may prove to be one of conference’s best again this season.
Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson comes in as one of the conference’s best, while Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson saw snaps last fall at end. At linebacker, Dontavious Jackson is on the Butkus Award watch list, and the secondary may be the deepest unit on the team.
Safety Stanford Samuels started at cornerback and safety and led the team with four interceptions. Cornerbacks Asante Samuel Jr., Kyle Meyers and Levonta Taylor are back after starting games last fall, and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen returns after leading the Seminoles with 91 tackles.
Game-deciding matchupWeek 3 will feature one of the most anticipated head-to-head matchups of the season: Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall versus Florida State wide receiver Tamorrion Terry. Last fall, Hall led the nation with 22 pass breakups and many believed he would have been a first-round NFL Draft pick, but he opted to return to school for his senior season. He comes into the season as one of the top corners in the nation.
Terry has a chance to emerge this fall as the most explosive wide receiver in the ACC. Last season, he set FSU’s freshman record with 744 receiving yards and led the team with eight receiving touchdowns. He averaged 21.3 yards per catch and became the first Seminole since Peter Warrick in 1998 with two 70-yard touchdown catches in the same season.
Virginia is 3-15 in the all-time series, but two of those wins (2005 and 2011) came in the past five meetings. The Cavaliers last beat the Seminoles, 14-13, in 2011 in Tallahassee. They last played in 2014, and Florida State won, 34-20.
Florida State has struggled through a couple of lean years, but Tallahassee is still seen as a premier college football destination. That’s the goal Virginia is shooting for. For the Cavaliers, wins over the Seminoles have been few and far between, and they’re usually occasion for storming the field.
The Wahoos’ win last season over Miami signified a major step in their climb toward national prominence, and even a win over a Florida State team that is a shell of what it once was would be another huge stride in that direction. To do it, Virginia will have to overcome what may be the best defense it faces all season and contain one of the ACC’s most explosive running backs in Cam Akers, who averaged 4.4 yards a carry last fall and tied for the team lead with eight total touchdowns (6 rushing, 2 passing).