Because of how the ACC’s inter-divisional scheduling works, there isn’t a football player in the Cavaliers’ locker room who has faced Florida State as a member of the Virginia football team.
No. 25 Virginia (2-0) and Florida State (1-1) last met in 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida, in a game the Seminoles won by two touchdowns. But Virginia’s players didn’t spend their adolescence under a rock. They’re well aware of the Florida State brand.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins grew up idolizing the Seminoles and doing their patented “Tomahawk Chop,” which he demonstrated for the press corps during Monday’s weekly press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.
“There’s tremendous history of great football players and a great football program, and it’s definitely one of the handful of teams when growing up, you’re like ‘Wow they’re great,’” Perkins said. “I’m excited to play FSU. They’re a great team with a great history, and it’s going to be a fun one.”
Growing up in Miami, safety Brenton Nelson was obviously a fan of the Hurricanes, but he still has a healthy respect for the Seminoles.
“They’re always going to have talent,” Nelson said. “They have a lot of guys on that team who can do well on both sides of the ball.”
Fifth-year defensive lineman Eli Hanback understands the historical significance of facing Florida State, but he also understands Saturday will just be another day at the office.
“It will definitely be cool to say later down that road I got to play against one of the historic best teams of all time, but right now this week they’re just another opponent,” Hanback said. “We don’t need to focus on the glamour of Florida State. We just need to recognize they’re a really good team and be ready to play them.”
In recent years, Florida State hasn’t exactly been the national powerhouse it was while finishing in the top four of the AP Poll 14 years in a row between 1987-2000.
Last season — head coach Willie Taggart’s first at the helm — the Seminoles went 5-7.
They opened this season with a home loss to Boise State and a near calamitous defeat to Louisiana-Monroe. On Saturday against the Warhawks, FSU gave up 419 yards of offense and pulled off a 45-44 overtime win after ULM scored in the extra frame but missed the extra point that would have tied the game.
Despite their recent dip, Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall isn’t about to take the Seminoles lightly.
“They’re dynamic and explosive and capable of putting a lot of points on the board and doing it really quickly,” Mendenhall said. “The number of balls that go down field, I’m not sure I’ve seen as many in teams I’ve prepared for. They’re certainly talented enough at every position.”
Florida State still has explosive players, but its defense ranked near the bottom of the ACC last season, and through two games this year, it’s giving up an average of 463.5 yards of offense.
Mendenhall thinks some of those defensive struggles are a result of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ up-tempo system.
“There is a complementary toll that takes on your entire team,” Mendenhall said. “The more plays the defense plays, the harder it is to limit points. The faster an offense goes, it usually has a great chance to score more points.”
One of the beneficiaries of the new pace of Florida State’s offense is running back Cam Akers, who earned ACC running back of the week honors after posting 193 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Louisiana-Monroe and added five catches for 55 yards and another score.
Virginia hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since last season’s overtime loss at Georgia Tech, and this season the defense is giving up just 70.5 rushing yards a game. The Cavaliers know they’ll be tested on the ground on Saturday.
“Cam is definitely one of those guys, so tackling and run fits everything will be put to the test,” Nelson said. “But we’re all excited to play. We all want to show we’re capable and belong among the best.”
Perhaps the most anticipated matchup on Saturday night will be Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall against FSU wide receiver Tamorrion Terry – both of whom are among the best in the country at their position. In the season opener against Boise State, Terry caught four passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. As for Hall, his teammates say he’s considered a first-round lock in the 2020 NFL Draft for a reason.
“Bryce is going to be Bryce and everyone is going to trust him,” Nelson said. “He has established himself in the country as one of the best.”
Virginia is 3-15 all-time against Florida State, and the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Seminoles at home since 2005, when current wide receivers coach Marques Hagans was the starting quarterback. A win on Saturday would be another monumental step in the Wahoos’ return to national prominence, which began when Mendenhall took over in 2016.
Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.