This has been a season full of "wow". Almost every week, I have said that at least once. Sometimes good (winning @Miami), sometimes bad (losing to NCSt) and sometimes a bit of both (beating Idaho on a failed 2 pt conversion in OT). It certainly makes for an exciting season, even if the entire Virginia fanbase has had to keep a defribrilllator nearby.
Saturday night, of course, was no different. As this team has done all season long, they persevered and managed to come out on top of a game that they, perhaps, should not have won. With the win, the Hoos move to 8-3 and 5-2 in conference. This sets up a matchup against Virginia Tech this weekend for the ACC Coastal crown, and a spot in the ACC title game against Clemson.
This game was certainly not easy. It took some gutsy performances by a bunch of players on both sides of the ball. Even with that, it came down to a wild finish, with FSU missing a game winning FG attempt. Let's take a look at what transpired.
One of the things that I highlighted in my preview was the need to run the ball. I said that we needed to be able to consistently pick up positive yards on the ground, even if we weren't getting big plays. Just the threat of a running game would keep FSU's defense honest.
Well, our ground game wasn't great. We picked up just 78 yards on 29 carries, although that includes minus-28 in sacks. Even when removing the sacks from the equation, the rushing yards are well below our season average. But the key number there is the carries. Because we kept the game close, and because we managed decent field position throughout the game, we were able to keep giving our tailbacks the ball.
This paid dividends on the final drive, when after four consecutive completed passes covering 65 yards, Kevin Parks was able to carry the ball in from 10 yards out. When you get close to the goalline, the field shrinks and makes it tougher for receivers to get open, and for QBs to find their receivers. This is why it is imperative to be able to run the ball in red zone. If we had completely abandoned the run, would Bill Lazor have been willing to hand the ball off in that situation?
From a defensive perspective, the Hoos gave up a couple of big plays, but on both occasions they were able to keep the Seminoles out of the endzone. The first time, they were saved by Bill Schautz. Schautz strip sack and LaRoy Reynolds fumble recovery kept the game scoreless at this juncture. In a game with many turning points, this may have been the biggest one. The game was barely 10 minutes old, FSU had just picked up 53 yards on a WR end around, and the crowd was into it. A score here might've turned the game into a route. Instead, the Hoos got the ball back and went 82 yards for a TD.
FSU's second big play came on a pass to Bert Reed. He took a simple in route, made Rodney McLeod miss, and the sprinted up the middle of the field. As big as the Schautz play was, Chase Minnifield's play to chase down Reed might have been bigger. With the score 10-7, a TD here gives the Noles a 2 possession lead. There was a lot of time left, but the FSU defense was playing well, and getting two scores was not going to be easy.
There was also an emotional aspect to Chase's play. FSU's athletes are supposed to be the biggest and fastest on the field. Especially at the skill positions. So, to see Chase run down Reed from across the field was a lift for the Hoos and probably a little bit demoralizing for the Noles. Of course, the goalline stand that followed was even more demoralizing. The Hoos defense actually knocked the Noles back 2 yards, forcing a FG. I think that if the ball had remained on the 1 yard line, the Noles might've gone for it on 4th down. But needing 3 yards against our defense, as well as we were playing, was a longshot. So they kicked, and we stayed within a single score. I still think they should've gone for it, but that's a different discussion.
The boxscore isn't pretty. We were outgained, beaten in time of possession, and beaten on special teams. But, on the scoreboard, we were on top. That's all that matters.
As always, some random notes from the game:
- We really do have an embarrassment of riches at RB. Think about just this game. Perry Jones had 9 receptions for 62 yards and a TD. Clifton Richardson was our leading rusher with 33 yards on just 5 carries. And Kevin Parks rushed for the game winning score. All 3 tailbacks had major impacts on the game. And, best of all, all 3 will be back next year.
- Speaking of Perry Jones, I expected better from him on punt returns. He made some bad decisions, and could've cost us bigtime. He also did not really have any good returns. Minnifield came on for the final punt return and picked up 12 yards. That was actually a big hidden play, giving our offense some breathing room before starting the final drive.
- Michael Rocco made a couple of big plays with his legs. Whether it was picking up key yards on the ground, or buying time for his receivers to get open, his mobility was key in this game. Considering we played half the season with Rocco splitting time with a running QB, it is nice to see that Rocco has the capability. Because of the sacks, Rocco ended up with just 5 yards rushing, but he had 3 big runs in the game that helped out the Hoos offense.
- Coming into the game, the Hoos were averaging less than 2 sacks per game. But against a team with as explosive a passing attack as FSU, we needed to get some pass rush. Picking up 3 sacks may not seem like much, but FSU QB E.J. Manuel was under pressure all game long. A couple of times, he had open receivers downfield, but had to throw the ball before he was ready or off the wrong foot, and was unable to complete the big plays. Some of these don't even go down in the book as QB hurries, but they are big plays no less.
- In a game decided by inches, penalties often play a big role. Both teams took far too many penalties, but winning that battle by 44 yards was a big part of the outcome. Some penalties are bigger than others, with the facemask on Cam Johnson on FSU's final drive being one of the biggest. But FSU consistently put themselves into bad field position by committing penalties on kick returns.
- Greg Reid came awfully close to scoring on punt returns a couple of times. I was beginning to wish we would just kick it out of bounds. You may give up some distance on the kicks, but you negate the chance of Reid making a big play.
- Overall, our special teams still need improvement. Considering that VT has long been known for strong special teams play, that could be a major factor next week. Mistakes on punt returns, blocked kicks and FG kicking are all places we've struggled this year at times. We can't have any breakdowns against the Hokies.
- I talked a little bit about it in the postgame piece, but the last few minutes of this game were among the most bizarre I've ever seen. I'm not going to go into it too much more, except to say that the swings in emotion and the changes in probable outcomes just about killed me. I am still amazed that we came out on top after everything that transpired.
- Bill Schautz had a huge impact on this game, and will be missed over the rest of the season. He was having a strong year, and provided a much different look at DE than starter Jake Snyder. Thompson Brown will likely be asked to fill in, but he is a true freshman and can't really be relied upon to have the same impact.. Schautz, we wish you the best of luck in your recovery.