Virginia Tech is headed to Tallahassee and making their final preparations for their showdown with Florida State with both teams having the chance to end the opening weekend of college football with a primetime statement. With that said, here are our keys to the game for the Hokies ahead of tomorrow night's showdown with Florida State.
Establish the Run
Virginia Tech's issues running the football are well-known throughout the ACC and while the Hokies' backfield should improve, the Hokies will have to prove that they have a better running game. Given how FSU's defense has six projected starters under 220 pounds, it's clear that the Hokies may have an opportunity to try to wear down the back 7 if they can establish the run especially on the exterior with their bigger receivers who have a size advantage even on some of FSU's linebackers.
The Hokies did make some strides towards the end of last season on the ground with the Hokies' RB duo of Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples carrying the Hokies' offense in their 10-0 victory against Virginia and putting together arguably the best rushing performance of the Justin Fuente era against Oklahoma State.
Against the Seminoles, the Hokies will need the combination of the speedy McClease and bowling ball Peoples to be efficient on the ground and provide some big plays to force FSU to put 7 or 8 in the box on running downs. In addition, the Hokies will need their offensive line to live up to the hype especially against a FSU defensive line with three seniors and one of the ACC's best DEs in Brian Burns.
If the Hokies can establish the run and force the Seminoles to put their small cornerbacks in man coverage against VT's bigger receivers like Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah, it could create some plays and long 50-50 ball opportunities down the field that could give FSU plenty of problems.
Contain Cam Akers
Though Florida State has Deondre Francois, the Seminoles have a young receiving corps with Willie Taggart likely to try to get Cam Akers going to force Bud Foster into more blitzes and one-on-one man coverage with his young cornerbacks.
Given the threat that Akers is, the Hokies will need their front 7 to be productive in the box to allow Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to shadow more over the top for play action passes. Part of that will come down to the Hokies' strong defensive line stepping up and consistently filling holes between the tackles.
Florida State will likely know about how Vinny Mihota is not at 100% and not to test that portion of the Hokies' interior DL while trying to find ways to double-team Ricky Walker. This may require Rayshard Ashby or Dylan Rivers closing up the middle on rushing plays to try to give Walker some one-on-one matchups while also needing Jarrod Hewitt and Xavier Burke to become more than just players with a lot of talk about their development.
If the Hokies can slow Cam Akers without having to bring an extra safety in the box, it can allow Virginia Tech to give their young cornerbacks some extra help. Given the fact that VT won't be playing a single cornerback with a previous start in their collegiate career, it will be important to slow down the run in a manner that allows the Hokies to have their safeties in position to provide some over the top help especially with play action passes.
Control Your Emotions
One thing that Justin Fuente emphasizes for his quarterback is to not get too high or too low yet that will be a key for this young Virginia Tech team as a whole to keep their emotions in check. Given how hostile of an environment Florida State can be, this will be a challenge and test of maturity for a young team with only six seniors in the two-deep.
If you're a fan of a team not named Florida State, then it likely doesn't take you long to get annoyed with FSU's Tomahawk Chop. For the Hokies' young roster, they'll have the challenge of trying not to be consumed by the primetime stage and the hostile environment that has made Florida State a tough place to play even for veteran teams.
However, the Hokies have to balance not being consumed by the stage with not completely ignoring the stage and trying to use the environment to their advantage in different ways. For many players, it can be easier to become more fired up and played with greater intensity when you're in a hostile environment. For Virginia Tech, they'll have to figure out that balance of not being consumed by the magnitude of the stage, but also rising up to playing on a big stage in a hostile environment.
Against Florida State, the Hokies will have to not keep their emotions in check but rather control the emotion that playing on this big stage will bring. If they can do that, they can thrive and show maturity on one of the biggest stages of the weekend. If they can't, it will likely be a long night and a rough lesson for a young Virginia Tech team.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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