Florida State vs. Virginia Preview: Defense Setting the Trend

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Florida State vs. Virginia Preview: Defense Setting the Trend
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Florida State enters Saturday's contest against Virginia leading in a not so familiar category: Sacks.

The defense leads the country with 19 total sacks, five more than second place Arkansas. What is surprising about the statistic is that Florida State last season had a total of 27 sacks, a number that could be reached in the next two weeks will still well more than half of the season left.

Brandon Jenkins leads the Seminoles with 4.5 sacks, followed by true freshman Bjoern Werner with three, and Everett Dawkins with two—all defensive lineman.

So this new zone scheme brought over by new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is proving to work.

Last season, the defense was the laughing joke of all of football judging by the talent on that side of the ball. Now the defense is beginning to be feared again like it once was in the 90s.

Of course, Florida State has played below average competition and has suffered a blowout loss to the hands of Oklahoma, but if the defense continues to make strides the way they are, there is no reason why they cannot carry this early success over into conference play.

The 'Noles will continue their conference play against the Virginia Cavaliers, who open up their conference play against FSU. The Cavaliers are currently 2-1, and will be a tougher opponent than what Wake Forest was a week ago.

Virginia looks to be rejuvenated, having won their first game against Richmond 34-13 and then losing a heartbreaker against Southern California 17-14. They bounced back last week against the Virginia Military Institute 48-7, and will look to stop the success that Florida State has had in recent weeks.

Virginia is led by Senior quarterback Marc Verica, who has 697 yards passing and five touchdowns thus far. He has two reliable running backs in Keith Payne and Perry Jones who both have over two hundred rushing yards on the season. Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman lead the receiving bunch and both have over 200 yards receiving.

While the Cavaliers offense can put up points, the defense is the rock of the team. They are ranking seventh in points allowed with 12.3 and they haven't had a 100-yard rusher against them yet—a remarkable stat even though it is still early in the year.

Florida State has been sputtering lately on offense, and all fingers point to quarterback Christian Ponder.

Ponder was an early Heisman candidate, but his numbers have been average at best. He finally broke out last week with a 243-yard passing performance to go along with a pair of touchdowns. The key factor in the matchup will be the running game.

The 'Noles will need running backs Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones, and Chris Thompson all to contribute, while newcomer Willie Haulstead and veteran Bert Reed will need to provide sparks in the receiving game. The Seminoles offensive line will be hurting again with left tackle Andrew Datko still out with injury, but there is enough experience across the board for this offense to pick up where it left off last week.

Florida State's defense will need to keep getting better each week, especially in the secondary, but as long as the front seven is providing pressure to the quarterback and registering sacks the way they have been doing so far this season, the 'Noles should roll to another victory and will gain more ground in the ACC.

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