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Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor had one of his best games of the season despite FSU’s tough pass rush. Taylor finished with 263 yards, four touchdowns, a couple key scrambles, and no major gaffes. FSU QB E.J. Manuel filled in admirably for Christian Ponder, though two interceptions will give him something to think about as the Noles prepare for a Chick Fil A Bowl bid.
A conference championship and BCS trip is a pretty amazing result for a Hokies season that began with a nailbiter loss to the Boise St. Broncos and that shocker against James Madison. Peeling off 11 straight wins since, almost all of them by multiple scores, Virginia Tech somehow wound up with a more-or-less standard Frank Beamer season.
The Hokies won their last trip to the game, beating the Cincinnati Bearcats 20-7, and may face another Big East team this time around too. It’s looking like the Connecticut Huskies may get the honors.
POP QUIZ: What happens when a defender runs back a missed extra point? The ACC Championship Game audience in Charlotte just refreshed itself on the subject: two points for the returning team.
Virginia Tech Hokies kicker Chris Hazley got Charlie Brown’d as his holder took his finger off the ball a split second too early, causing the ball to topple over and skitter from Nole to Nole until Nigel Bradham picked it up and ran back the score. ESPN was momentarily confused about what all this meant, putting only one point on the scoreboard.
This transaction is actually a big deal. This is now a two-score game, not a three-score game. The Hokies scored the touchdown that caused all this on a nifty five-yard scoot by Tyrod Taylor, in case you’re interested. #niftyscoot
Getting the ball back after the kickoff, FSU had a chance to take advantage, but QB E.J. Manuel threw his second pick of the evening.
Virginia Tech Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor threw his third touchdown of the night to put VPI up by 18, but Florida St. Seminoles QB E.J. Manuel led FSU on a scoring drive to keep the Noles in the game. FSU RB Ty Jones ran in his second one-yard score to complete the eight-play, 53-yard touchdown drive.
Manuel completed two passes and pulled off a nine-yard run, including a third-and-12 conversion to Bert Reed. A strong Reed kick return to the Virginia Tech 37 set the drive up to begin with, so he provided a fitting bookend.
Manuel is now 11 of 16 for 191 yards in relief of Christian Ponder. That interception aside, especially since it wasn’t entirely his fault, he’s certainly playing well and hanging in there opposite the conference’s Player of the Year.
In other news, the Connecticut Huskies are closing in on a possible Big East title. If they hang on, they will likely face the winner of this game in the Orange Bowl.
The Virginia Tech Hokies got right back to it in the third quarter, with QB Tyrod Taylor lobbing a 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown to a wide open Danny Coale, sealing a seven-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Taylor now has two touchdowns and 161 yards passing on only 16 attempts, 97 of those yards to Coale, who’s only seven yards away from a new season high. The FSU pass rush nabbed Taylor twice at the end of the first half, but he’s back to his un-sacky, poor-man’s-Cam-Newton ways here in the second.
The Hokies are up to 111 yards rushing, led by Darren Evans’ 62 on only four attempts. I would write something about how many yards the Noles just produced, but they punted the ball back to VPI by the time I got halfway through the second paragraph here. Tech has outgained FSU by 68 yards as this drive begins.
After Florida St. Seminoles RB Ty Jones ran in a two-yard touchdown to cap a 68-yard drive, Virginia Tech Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor responded with a 19-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin. The Hokies traveled 91 yards in 13 plays, the second-longest drive in ACC Championship Game history.
FSU QB E.J. Manuel completed three straight passes on the Noles scoring drive, of 6, 21, and 34 yards. Taylor completed five throws on the Hokies drive, the longest a 28-yarder to Danny Coale. Taylor has been effective in the pocket, avoiding a Noles pass rush that has led the nation in sacks for almost the entire season.
The Hokies have outgained FSU 183 yards to 128, and are up on in the turnover battle. Manuel has 122 total yards, while VPI RB Darren Evans has a game-high 60 yards rushing, leading the Hokies’ 100 yards on the ground. FSU WR Taiwan Easterling leads all receivers with 56 yards.
Florida St. Seminoles QB E.J. Manuel threw a pick on his fifth pass, returned 24 yards for a score by Jeron Gouvela-Winslow. It’s hard to say whether Christian Ponder could’ve avoided the pick six, as the ball was tipped into Gouvela-Winslow’s hands anyway. Manuel is now two of five today, with two interceptions this year. Ponder threw eight picks in 294 attempts.
After Virginia Tech got the ball back near midfield, RB Darren Evans dashed 51 yards into scoring territory, then finished the drive off on his next carry. He has 60 yards on just two carries.
With Gouvela-Winslow’s pick six, the Hokies tied the Alabama Crimson Tide’s nation-leading 21 interceptions on the season. They also moved into fourth in interception return yardage. No matter how disappointing the beginning of a Hokies season may be, at least VPI fans will always have Beamerball. The Hokies have an outstanding record during Frank Beamer’s tenure in games featuring defensive touchdowns.
Christian Ponder not playing hasn't hurt Florida State so far. Seminoles fans can thank E.J. Manuel for that.
The sophomore quarterback led an impressive first drive deep into Virginia Tech territory, and made a great throw to the corner of the end zone on a fade that would have given Florida State its first touchdown of the day. Alas, it was dropped by Taiwan Easterling, forcing the Seminoles to settle for a field goal, which Dustin Hopkins pounded home from 32 yards out.
It's a 3-0 lead for the Seminoles in Charlotte, and a promising start for Manuel, whose two incompletions on the six-play, 53-yard drive were both drops.
Points may be at a premium in the ACC Championship Game, with a slippery turf making offensive execution a bit harder. If Manuel can keep FSU moving like he did on the first drive, the Seminoles might get just enough to win and claim the ACC's automatic BCS bowl berth.
Florida State has had a remarkable season, especially considering the somewhat shaky health of Christian Ponder, their erstwhile Heisman candidate at quarterback. And tonight, the Seminoles will have to do without Ponder in the ACC Championship Game.
Citing the long-term health of Ponder, considered a likely NFL quarterback, Florida State will start redshirt sophomore E.J. Manuel against Virginia Tech. That's a decision that would make 'Noles fans cringe if Manuel hadn't been excellent in relief so far: he's 4-1 as a starter for Florida State, and his lone loss came at top-ranked Florida last season.
And Manuel may have some extra motivation to play well against Virginia Tech: he's from Virginia Beach, and, as a mobile quarterback more known for his legs than his arm, would have been a suitable heir to Michael Vick as a Hokie. But he elected to take his talents to Tallahassee.
And tonight, in the ACC Championship Game, he might be able to show Virginia Tech what it's missing.
SB Nation's Virginia Tech and Florida State communities discuss the Seminoles' coaching transition in advance of Saturday's ACC Championship Game:
GC: I realize you could write a book on this, but give us the CliffsNotes version of the differences between the Noles under Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Bowden.
TN: Wow. Where to start. Essentially, Bowden was operating the program like something out of 1995, hired many of his buddies/ family members who were either unqualified to coach or washed up, and generally had the energy level of someone who is 80. Fisher was 5th in command (unbelievable), asked for many important changes, had them denied, but kept them in mind. When he became head coach, FSU got an offensive-minded Saban clone with a bit more media charm. New weight program. Finally getting a nutrition program. Much more focus on family. Hiring competent coaches that relate well with young kids. Demanding long hours from those coaches (Fisher sleeps in his office sometimes). Mental conditioning, etc. And crushing recruiting at a level the ACC has never seen.
SB Nation's Florida State community breaks down the Virginia Tech offense in advance of Saturdays ACC Championship Game:
Virginia Tech runs a pro-style scheme utilizing the I-formation and the gun. It's pretty bland but they do have good players and a serious stud at quarterback.
They struggle with heavy zone teams, like Florida State and sometimes against teams with good corners that can go man/press (Xavier Rhodes). Most teams that have slowed them down rush 4, and play a mostly cov 2/4 and some mixed zones as well. Some teams have been really passive with their rushes and really do not get up field with their DL at all. Teams with athletic DLs (Like FSU) will probably try to force Taylor out of the pocket more, instead of slow-playing it.
This year they are willing to throw more on 1st down. That makes them much tougher to defend, because if they didn't you could just play cover-3 with 8 in the box all the time. They are good at the bubble game as well. But Taylor doesn't hit the seams all that well, which does suggest playing some cover 3.
Tyrod really struggles going to his left. FSU needs to focus on taking away the run (obviously), but in terms of Taylor it must push the pocket, not rush the pocket. Wildly rushing upfield is a great way to get blown out here. FSU must make Taylor complete intermediate routes over the middle while applying pressure in his face (up the middle and from his right side). That means Markus White and Bjoern Werner need to have big and disciplined games. Brandon Jenkins must be patient and not lose contain as he is there to clean up the back side.
Florida State's linebackers must get off blocks in this game and the defensive backs (looking at you, Greg Reid) must tackle because FSU will be playing a lot of 8-man fronts to stop Tech's run game.
(Sports Network) Frank Beamer's Hokies opened the year with two straight losses. The first was a hard-fought setback to top-five foe Boise State, but the second was an unforgivable loss to FCS powerhouse James Madison. To Beamer's credit, he was able to rally the troops when it counted most, running the table with 10 straight wins and a flawless 8-0 ACC slate to earn a spot in the conference title game. It is the 10th time in the last 12 seasons that Tech has recorded 10 or more victories and this represents the Hokies' fourth trip to the ACC Championship Game.
Despite being under new leadership in Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles began the season with high hopes, thanks to a veteran signal caller and a strong defense. Well, the Seminoles didn't need to rely solely on the play under center, but instead got back to running the football and the result has been a nine-win season to this point, including a 6-2 mark in-conference. The team enters this contest with three straight wins, including an impressive victory over Florida last weekend (31-7). The Seminoles needed some help elsewhere down the stretch but got it, landing them in the championship game, where they will vie for their 13th league title in 19 years as a member of the conference.
Fisher isn't worried that the team will have a letdown following an emotional win over rival Florida.
"I have always said one of the toughest things is the way the schedule is for Florida and Florida State, and if you are going into a conference championship game the very next week coming off of a game that is not a conference game, but is so meaningful and then you have to come right back and play another meaningful game the next week I think is very tough. You have to deal with the hand your dealt, and I don't think our kids know because they are so hungry for success and they are proud of what they're doing, confident in what they're doing and where our team is and the way they carries itself I think we will be ready to play."
Florida State holds a 22-11-1 advantage in the all-time series and has won 13 of the last 14 meetings, overall. One of those matchups was the inaugural ACC Championship Game, won by FSU, 27-22 in 2005.
Florida State has put itself in a position to earn a BCS Bowl bid thanks to a balanced offensive attack that is generating almost 400 yards of offense (390.8). Getting back to basics is what Coach Fisher has done, and the result is a team that likes to move the ball on the ground. The rushing attack has been productive to say the least, averaging 177.4 yards per game on 5.0 yards per carry. It is not one workhorse back doing the majority of the damage, but rather a collective effort from tailbacks like Chris Thompson (686 yards, 6.8 ypc, five TDs), Ty Jones (496 yards, 6.4 ypc, two TDs) and Jermaine Thomas (484 yards, 5.7 ypc, six TDs).
The ground game has taken some of the pressure off of Christian Ponder under center, although the veteran signal-caller hasn't exactly taken the nation by storm. He has been efficient, completing 62.2 percent of his throw for 2,038 yards and 20 TDs, but it wasn't quite the big year he had hoped for. The receiving corps is talented and can make plays when FSU does get vertical. Wideouts Bert Reed (53 receptions, for 547 yards, two TDs), Taiwan Easterling (35 receptions, 462 yards, four TDs) and Willie Haulstead (33 receptions, 500 yards, six TDs) headline the group.
The Florida State defense has made strides toward being one of the conference's most feared units again, as the team is allowing just 17.8 ppg this year, while yielding 341.3 yards of total offense. A ferocious pass rush is a big reason for the improved play, with FSU posting 43 sacks on the season. Junior LB Brandon Jenkins has burst on the scene this season and has been unstoppable at times, amassing 18.5 TFLs and 12.0 sacks. He gets plenty of help in targeting QBs by senior end Markus White (11.0 TFLs, 7.5 sacks). Junior LB Nigel Bradham leads the squad with 86 total tackles, while sophomore cornerback Greg Reid (57 tackles, three INTs) is a dynamic playmaker both in the secondary and as a return man.
There is no secret to Virginia Tech's offensive gameplan week-in and week-out, as they like to impose their will on an opponent with their ground assault. The team has certainly done well in that area this season, averaging 211.4 yards per game rushing on 5.1 yards per carry. While the backfield has a number of quality backs in Darren Evans (748 yards, 10 TDs), David Wilson (573 yards, five TDs) and Ryan Williams (428 yards, nine TDs), it is the play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor which has stood out the most.
Taylor earned All-ACC First-Team honors this season for his outstanding play as a rusher (613 yards, four TDs), but more so for his play as a passer, where he has completed 60.2 percent of his throws for 2,258 yards, with 20 TDs and just four INTs. Wideout Jarrett Boykin has been the top recipient of Taylor's improved play under center, hauling in 45 balls, for 728 yards and five TDs (all team-highs).
The Tech defense has had its problems with the run this year (156.9 ypg, 13 rushing TDs allowed), but if an opponent is forced to pass the ball, things get much tougher. The Hokies are allowing just 191.9 yards per game through the air and have recorded 32 sacks and 20 interceptions.
Leading the charge in terms of sacks are players like sophomore LB Bruce Taylor (team-high 84 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and senior DE Steven Friday (61 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 7.5 sacks). The most feared defensive back in the conference may very well be Jayron Hosley (35 tackles), who earned All-ACC First-Team honors with his eight INTs this season. Although, Davon Morgan (72 tackles, four INTs) and Rashad Carmichael (34 tackles, four INTs) make things difficult for opposing QBs as well.
This one is going to be a tight affair, as both teams will attempt to establish the run early. The difference may very well be Taylor, who has been simply sensational down the stretch for the Hokies. Also, if special teams play becomes a factor, Beamer's squad always gets the edge.
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