Cavaliers eye Seminole win
London seeks programís first win in Tallahassee, can clinch Coastal Division with victories in final two games
At the beginning of September, Virginia was predicted to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal Division and was not expected to go to a bowl game. Fast forward two months and 18 days, and the Cavaliers control their own destiny to play in the ACC Championship.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Cavaliers (7-3, 4-2 ACC) begin the toughest and most significant part of their schedule Saturday with a highly anticipated matchup against No. 25 Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC). Virginia looks to ruin Homecoming Week for the Seminoles and notch the program's first ever win at Tallahassee.
"It's even more of a motivation because we're away, [and] it's their homecoming; there are a whole lot of things going on there," coach Mike London said. "It's an opportunity to show what type of team we are, what we can be. If we play well enough, it creates an opportunity for people to look at Virginia and say, 'That's a school I'm very interested in.'"
Florida State is one of the most balanced teams the Cavaliers will face this season, with significant talent on both offense and defense. The Seminoles' defense ranks seventh in the nation, allowing just 16.1 points per game, while the offense's 34.6 points per game are the country's 23rd best. Junior quarterback EJ Manuel earned preseason first-team All-ACC recognition, but threw six interceptions in his first five games as Florida State stumbled to a 2-3 record. Since the Seminoles' slow start, however, the team has won five straight games, and Manuel has thrown seven touchdowns, rushed for four more and tallied just two interceptions.
"They're real good," junior tailback Perry Jones said of Florida State. "They're a big physical team, but I think we'll be up to the challenge."
The Cavaliers have their own explosive arsenal including a dual-threat running attack which ranks third in the ACC in yards per attempt.
Their quarterback, sophomore Michael Rocco, has also shown marked improvement since the beginning of the season and has thrown six touchdowns and only one interception during his past three games. Virginia couples those offensive weapons with a tough defense and increasingly productive pass coverage - senior cornerback Chase Minnifield and senior safety Rodney McLeod have combined for seven total picks this year and four in the past two games.
"We're all a bunch of confident guys," Rocco said. "It's a matter of learning from your mistakes and improving, and we've improved a lot over this past year. We still have a ways to go but it's exciting and the sky's the limit for us."
The Seminoles, meanwhile, do have some weaknesses Virginia will look to exploit. Florida State has the worst rushing attack in the BCS Top 25 standings and ranks 96th overall with 120 yards per game. The Seminoles' two leading rushers have 647 combined rushing yards this season, less than Jones' 856 yards. Virginia also doesn't shy away from nationally ranked competition and has already notched a 24-21 win against then-No. 12 ranked Georgia Tech this season. The Cavaliers' recent success has not gone unnoticed, as the team received 26 votes in the AP Top 25 Poll.
With a win Saturday, the Cavaliers would set up a head-to-head confrontation against in-state rival Virginia Tech for the chance to turn the ACC upside down and represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship.
"I believe all you can ask for is to control your own destiny, and that's where we are," Rocco said. "We believed early in the season that we could do it, and we're here right now"