Momentum is a tricky thing in football.
At one point, it seems as if you can do no wrong. The holes in the line keep opening up. The receivers find a way to get open. The defensive backs always seem to end up in the path of an incoming pass.
And through the first 30 minutes of Saturday's clash between Virginia and Florida State, the Cavaliers had the momentum on their side as they headed into the locker room at halftime. But then, as it's done all season, the Seminole defense stepped up, leaving Virginia momentum deader than all that talk about the Braves being the "Team of the '90s."
The 'Noles turned on the heat before the close of the first half -- obliterating Cav quarterback Dan Ellis on the last two plays of the second quarter. They succeeded in eventually knocking the Exton, Pa., native out of the game with a slight concussion and having little-used backup David Rivers thrown squarely into the fire.
Rivers said he relished the opportunity to come into the game, but afterwards praised the Seminoles' defensive unit.
"They've got a lot of guns on defense," he said. "They definitely wear on you."
And in the process, they wore out the Virginia offense.
"I can't really say what happened" in the second half, center John St. Clair said. "The momentum changed. I don't know if we had the same intensity."
"I think it was just a matter of field position," cornerback Dwayne Stukes said. "It's a lot of little things. Once you know somebody's going to carry the ball a certain number of times, you're going to put eight, nine men in the box."
One of the little things that went against Virginia occurred after the Cavs forced a Florida State fumble on the goal line. After three plays that went nowhere, Donnie Scott punted from Virginia's end zone, but the ball only traveled to the Virginia 31, setting the Seminoles up for what would be the go-ahead score.
"It seems like every time I do something right, I shoot myself in the foot," Scott said. "I'd love to have that punt back in the end zone, that's for sure."
Scott's bad punt may have given Florida State the momentum, but the Seminole defense kept it in their corner. After Saturday's scoreless second half, the 'Noles now have allowed just seven points after intermission in their last four games. FSU's dominance also showed in the fact the offense committed four turnovers but the defense only allowed seven points off those miscues. All this led to one question following the game: Who is better, Florida State or Virginia Tech?
It was a query the Virginia squad wisely shied away from, choosing instead to praise both the Seminoles and Hokies.
"They're both very good teams," Scott said.
"Both defenses play very well and very hard," Cav linebacker Yubrenal Isabelle said. "Both of them get after the ball."
Maybe so, guys. But after seeing both defenses up close and personal, I'd have to say Florida State has the superior unit. Virginia Tech's D may put up gaudier numbers -- blocked punts, interceptions and fumble recoveries for touchdowns -- but no defensive unit in America can boast the athletes the Seminoles have at their disposal. FSU also blanked the Cavs in the second half without the services of one of their starting cornerbacks.
Florida State didn't show the kind of razzle-dazzle offense they displayed before Peter Warrick's discount heard round the world, but if the defense keeps playing like it is, the offense won't have to do much work.