Admittedly, a good bit of the luster has worn off what figured to be one of the best matchups of the ACC schedule this season, but Virginia Tech's rocky season doesn't mean Florida State will get an easy win on the road.
The Hokies are 4-0 at home this season, and Logan Thomas and Co. still provide an imposing obstacle for the Seminoles, who haven't always looked particularly sharp on the road.
So, which Virginia Tech team are we likely to see during this week's game? To find out, we checked in with Mike Barber, the Hokies beat writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
NoleNation: After last week's loss to Miami, Virginia Tech's chances for a division title were dashed. What's the attitude among the players now? Have the losses started to take their toll or is Florida State viewed as a chance to salvage the season?
Mike Barber: Virginia Tech’s players had maintained a high level of confidence and good morale in the face of the early season losses, always pointing to the fact that they were still in the hunt for the Coastal title. Thursday’s loss to Miami ended that and ended the team’s streak of eight straight years with 10 wins. That hit the players, especially QB Logan Thomas, very hard. The talk has shifted to clichés about playing for pride, and extending the 19-year bowl streak, humble goals for a team that opened as the favorite to win the Coastal. But the players do say an upset over FSU would take a lot of the sting out of this ugly season.
NN: Virginia Tech has played much better at home than on the road this season, but the level of competition -- Georgia Tech, Autin Peay, Bowling Green and Duke -- hasn't been as tough either. Has there been real differences in how the Hokies have played at Lane Stadium thus far?
Barber: I base the difference on the opponents. Tech, until now, has had an easy home schedule. But veteran players, like senior linebacker Bruce Taylor, said the team lacks the intensity it has at home when it plays on the road. Obviously a Thursday night crowd at Lane Stadium for the FSU game will provide a great atmosphere, and Tech is 11-3 at home on ESPN’s Thursday night football. Not sure that makes up the talent gap.
NN: The Hokies' up-and-down performance this year has been mirrored largely by Logan Thomas. Why has he struggled so badly at times, and what does he hope to do differently against FSU?
Barber: Tech’s coaches have stood behind Logan Thomas, praising his toughness, competitiveness and effort. But it’s hard to argue that he’s executed well. Against Miami his miscues came out the worst possible times, throwing a red zone interception in the first quarter, fumbling a third-and-1 snap in the third and missing a fourth-and-1 throw in the fourth quarter. But the truth is, Thomas has missed throws like that all season long. He is playing behind a new line, with new WRs and new RBs, but his accuracy just seems off.
NN: The Virginia Tech pass rush figured to be among the best in the ACC entering the season, but the performance has been mediocre thus far. What's the plan for attacking EJ Manuel this week? Will the Hokies bring the blitz or do their best to keep Manuel in the pocket?
Barber: After a really slow start, Virginia Tech’s defensive line has played well the past three weeks. Against Duke and Clemson, it recorded five sacks in each game. Against Miami it had no sacks but felt like it got great pressure on the Hurricanes’ QB and that was a big reason it held Miami to 1-for-12 on third down conversions. FSU has so many offensive weapons, Tech will likely try to get by with rushing three or four defenders and dropping seven or eight in coverage.
NN: What are the two or three keys for Virginia Tech this week if they want to pull the upset?
Barber: Virginia Tech is a big-time underdog Thursday night against FSU. To pull the upset, it needs to get off to a fast start, something it’s struggled with this year. It’s important because that will keep the crowd into the game and make Lane an actual advantage. But with the way the team has performed this year, it’s also important to give the players reason to believe. X’s and O’s wise, Tech has to be able to control the ball through the running game, to eat some clock. It also needs to score touchdowns in the red zone. Defensively, it can’t give up big plays. A few easy scores to the Seminoles and this game could get ugly in a hurry.