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Where Are FSU & VT on the Panic Meter?

By Dave Holcomb
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Both teams came into the season expecting to be better than last year, and major question marks about the direction of each program’s future would ensue if that didn’t happen.

College football Week 1 overreactions are about as common as street names containing the word peach in Atlanta. They routinely pop up around every corner.

The sport’s followers base their reactions, and thus overreactions, on preseason polls and expectations, which are often wrong. Teams out-and-under perform their previous year’s record all the time, and with such a small sample after Week 1, when an upset happens, it’s impossible to tell whether the winner is better or loser is worse.

Small sample size is an important term in the overreaction discussion -- it’s just one game. Upsets happen. That’s why we tune in every week.

Of course, having said that, it might not be too early to be concerned about Florida State and/or Virginia Tech. Both teams came into the season expecting to be better than last year, and major question marks about the direction of each program’s future would ensue if that didn’t happen.

The Seminoles and Hokies both showed flashes of improvement in Week 1, but Florida State and Virginia Tech must become more consistent very quickly to avoid putting their coaches into any hotter water.

The good news is both the Seminoles and Hokies held leads at some point in Week 1. Neither, however, held the lead, and Florida State suffered a particularly bad defeat against Boise State.

On one hand, the loss coming out of conference is a good thing, but for the reputation of the program, Florida State sustained the worst loss in the ACC during Week 1. Not only did the Seminoles lose to a non-Power 5 opponent, it came at home after the game was relocated to Tallahassee from Jacksonville because of weather concerns.

Seminoles coach Willie Taggart suggested on his call-in radio show that his players weren’t properly hydrated, thus wearing down during the second half. Taggart said hydration needs to start at the beginning of the week, but the Florida State-Boise State matchup wasn’t moved to Tallahassee (and switched from a night kickoff to noon ET) until Thursday.

It’s an excuse, but it could also explain how Boise State scored the final 23 points Saturday. The Broncos wore down the Seminoles.

There’s a few flaws in Taggart’s theory. For one, it’s not as though Boise State is used to the heat. Seeing a team from Idaho come into your Florida stadium and wear you down in the heat is not a good look.

Furthermore, Boise State ran 46 more plays than Florida State. Maybe the heat made the discrepancy in plays a bigger factor, but the issue isn’t that the Seminoles weren’t hydrated -- it was that the Florida State offense couldn’t stay on the field in the second half, and the defense couldn’t get off it.

That’s what happens when one goes 1-for-12 on third-down tries and the opposition converts 10 of 19 third-down attempts. Boise State possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes; no wonder the Florida State defense was worn out.

It’s easy to assume third-down execution is something the Seminoles should work on at practice, but actually, a change in offensive philosophy on first and second down might be needed more. On 10 of Florida State’s 12 third-down attempts, the Seminoles needed at least seven yards to pick up the first down.

Interestingly, Florida State hit passes of 75, 58 and 14 yards (the first two of which were for touchdowns) against Boise State, but when quarterback James Blackman wasn’t finding a big play on first down, it usually led to a long third down and then a punt.

Identifying Virginia’s Tech issues is more obvious on the surface but tougher to suggest a solution. The Hokies outgained the Boston College Eagles by 10 yards and yet trailed the entire second half. The main reason why was losing the turnover battle 5-1.

The Eagles intercepted two passes near their own goal line and scored two touchdowns off two other takeaways, That’s more than enough to explain the seven-point loss for Virginia Tech.

Taking better care of the ball sounds like an easy solution, but usually easier said than done. Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis has thrown eight interceptions in his last five games dating back to Nov. 17, 2018.

It doesn’t help that former Virginia Tech signal caller Josh Jackson tossed for four touchdowns with no interceptions while averaging 10.2 yards per attempt in his first start for Maryland on Saturday. Like several players this offseason, Jackson transferred away from Virginia Tech to attend what many would consider an inferior college football program. Granted, Jackson posted his career day against Howard, but if his strong play continues, coach Justin Fuente will have to answer how the program let a signal caller who experienced above average success as a freshman in 2017 get away to Maryland.

On the other hand, losing by seven on the road to an FBS team despite a minus-4 turnover differential doesn’t sound all that bad. The problem is Virginia Tech is already a game behind the favored Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Coastal division race.

The other issue is the Hokies defense. The excuse last year was the unit had too many injuries, but with a mostly healthy defense against Boston College, Virginia Tech still allowed more than 30 points and 400 yards of offense.

Florida State and Virginia Tech don’t face doomsday scenarios after Week 1 losses. The Seminoles have yet to lose a conference game, and the crazy Coastal division will allow the loss to Boston College to be a hiccup for the Hokies if they take better care of the ball moving forward, especially in the red zone.

But both programs are 11-12 over their last 23 games. That much larger sample size is a bigger reason for concern after disappointing ends in Week 1.