Florida State's dominance of Virginia through the years is easily explained: better players, more of them.
Nowhere has that been more evident than the Seminoles' defense versus Virginia's offense. The Cavaliers have had quarterbacks, linemen, running backs and receivers who went on to the NFL, yet 13 times in 15 tries they've come up on the short end — often, the very short end — against Florida State.
The Seminoles consistently stopped Virginia's running game, forcing the Cavaliers to pass more than they wanted and getting the ball back to their own offensive playmakers.
Enter Mike London and a renewed emphasis on the running game, which again will play a big role when the two teams meet at noon Saturday at Scott Stadium in the Cavaliers' ACC opener.
"I think you have to be able to run the ball," London said, "or at least create running lanes or cracks or crevices that hopefully a guy like Perry Jones can slip through. I don't know if Keith Payne is going to slip through any crack or crevice. He'll have to be more of a power game.
"The running game sets up your play-action passes and stuff off of that, and if you're one-dimensional it could make for a long day. If we can't run the ball, it'll be difficult for us."
Virginia and Florida State last played in 2006, a product of ACC expansion and being placed in different divisions.
A common thread in the past decade, however, was the Cavaliers' inability to generate a ground game. In the five previous meetings, Virginia totaled 169 yards rushing on 121 carries — a paltry 1.4 yards per carry.
In three of those five games, the Cavaliers averaged fewer than one yard per carry.
Even in Virginia's win in 2005, the Cavaliers were unable to run the ball — 28 carries for 20 yards. The main components of their 26-21 win were a career day from quarterback Marques Hagans, four field goals from Connor Hughes, and a defense that picked off three Florida State passes.
The notable exception was the Cavaliers' only other win in the series. Fifteen years ago, Virginia handed Florida State its first ACC loss, 33-28, in a game marked by Adrian Burnim and Anthony Poindexter stopping Warrick Dunn at the goal line on the final play and Tiki Barber rushing for 193 yards.
While the Cavaliers don't have a back of Barber's ilk, they will try to spring the shifty Jones and the 255-pound Payne.
"It's going to be important," quarterback Marc Verica said. "That's going to be the case for all our games this year. It really doesn't matter who the opponent is. I mean, it's going to be important for us to be physical at the line of scrimmage and try to run the ball.
"We are a balanced offense and we try to attack a defense in a number of different ways, and the run is obviously a huge part of that because it sets up the pass. That's the case this week — definitely looking to establish the run."
Virginia is averaging 160 yards rushing per game, though that number is misleading because two of its three opponents were FCS teams. The Southern Cal game is a promising indicator, since the Cavs rushed for 150 yards, with both Jones and Payne gaining more than 50 yards.
Under new head coach Jimbo Fisher and new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, the Seminoles are markedly better on defense than a year ago. They are allowing 87.2 yards per game rushing (117.4 fewer than 2009) and 290.8 yards in total offense. Opponents are converting just 35.4 percent of their third-down opportunities.
"Our first downs are going to be important," London said. "Not just the third-down conversions, but how many first downs we can get, because I think that's always another indicator of how the game is going.
"Being able to move the ball on the ground will be important, and then take the opportunities when you can to throw the ball deep or throw the ball to the intermediate routes or throw the ball to whatever they're giving us."
History says Florida State gives Virginia little.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun