No. 2 Florida State takes on struggling Virginia
Florida State (8-0, 5-0 ACC, No. 2 CFP) has a habit of starting slow offensively in 2014 and coach Jimbo Fisher wants to see that change. The Seminoles have scored more second-half points in 6 of 7 games against FBS teams and trailed Notre Dame and Louisville at halftime of their last two games.
Receiver Jesus ''Bobo'' Wilson said the team has run more up-tempo and no-huddle early in recent practices to set the tone.
''We just asked them for (a better) energy level,'' Fisher said. ''The last two games, especially, is when we haven't started as well.
''We've got to learn from that and we've got to improve. We just challenged them to have better energy early in practice and get their minds set.''
The FSU offense normally follows the lead of quarterback Jameis Winston, and the reigning Heisman winner has been much better in second halves. He threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns as the Seminoles scored 35 second-half points in the 42-31 victory against Louisville. He completed 15 of 16 passes in the second half of the 31-27 rally against Notre Dame.
''They've been able to have different players rally at different moments,'' Virginia coach Mike London said. ''Particularly the quarterback has done a great job rallying his team. They've been behind, but he's done a great job bringing their team back from a deficit.''
Winston has a 172.03 quarterback rating in the second 30 minutes this season compared to 138.72 rating in the first half. He's thrown nine touchdowns and three interceptions in the second half, but just seven touchdowns and six interceptions in the first. Winston completes 64.7 percent of his first-half passes and 69.9 percent after halftime.
''We haven't always played the best but we've played a lot in spurts,'' FSU tackle Cam Erving said. ''It's safe to say that we play tremendously well in the second half. The biggest thing that we've been trying to harp on is just starting fast. . Becoming a more complete team so that we don't have to put ourselves in a hole and get down.''
Some things to watch Saturday when No. Florida State hosts Virginia:
FRESHMAN FLOW: Florida State had true freshman account for four touchdowns during the come-from-behind win against Louisville last week. Running back Dalvin Cook and receiver Travis Rudolph have both earned major roles in the offense and surpassed upperclassmen on the depth chart. Receiver Ermon Lane is not as polished, but is contributing more. The future is now for the next generation of FSU offensive stars.
BRINGING HEAT: Florida State linebacker Reggie Northrup quietly leads the team with 67 tackles and ranks No. 11 in the ACC. Part of that is because linebacker Terrance Smith has missed two games, but the junior recorded a career-high 12 tackles last week. Northrup has lapses where he gets out of position, but he may be the hardest hitter on the roster. Nearly every game he has at least one hit that rocks an opponent and fires up teammates.
OPEN IT UP: Virginia (4-5, 2-3) has opted for a more conservative offensive approach for much of this season, hoping to control the ball while defense kept the Cavaliers in games. Against a team the quality of the Seminoles, and with its backs to the wall in pursuit of a .500 record and a bowl berth, Virginia would be wise to throw caution to the wind a few times in hopes of getting some quick strike points.
TAKE IT AWAY: The Cavaliers forced 19 turnovers and turned them into 72 points in their first six games. In the last three games, all losses, the totals are two forced turnovers leading to six points. Finding a way to get back to their previous ball-hawking ways could go a long way for the underdogs.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. contributed to this report.