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Another bumpy road

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A week ago against Duke, Florida State made everything look easy. The Seminoles were ahead by 31 before Duke managed to dent the scoreboard, and the bulk of the second half was a playground for Florida State's backups.

It's been a familiar story for FSU in the friendly confines of Doak Campbell Stadium this season, but when the game was over, Jimbo Fisher wanted to remind his players that things haven't come quite as easily on the road.

"Coach Fisher hit on that in the locker room," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "You want to be as dominant away as you are at home. That's our next challenge -- going and taking someone else's field like we take Doak."

Joyner and the Seminoles get their chance Thursday in what figures to be the most hostile environment they'll face this season. The national spotlight and prime-time kickoff against Virginia Tech should make for an electric atmosphere, but that hasn't exactly been a boon for Florida State this season.

"It's a Thursday night game," linebacker Christian Jones said. "Their fans are going to be rowdy. They're going to be pumped up for it. Everybody's going to be watching that game. So they're going to come out with high intensity, and we've got to match that. Once we do that, we'll be fine."

Fisher is quick to make the case that Florida State hasn't been awful away from home. Take away a brutal second half at NC State and the Seminoles have outscored their opponents 79-37 on the road. Consider that turnovers and blocked punts have set the table for more than half the points allowed by FSU's defense in its three road games, and it's clear that the potential for dominance exists, even if the execution has failed to deliver consistently.

Florida State is 6-0 at home with an average margin of victory of 45 points. On the road, FSU is 2-1 with an average margin of just eight points. On average, FSU has 180 more yards of offense at home than it has on the road this season -- the sixth-largest differential in the nation.

"We've only had one really poor game on the road, and we scored 30 points in the other two," Fisher said. "But you've got to get used to playing on the road. It takes maturity. It takes things you've got to be able to handle -- momentum swings, the emotion of the game, all that type of stuff."

The emotional swings have been immense in all three road games. In both road wins -- at USF and Miami -- the Seminoles fell behind early. In both cases, a key turnover swung the momentum back in their favor.

In the loss at NC State, Manuel and Co. silenced the crowd early, jumping out to a 16-0 lead, but the wheels came off in the second half and the Wolfpack marched down the field for two late touchdowns, including the game-winner with less than a minute to play.

The key to Thursday's game, Manuel said, is grabbing that momentum early and controlling the tempo.

"What we've done at home is have quick starts to give us a spark," Manuel said. "If we can get that going in Blacksburg, that'd be huge for us. But if we don't, when we get opportunities to score the ball, we need to do that."

Manuel's latter point is an important one because it's not just that Florida State has had fewer scoring chances away from home, it's that the Seminoles have done less with them.

In five home games, FSU has made 41 trips inside the red zone and scored touchdowns on 32 of them -- a 78 percent touchdown rate that ranks 13th nationally and tops in the ACC. On the road, however, red-zone trips have resulted in touchdowns just 43 percent of the time, tied for 96th in the nation.

The challenge this week is for Florida State to avoid wasting opportunities.

"Go out and deliver that first punch, and when you deliver it, stick it to them and keep going," Joyner said. "Don't expect anyone to just lay down for you. Teams are going to play us with their 'A' game, and that's what we need to give for 60 minutes."

Virginia Tech provides an obvious opportunity.

The Hokies are slumping through their worst season in more than two decades, and Florida State's players all had a chance to watch as Virginia Tech was thumped by Miami last Thursday.

It would be easy to overlook the struggling Hokies (4-5, 2-3 in the ACC), but it would also be foolish. All five of Virginia Tech's losses have come away from home, but it is a perfect 4-0 at Lane Stadium. And amid a season in which high expectations were dashed early, a win over the highly ranked Seminoles (8-1, 5-1) could serve as Virginia Tech's last hurrah.

"It's a huge game, and we know Virginia Tech is going to be ready," Manuel said. "They're going to have a great environment. Their fans are going to be riled up; it's a night game. We're going to prepare for it, but we've got to stay focused and know it's a big matchup."