Florida State will look to bounce back from its second loss of the season on Saturday as the Seminoles play host to North Carolina State. N.C. State became bowl-eligible with a 24-8 victory over Boston College last week and is one of only two ACC teams to defeat FSU twice under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles have won two straight in the series, including a 56-41 victory last season in Raleigh. To break down Saturday’s contest, the Noled Out staff brings you “Five Things”:
1. On N.C. State
Mike Ferguson: N.C. State is quietly putting together a solid season. The Wolfpack are good on offense with quarterback Jacoby Brissett leading that ship and solid on defense. N.C. State did suffer a huge blow against Clemson when it lost running back Matt Dayes for the remainder of the season, forcing it to rely a bit more on the passing attack.
Clint Eiland: The Wolfpack are a good team that have struggled with consistency this season. While they have a good offense (first in rushing S&P), sometimes it doesn’t show up when it needs to. That being said, they’ve put up 35, 41, and 24 points in their past three games against good defenses. N.C. State is hot coming into Tallahassee and is looking to catch the Seminoles off guard.
Jon Marchant: According to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings, N.C. State is 31st in offense and 24th in defense. In other words, the Wolfpack are more than good enough to beat FSU if it comes out flat. Jacoby Brissett returns as the quarterback for N.C. State, but hopefully for FSU, not with his magical ability to break tackles.
2. Players to Watch for FSU
Ferguson: Even with Dayes out, N.C. State is a team that likes to run the ball and the Seminoles will need to be stout up front. With that said, I’m looking forward to watching for how defensive tackles Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Nnadi play against the Wolfpack front. Lawrence-Stample has had a stellar senior season while Nnadi has emerged as a sophomore. The FSU defensive front will need to play well Saturday and force Brissett to try and win the game with his arm.
Eiland: Linebacker Jacob Pugh had a good game against the Wolfpack last year in the shootout in Raleigh. He was disruptive on more than a few occasions and came up with a huge fumble recovery to help regain momentum. The defense looks better each game and if FSU wants to avoid the upset, it’ll have to get pressure on the quarterback. Pugh can do that.
Marchant: Safety Derwin James. This freshman is simply a stud.
3. Biggest Concern for FSU
Ferguson: Perhaps the biggest task this week will be containing Brissett in the pocket. The Seminoles have done a pretty good job slowing down mobile quarterbacks this season and this week will need to be no different. Brissett can not only pick up yards with his legs, but can extend plays as well, as he did too often last season against FSU in Raleigh in 2014. The Seminoles will obviously need to get pressure on Brissett this week, but they’ll also need to keep him in the pocket.
Eiland: Last year’s game was what happens when a team can’t force an offense off the field. Jacoby Brissett is the N.C. State quarterback and is largely underrated as far as ACC quarterbacks go. He’s a playmaker, and that means the Seminoles will need to corral him in the pocket to prevent any big plays.
Marchant: Turnovers. FSU isn’t good enough to win if it turns the ball over two or more times.
4. X-Factor for FSU
Ferguson: The X-factor for this contest is freshman running back Jacques Patrick. After rushing for 162 yards against Syracuse, Patrick was used sparingly against Clemson with Dalvin Cook back in the lineup. At home and against slightly weaker competition, expect the Seminoles to utilize both backs a bit more this week.
Eiland: Linebackers in coverage has been a major weakness for the FSU defense over the last two years. This was an area where Clemson killed Florida State, and it could have been worse if Deshaun Watson had connected on more of his throws. The linebackers need to be disciplined over the middle or else the Wolfpack offense could have a big day. If they can at least deter throws in their area, it bodes well for the defensive game plan.
Marchant: Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook. Cook is clearly not healthy and probably won’t be for the rest of this year. Can he pull away from this Wolfpack defense? If he can’t and FSU has to execute in the red zone, the Seminoles might be in trouble.
5. FSU Wins If…
Ferguson: Florida State will win this game if it comes in focused and plays how it has at home all season. The Seminoles have clearly been a better team at Doak Campbell Stadium than away from it, particularly on offense. FSU will need to be balanced offensively and find a way to stop the N.C. State ground attack. The Seminoles will also need to avoid becoming complacent after their ACC four-peat hopes ended in Clemson.
Eiland: …the FSU defense can hold N.C. State under 28 points. The FSU offense is not a concern for this game if most of the starters are fairly healthy. But this N.C. State offense can give teams trouble when it gets in a rhythm. If the Wolfpack play like they did against Clemson, the Seminoles will win. If FSU is tired, unprepared or unmotivated, it could become a shootout that Florida State might not win.
Marchant: The defense is excellent but the offense is extremely young and the receiving corps is undersized. FSU must play mistake-free football and execute in the red zone on offense. FSU will need to find a way to convert at least two-thirds of its red zone trips into touchdowns.