Florida State (4-4) vs. NC State (5-2) Game Preview
RALEIGH, N.C. – Nine months ago, an early-November road trip to North Carolina State, sandwiched between contests against Clemson and Notre Dame, had all the classic signs of a trap game for the Florida State football team.
But there are no trap games for 4-4 teams looking to reach a bowl for the 37th consecutive season, and, as such, the Wolfpack has FSU’s full attention.
The Seminoles (4-4, 2-4 ACC) will meet NC State at 3:30 p.m. in the first of four consecutive games against teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25 to end the regular season.
And, despite being on the wrong end of a 59-10 decision against Clemson last week, the Seminoles are viewing the final month of the season as an opportunity to improve, pick up some quality victories and finish their season the same way every FSU team for the last 36 seasons has – in a bowl game.
“It’s a completely fresh start,” FSU lineman Cole Minshew said. “We’re treating this game just like any other game. Going in with a game plan and attacking it just like any other week. Just trying to prepare and be ready for NC State.”
Florida State enters the game with roster questions, particularly at quarterback, where Deondre Francois’ status is uncertain after sustaining an injury last week.
If Francois can’t go, coach Willie Taggart will turn the reins over to James Blackman for essentially the first time this season.
Blackman has played sparingly this year, but his energy and enthusiasm, as well as a Florida State offense that looks like it could use a boost, have led to some in the FSU fan base clamoring for the sophomore to get a look.
While making a first start of the season on the road at an ACC opponent might be a big ask, both Blackman’s teammates and coaches have his back.
And Blackman did have an encouraging, albeit brief, outing against Clemson, completing 3 of 4 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“There’s a reason he plays at Florida State, and there’s a reason he played last year when his number was called,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “I’m excited to see him play well (against Clemson) and to go out there and do his job.”
Beyond quarterback, there’s intrigue surrounding the Seminoles’ depth chart at large after Taggart said he saw a lack of effort at times against the Tigers.
Further clarifying during his Monday press conference, Taggart compared the problem to a “bad egg” – not an epidemic, but enough to spoil a meal.
Still, players who don’t give the proper effort won’t play, Taggart said. Which means there’s at least the possibility that the Seminoles could look a little different when they take the field Saturday.
Two changes are guaranteed: Starting receiver Nyqwan Murray and reserve linebacker Zaquandre White will miss the first half after being ejected last Saturday.
“Our entire football team needs to understand exactly what we mean about quitting, what we mean about competing and what the standard is here at Florida State when we go out there on the football field and play,” Taggart said.
“It’s going to be that way, no ifs, and or buts about it. And we’re going to hold everyone accountable, players and coaches, to live up to that standard.”
The Seminoles on Saturday will face an NC State team that might be as big of a mystery as a team can be in November.
The Wolfpack started 5-0, beat now-ranked Virginia and Boston College and climbed as high as No. 16 in the national rankings. But they have since sputtered on their way to losses to Clemson and Syracuse in back-to-back weeks, having allowed 41 and 51 points, respectively, in those contests.
And the Wolfpack missed an opportunity for a high-profile, non-conference win when its Week 2 home game against then-No. 15 West Virginia was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.
One thing that’s certain: FSU’s pass defense will be tested for a second consecutive week. NC State’s Ryan Finley ranks seventh nationally with 321.4 yards per game, and he completes nearly 70 percent of his passes.
And because of NC State’s quick-passing offensive scheme, Finley is rarely sacked. Opposing defenses have brought him down just four times this season.
Finley also has the ACC’s leading receiver in 6-foot-3 junior Kelvin Harmon (46 catches, 794 yards, 4 TDs).
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes (on offense),” FSU linebacker Dontavious Jackson said. “Pretty good offensive line, and they know what they want to do. They know what their strengths are and they run their offense around it.”
Speaking of strengths, the statistics suggest a pass-heavy game on both sides, regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Seminoles.
Both FSU and NC State have leaned heavily on their air attacks, and neither have been able to get much going on the ground.
NC State ranks sixth nationally in passing yards per game, and FSU 36th. Each team’s rushing offense, however, is near the bottom of the country.
“It’s a big-time game for us,” Taggart said. “An important game for us.”
Odds and Ends
- Florida State leads the all-time series with NC State, 26-12, and has won eight of the last 11 matchups.
- And despite Carter-Finley Stadium’s reputation as FSU’s personal house of horrors, the Seminoles own an 11-7 record there and have won in each of their last two visits.
- NC State, however, is 4-0 at home this season.
- FSU is one of three teams in the country with three remaining opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Auburn and Louisville are the others.
- NC State receiver Kelvin Harmon accounted for 46 percent of his team’s total yardage last week at Syracuse (247 of 561 total yards). That’s the highest percentage of any FBS player in 2018.
- Despite discrepancies in production, NC State has committed to a balanced offense. The Wolfpack have called 248 running plays and 267 passes.
- Five takeaways from Willie Taggart’s NC State press conference
- Blackman: ‘I Just Know We’ve Got Great Things Coming’
- As Noles Gear Up For NC State, ‘It’s All About The Get-Back’
- Football Round-Up: Francois still ‘day-to-day’
Week 10 Interviews
Head coach Willie Taggart
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell
Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett
WR D.J. Matthews
LB Dontavious Jackson
One Reason Why Florida State Will Win
Can the passing game keep hammering on an NC State secondary that’s been ripped apart over the last two weeks?
The Wolfpack were 5-0 with a big battle against Clemson right there with a chance to make a statement, and laid an egg.
The air went out of the balloon as the secondary got ripped to shreds for 380 yards in a 41-7 loss.
That was nothing compared to the 480 yards and three touchdowns the Pack allowed at Syracuse last week.
Thanks to a struggling offensive line that couldn’t handle the Clemson pass rush, FSU couldn’t run the ball a lick in last week’s 59-10 loss. The week before, though, Deondre Francois and the passing game clicked with 353 yards and two scores.
When the Seminole offense works, it cranks up big plays down the field and it keeps the pressure on defenses. In the four wins this year, Francois averaged seven yards or more per pass. He was under that in the four losses. No matter who’s at quarterback, the air show should show up.
NC State’s secondary has allowed over seven yards per throw in each of the last four games and in five of the last six.
The secondary isn’t coming up with takeaways, and again, the big plays have been there in chunks.
One Reason Why NC State Will Win
Francois is hurting.
He’s taken a pounding, and he was limited in practices this week. James Blackman hasn’t done much this season, and if he’s thrown to the wolves, uh oh, because …
Forget about running the ball on the Pack defensive front.
FSU was stuffed for -21 net yards against Clemson, and on the year the ground game is the third-worst in college football, averaging just 84 yards per game.
Considering NC State has only allowed more than 100 rushing yards once in the last five games – giving up just 120 to Boston College – it’s all on Francois to make this a game.
Pack QB Ryan Finley had a bad day against Clemson, but that’s been it. He’s been amazing against everyone else, coming close to pulling off a massive comeback against Syracuse, throwing for 473 yards and three scores with a whole slew of big plays.
He’s been amazing, and WR Kelvin Harmon has been fantastic, catching 11 passes soft 247 yards and two scores against the Orange for his fourth 100-yard day in the last six games.
He should go off against an FSU secondary that’s a shadow of its former self.
What’s Going To Happen
Look for this one to be a gritty game if FSU plays up to the level they are capable without shooting themselves in the foot. If that holds true then expect to see a dogfight well into the 4th quarter with a key stop by the defense to seal a road win for Florida State and play spoiler during NC State’s Homecoming.
Fearless Prediction & Line
Florida State 31, NC State 27
Line: NC State -8.5, o/u: 54
Date: Saturday, November 3
Game Time: 3:30 ET
Venue: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC