ACC teams coming off their first loss of the season will meet on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium as Florida State visits NC State. One might call this an Atlantic division elimination game.
The Seminoles' first national ranking since the 2018 preseason was short-lived. After a 4-0 start, FSU fell at home last week to Wake Forest. In another pivotal ACC Atlantic showdown, NC State came up short last weekend in a 30-20 road loss at Clemson.
No. 14 NC State will eye its first ACC win of the season. FSU, on the other hand, will look to defeat the Wolfpack for the first time since 2019 and in Raleigh for the first time since 2016. The Wolfpack have won the last two in the series, including a 28-14 victory last season in Tallahassee.
Florida State at No. 14 NC State
When Florida State Has the Ball
In last season's loss in Tallahassee, FSU was without starting quarterback Jordan Travis. Travis has made leaps and bounds as a passer this season and leads the ACC with 9.7 yards per attempt. He ranks in the top 20 nationally with a 166.96 passer rating. With his maturity as a passer, Travis hasn't used his legs much this season but remains more than capable of doing so. The Seminoles will look to get their ground game back on track after a season-low 112 yards rushing last week in a 31-21 loss to the Demon Deacons. FSU has a solid trio at tailback in Treshaun Ward, Lawrance Toafili, and Trey Benson. Benson (6.8) and Ward (6.5) each rank in the top five in the conference in yards per carry.
Perhaps the biggest area of improvement this season has been the receiving corps. In five games, the Seminoles have had five different players lead the team in receiving. Two of its top three receivers transferred to Tallahassee this offseason, including leading receiver Johnny Wilson. Wilson leads the team with 19 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns. The Seminoles are beat up along the offensive line but are as deep at the position as they've been in a long time.
NC State will enter Saturday's contest ranking second in the ACC in both total (280.0 ypg) and scoring (15.4 ppg) defense. It also ranks in the top 20 nationally in both categories. The Wolfpack don't have a stellar edge rusher, but they're very good everywhere else. C.J. Clark, a 300-pound defensive tackle, leads the team with two sacks through five games. Also a load in the middle for the Wolfpack is a familiar face for those back in Tallahassee in Cory Durden. Devin Vann is also a load to block for opposing offenses. Where NC State may be best, however, is at linebacker.
Drake Thomas and Payton Wilson may be the best linebacker duo in the ACC. Wilson recorded a season-high 11 tackles last week at Clemson while Thomas leads the team with 32 total stops. Isaiah Moore is also very good at the position. Tanner Ingle, a senior safety, is a hard hitter in the secondary and headlines that contingent. Derrek Pitts Jr. and Aydan White are both solid cover men at cornerback. White leads the team with two interceptions this season. Both came against Texas Tech, including one he returned 84 yards for a touchdown. For the third straight week, FSU will see a former Seminole in the secondary. This week, it's safety Cyrus Fagan.
When NC State Has the Ball
NC State quarterback Devin Leary hasn't put up big numbers most weeks this season but is still one of the best in the ACC. Leary passed for more than 300 yards in last season's win over FSU and has a pair of contests with four touchdown passes this season. For the year, he has 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. left a big void in the backfield, but Demie Sumo-Karngbaye has done his best to pick up the slack. Sumo-Karngbaye has 262 rushing yards for the season on 6.0 yards per carry and is a capable receiver. Among ACC teams, only Virginia Tech and Boston College average fewer rushing yards per game than the Wolfpack.
Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter are an experienced duo of wide receivers for NC State. Carter is a big target at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds while Thomas is the quintessential possession receiver. Thomas is NC State's leading receiver and eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Seminoles in their last trip to Raleigh in 2020. Tight end Trent Pennix was the leading receiver for the Wolfpack in last season's victory with three grabs for 97 yards and a touchdown, but he hasn't played since suffering an arm injury in the 2022 opener against East Carolina. While the offensive line has been iffy at creating holes, it has only yielded eight sacks through five games. Center Grant Gibson headlines that unit.
FSU held Wake Forest to season-lows in points and yards per play last week, but its inability to get off the field on third down would ultimately cost the Seminoles. The good news for FSU is that defensive end Jared Verse seems to be getting healthy. An FCS UAlbany transfer, Verse was limited last week but made a big impact. Despite missing the Sept. 24 contest against Boston College, Verse still ranks second in the ACC with four sacks. Without Fabien Lovett, Robert Cooper has been forced to carry the load for the Seminoles on the interior of the defensive line. Derrick McLendon II and Patrick Payton are having solid seasons as edge rushers.
UCF transfer Tatum Bethune has made a big impact at linebacker for FSU, but Kalen DeLoach has been the best at the position so far. For the year, DeLoach has 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a team-leading four pass defenses. Jammie Robinson headlines the FSU secondary and leads the team with 34 total tackles, including 13 last week against Wake Forest. In last season's loss to the Wolfpack, Robinson had 10 tackles and an interception he returned 47 yards. Robinson is the lone standout, but FSU has good depth in the secondary and lots of promising players. As a team, FSU ranks fifth in the ACC in total and scoring defense. NC State has a huge edge in the placekicking department. Christopher Dunn is 7-for-7 on field goals this season while FSU's Ryan Fitzgerald has struggled mightily.
NC State has put up big offensive numbers in each of the last two meetings between the teams in Raleigh, but expect a better night for the defenses this time around. The key for FSU in this one will be generating pressure, and the Wolfpack haven't given up a lot of its this season. With time, Leary will make the throws he needs to for the Wolfpack to win. NC State could give the Seminoles some of the same troubles that Wake Forest did last week. If FSU can be balanced against a stout NC State rushing defense, it should be in a good position to win. With NC State getting this one at home and at night and with FSU's struggles in the kicking game, it's hard to pick against the Wolfpack.
Prediction: NC State 24, Florida State 20
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
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