A pair of struggling ACC Atlantic teams will try to right their respective ships on Saturday afternoon in Raleigh, North Carolina, as Florida State visits NC State. The Seminoles are coming off their worst home loss in program history after being thrashed by No. 2 Clemson last weekend, 59-10. The Wolfpack appeared at No. 21 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings despite consecutive losses to Clemson and Syracuse.
After getting its first win in Tallahassee since 2005 last season, NC State will try to beat the Seminoles in Raleigh for the first time since '12. FSU will look to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time this season and will hope to get its first win over a ranked opponent since topping Michigan in the Orange Bowl to conclude the 2016 campaign.
NC State head coach Dave Doeren got his first win over the Seminoles last season, 27-21, at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Wolfpack had lost the previous four in the series. FSU hasn’t lost to NC State in consecutive years since 2005-06. Florida State head coach Willie Taggart will be looking for just his third win over a ranked team as a head coach.
Florida State at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: NC State -7.5
Three Things to Watch
NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has been a solid player for the Wolfpack over the last two years, but he has been bitten by the turnover bug in recent weeks. The redshirt senior has thrown six interceptions this season, but half of those have come in the last two games. Finley passed for 473 yards and three touchdowns his last time out, but an untimely pick with NC State trailing 44-41 with just over two minutes to go allowed Syracuse to put the game away. Finley will be facing a talented FSU secondary but one that has been gashed through the air. Finley passed for 230 yards and a pair of scores last season against the Seminoles.
Nothing has been etched in stone yet, but there is speculation that sophomore James Blackman could make his first start of the season on Saturday for Florida State. Last season, his first start also came against the Wolfpack. Starter Deondre Francois has been knocked around this season and left Saturday’s loss to Clemson prematurely. Although it was largely against reserves, Blackman was able to have some success moving the FSU offense. In his debut against the Wolfpack last season, Blackman passed for 278 yards — still a career high — and a score. NC State ranks last in the ACC against the pass.
2. The ground game
Saturday’s contest between the Seminoles and Wolfpack will feature two of the ACC’s worst rushing offenses and two of the conference’s best rushing defenses. FSU ranks dead last in the ACC in rushing offense, averaging fewer than 85 yards per game on the ground. It’s not for a lack of talent, as Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick are both likely future NFL backs, but they have gotten little help from their offensive line. Led by linebacker Germaine Pratt, NC State is allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the ACC behind only Clemson.
Behind the Tigers and Wolfpack when it comes to rush defense are the Seminoles. FSU ranks in the top 25 nationally in fewest rush yards per game allowed, and that’s largely because of a deep defensive line. Brian Burns, a junior, headlines that unit, but mostly as a pass rusher. Defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas and Marvin Wilson start for a deep group of DTs and are the biggest reason for Florida State’s success against the run. NC State has struggled to replace Nyheim Hines, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Reggie Gallaspy gets the lion’s share of the carries for the Wolfpack but is averaging fewer than four yards per carry. Either team's ability to generate a running game on Saturday would greatly help out the quarterbacks.
3. Special teams
Much like rushing offense, special teams play has not been a strength for either squad. According to the S&P+ rankings, both teams rank in the bottom third of the country in the kicking game. A.J. Cole is a solid punter for the Wolfpack, but that’s where the strengths probably stop for NC State. The Wolfpack have allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, they rank 12th in kickoff return average in the ACC and they have given up three returns of at least 40 yards.
For FSU, it’s more of the same. The Seminoles have been penalty-ridden on special teams this season, while kicker Ricky Aguayo already has more misses than all of last season on eight fewer attempts. FSU has been good in kickoff return coverage but bad in punt return coverage. DJ Matthews is a dangerous return man but muffed a punt last week. In the opener against Virginia Tech, punter Logan Tyler had one blocked for a touchdown. In last season’s contest in Tallahassee, FSU was able to block an NC State punt.
With both teams reeling, playing well early will be key for each team’s confidence. FSU was tied with Clemson for a quarter last week before the wheels fell off, but the Noles typically have been slow starters this year. NC State has fallen behind early in each of the last two weeks. FSU and NC State have similar strengths and weaknesses heading into Saturday’s contest. When all is said and done, however, the Wolfpack have the home-field advantage and the better situation at quarterback.