Florida State will try to bounce back from what may be its lowest point in program history. Last week, the Seminoles fell to an FCS school in Jacksonville State that was shut out by UAB the week before while gaining less than 200 yards. Not only did FSU lose, but it inexplicably gave up a 59-yard touchdown on the final play.
FSU is 0-2 for the third time in five years, while Wake Forest is off to a 2-0 start for the fifth time in six yeras. The schedule hasn't been the most daunting, but the Demon Deacons had little trouble with Old Dominion or FCS Norfolk State. Dave Clawson's team enters Saturday's contest against Florida State averaging 41.5 points per game and allowing just 13.
The teams did not meet last season, but in 2019, Wake Forest snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles with a hard-fought 22-20 win. Even before that, the Demon Deacons had hung tough with FSU in Winston-Salem in a pair of one-score games in 2015 and '17.
Florida State at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wake Forest -5
When Florida State Has the Ball
After a solid outing against Notre Dame, the Florida State offense took a tremendous step back against Jacksonville State. McKenzie Milton, in his first start since a devastating knee injury in 2018 while he was at UCF, had a very pedestrian evening but got little help from his pass catchers. The star for the offense thus far has been running back Jashaun Corbin. After rushing for a career-high 144 yards in the loss to Notre Dame, Corbin again went over the century mark last week against Jacksonville State.
Faces change and coaches change, but the offensive line is still an issue. The Seminoles had a decent night running the ball against Jacksonville State and did not give up a sack, but when they needed tough yards, FSU just couldn't get them. This offense is still looking for a receiver to emerge as a go-to target. Camren McDonald is a talented tight end, but the Seminoles don't have a player with more than 80 receiving yards yet on the year.
Wake Forest has yielded less than four yards per carry in each of its first two games, but that was against suspect competition. Against FSU, the contest could ultimately come down to how well the Seminoles run the football. Miles Fox, a transfer from Old Dominion, is a very experienced defensive tackle who will be key for Wake Forest on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Jasheen Davis has led the pass rush thus far with 1.5 sacks.
Luke Masterson is the Demon Deacons' leading tackler with 13 stops so far. Where this defense may be strongest, however, is in the secondary. Ja'Sir Taylor and Nasir Greer bring talent and a ton of experience. Safety Nick Andersen, a former walk-on, has been banged up early but is very good when healthy. This group should make things difficult for Milton and the FSU passing attack.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
For Wake Forest, quarterback Sam Hartman will be making his third start against the Seminoles. The fourth-year sophomore from Charlotte threw for more than 300 yards in the last meeting after a rough first two outings against FSU. This season, Hartman is off to a stellar start, completing 67 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Like Hartman, running back Christian Beal-Smith is not new to the program. He rushed for more than 700 yards last season but has been bottled up in two meetings against FSU.
Where Wake Forest can exploit the Seminoles is through the air. Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan and Jacksonville State's Zerrick Cooper were each able to stretch the FSU defense, and Demon Deacons wide receiver Jaquarii Robinson is one of the best in the ACC. He tallied 926 receiving yards last season, leading the conference in yards per game at nearly 103. AT Perry and Taylor Morin are other reliable targets for Hartman. Another weapon that could be a factor on Saturday is Wake Forest kicker Nick Sciba, who is 15-for-17 from beyond 40 yards for his career but has yet to attempt a 50-yarder.
Defensively, Florida State has improved even if it hasn't resulted in wins. Transfer defensive linemen Keir Thomas and Jermaine Johnson are a big reason why. Through two weeks, Johnson has arguably been the best pass rusher in the country. Johnson leads the ACC with four sacks and the nation with six tackles for a loss. He's also the leading tackler for the Seminoles with 18 total stops. FSU has a deep defensive line and is allowing just 2.3 yards per rush this season — best in the ACC.
Amari Gainer and Kalen DeLoach have been solid for the Seminoles at linebacker, but Saturday's contest may come down to how well the secondary holds up. This group has been gashed for big plays this season and was unable to get timely third-down stops last week against Jacksonville State. Cornerback Jarvis Brownlee has shown flashes at times but was embarrassed for the Gamecocks' last-second, game-winning touchdown. Travis Jay has the lone interception so far for FSU, although he's been picked on as well.
On paper, this looks like a fairly even matchup. Florida State will look to run the ball against a Wake Forest defense that hasn't played great competition yet still allowed more than 140 rushing yards in each of its first two games. Conversely, if the Demon Deacons can protect Hartman, he should have the chance to pick on a struggling FSU secondary. Mentally, one does have to wonder where the Seminoles are following the gut-wrenching loss to Jacksonville State. Having his team play with confidence will be a real challenge for Florida State head coach Mike Norvell. The fact that this one is in Winston-Salem doesn't help matters either.
Prediction: Wake Forest 35, Florida State 24
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.