A pair of ACC Atlantic teams hope to have winning records in conference play after this week as NC State visits Tallahassee to take on Florida State on Saturday night. The Seminoles watched another big lead evaporate last week before holding on to beat Louisville, 35-24. NC State topped Ball State at home, 34-23.
The Wolfpack have never won three straight over FSU, but that will be the task at hand this weekend at Doak Campbell Stadium. NC State topped the Seminoles 47-28 last year in Raleigh and won 27-21 in its last trip to Tallahassee in 2017.
FSU is 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the ACC. Going 2-1 in conference play would be the best start for Florida State since 2015. NC State is off to a 3-1 start and this is the Wolfpack's ACC opener.
NC State at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Florida State -4.5
When NC State Has the Ball
The Wolfpack didn't return a lot of familiar faces from last season's nine-win team, but through four games, they rank fourth in the ACC in both scoring and total offense. Sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay has done an admirable job taking the reins under center and has seven touchdowns to his name. Four of those have come on the ground. McKay has not been overly impressive as a passer, but he has avoided critical mistakes.
In the backfield, the name to know is freshman Zonovan "Bam" Knight, who leads NC State with 269 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry to go with three touchdowns. Ricky Person Jr. and Jordan Houston will also see carries for a Wolfpack team that averages more than 200 yards per game on the ground and finished with 177 yards rushing in last season's victory over Florida State. When it comes to pass catchers, junior wide receiver Emeka Emezie and 6-foot-7 tight end Cary Angeline are two players to watch. The offensive line has done a good job, allowing just four sacks and paving the way for the Wolfpack to average 5.2 yards per carry.
After a horrendous first couple of weeks, the Florida State defense has made strides since the beginning of ACC play. Last week, FSU held a Louisville team that came in leading the ACC in rushing yards per game to just 124 yards on the ground on 2.6 yards per rush. It all starts up front with the defensive tackle duo of Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden. Those two have combined for 6.5 sacks and eight tackles for a loss thus far in four games.
The linebackers unit has been a liability for most of the season, but redshirt junior Emmett Rice has given it a spark in recent weeks. Although he was hampered by an injury last week against Louisville, junior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen is FSU's leading tackler with 28 stops. He's also tied for the FBS lead with three forced fumbles.
When Florida State Has the Ball
With redshirt sophomore James Blackman nursing an MCL sprain, all signs point to Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook getting his first start at Florida State. Hornibrook shined in relief against Louisville, passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 pass attempts. In last season's loss in Raleigh, Blackman passed for 421 yards against the Wolfpack with four touchdowns.
His top target a season ago was Tamorrion Terry, who finished that game with 142 yards receiving and two scores. This season, Terry is leading the Seminoles with 307 yards receiving and scored the go-ahead 60-yard touchdown to put his team in front for good last week against Louisville. The focal point of the offense is junior running back Cam Akers, who is coming off a three-touchdown performance. Akers leads the ACC in rushing with 499 yards and scoring with eight total touchdowns. All FSU could muster last season against NC State was a meager 24 yards on the ground.
After a hot start, the NC State defense has given up 67 points in the last two weeks. The Wolfpack aren't a great pass-rushing team, but they are holding opponents under three yards per carry. Larrell Murchison has been a force in the middle of the lineup for the Wolfpack thus far and will be tasked with slowing Akers.
Sophomore safety Tanner Ingle leads NC State with 31 total tackles and a forced fumble this season. On the outside, junior cornerback Chris Ingram is in the midst of a breakout season. Ingram has a pair of picks to lead NC State.
If Saturday's contest is close, kicker Christopher Dunn could be a difference-maker for NC State. Dunn is 8-for-10 on field goals this season and has not missed from inside 50 yards. After making his first three kicks, FSU's Ricky Aguayo was 0-for-3 last week against the Cardinals.
Saturday's contest in Tallahassee will be a pivotal game for both teams, but there seems to be more on the line for Willie Taggart and Florida State. Since an embarrassing first couple of weeks, the Seminoles seem to be trending in the right direction. In its only road game of the season thus far, NC State was handled by a West Virginia team that was blasted by Missouri and struggled with the likes of James Madison and Kansas. The crowd was small in Tallahassee against Louisville, but having this one at home and at night could give the Seminoles a significant edge.