North Carolina eyes first 4-0 start since 1997 as Tar Heels visit Tallahassee
For the third time in four games, Florida State will be facing a top-15 team. For the second week in a row, the Seminoles will be taking on an opponent ranked in the top five.
No. 5 North Carolina (3-0) will come to Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night, looking to stay undefeated. After struggling at Boston College two weeks ago, the Tar Heels notched a signature win last week with a 56-45 win over Virginia Tech. FSU is coming off a 42-26 loss at Notre Dame.
FSU comes in with a record of 1-3 and will look to avoid its worst five-game start since 1975. North Carolina is looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 1997. The Tar Heels have won the last two contests between the teams, both by 37-35 scores. The visiting team has won the last three games in the series.
North Carolina at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: North Carolina -14
When North Carolina Has the Ball
When it comes to offense, North Carolina has talent at every position. In the season opener, Florida State lost to a quarterback formerly committed to the Seminoles in Georgia Tech's Jeff Sims. On Saturday, it will try to avoid letting it happen again as Sam Howell leads the Tar Heel attack. Although he was off to a bit of a slow start, Howell was outstanding last week against Virginia Tech. Among ACC quarterbacks, only Clemson's Trevor Lawrence has a higher passer rating.
Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are a talented wide receiver duo, but to this point, the ground game has been the strength of the North Carolina offense. The combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams has combined for 696 yards through three games on 8.2 yards per carry. Carter is the leading rusher with 413 yards while Williams leads the ACC with six rushing touchdowns. Williams also is North Carolina's second-leading receiver with six catches for 133 yards and a score.
Defensively, Florida State has been absolutely abysmal. The Seminoles were expected to have one of the best defensive lines in the country, but haven't got much from Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden, Janarius Robinson or Joshua Kaindoh. Linebacker Amari Gainer leads the team with 32 tackles and a forced fumble.
The biggest bright spot for FSU this season on defense has arguably been cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Samuel, a junior, currently is tied for the national lead with three interceptions. FSU has been beat up in the secondary this season. Last season's leading tackler Hamsah Nasirildeen has still yet to play, but could be back soon. FSU ranks 11th in the ACC in total defense, 12th in scoring defense and 13th in rush defense.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Since his insertion into the lineup, Florida State has gotten a boost from quarterback Jordan Travis. FSU has scored 67 points in its last seven quarters as opposed to just 23 in the previous nine. Regarded largely as a runner, Travis has shown that he can make plays with his arm.
The bad news for Travis is that he won't his top target this week as wide receiver Tamorrion Terry is expected to undergo minor knee surgery and likely will be out at least a couple of weeks. Terry had a monster game last week against Notre Dame with nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. In Terry's absence, look for tight end Camren McDonald and wide receivers Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton to take on bigger roles.
Despite losing Cam Akers early to the NFL draft, the Seminoles are actually in good shape in the backfield. Travis leads the team with 235 rushing yards, but newcomers Lawrance Toafili, La'Damian Webb and Jashaun Corbin have combined to run for 450 yards and five scores. One pleasant surprise for FSU this season has been the improved play of the offensive line.
North Carolina ranks fifth in the ACC in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, but the Tar Heels had a rough week against Virginia Tech. North Carolina yielded 45 points and 495 yards, including 260 on the ground. North Carolina will be without some key defensive pieces this week in defensive tackle Raymond Vohasek and cornerback Storm Duck.
What North Carolina will try to force Florida State to do on Saturday is throw the football. The Tar Heels have been stellar against the pass, giving up just 5.5 yards per attempt. That's the best in the ACC and fifth nationally. The Tar Heels have also done a nice job generating pressure this year. Converted quarterback-turned linebacker Chazz Surratt and defensive tackle Tomari Fox each have three sacks. Surratt leads the team with 21 tackles this season. As a team, North Carolina has forced just one turnover this year – the fewest in the ACC.
With the turn to Jordan Travis at quarterback, there are reasons to be optimistic about Florida State's offense. The Seminoles moved the ball well against Notre Dame and will be facing a shorthanded North Carolina defense that struggled last week against Virginia Tech. The bad news for the Seminoles is that its defense just doesn't seem capable of getting consistent stops and the Tar Heels are loaded with offensive firepower. The lack of a pass rush and inability to stop the run should make for a prosperous day for North Carolina.
Prediction: North Carolina 45, Florida State 30
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.