Florida State will look to bounce back from their first loss of the season on Saturday night. It won’t be an easy test as they travel to take on the 14th ranked Wolfpack in Carter Finley stadium. A place FSU has not played that well in the past and NC State has won 13 in a row.
However, NC State will also be looking to rebound from their first loss after falling to Clemson 30-20 last week. The Wolfpack look like a solid team, but top 15 worthy is a bit of stretch in my opinion. This game looks to be a close one with the spread only around 3 points and most prediction models give NC State around a 60% chance to win. Can the Noles do enough to bring home sod? It won’t be easy but let me explain why it’s possible!
NC State is 4-1, has a top 20 defense, and an offense that’s struggled so far this season. When doing my research for this game one thing stood out that changed my thoughts on this game. I was fully prepared to pick NC State and to be fair I could see this one going either way. As you’ve heard me talk about before, there is context to everything and that’s important here. What stood out was despite being 4-1, seeing how they produced against the better teams they’ve played wasn’t that impressive. Per PFF they’ve played the 79th hardest schedule this season.
Let’s look their stats vs power 5 and non-power 5 teams.
As you can see, they are currently at a deficit in points and yards vs power 5 teams. Now let’s look at that 4-1 record.
They beat Eastern Carolina 21-20 and are lucky ECU can’t kick or they would have lost that game. ECU outgained them in yardage which has been the case in 3 out of 5 games this season.
Charleston Southern, who they played next, is an 0-4 FCS team that’s been blown out in 3 games.
Texas Tech was a decent power 5 win, but they gave NC State plenty of help including 3 interceptions (1 ugly pick 6) and a muffed punt that gave NC State the ball in the red zone. Texas Tech outgained them by nearly 100 yards.
UConn is just a bad team. NC State held them to 39 yards passing but UConn only averages 98 yards passing per game and only had 27 vs Michigan which is hard to even believe. UConn did put up 121 yards rushing in that game.
The one good team they played was Clemson who beat them by 10 points and was a 17-point game with 3 minutes left. This was the third game NC State got outgained in.
Let’s look at their offensive stats.
As you can see it hasn’t been a great year for their offense so far despite not playing a very tough schedule. They run a lot of short game. In fact, over 60% of their pass plays are behind the line of scrimmage or less than 9 yards down field. FSU will have to tackle well in space. Jared Verse and Amari Gainer (even on a snap count) should help with creating pressure for FSU which will make a difference in this game.
Now let’s talk about Devin Leary who is an experienced guy that had a stellar season last year. So far this season he has not been having the same type of performance as a year ago. He has lost some pieces and it shows.
He’s only thrown for over 250 yards in one game and out of his 10 passing touchdowns only 1 of them was against a power 5 team. His numbers are much worse under pressure, but he hasn’t had to deal with it often as seen below.
Thayer Thomas is a guy to watch and his favorite target to throw too. He has also thrown a few touchdown passes on trick plays which is a wrinkle to watch for. The NC State running game has not been the best this season. Unfortunately, FSU has allowed most teams to get their season high rushing yards against them so that can’t be the case in this game.
With Verse back and Amari Gainer back even in limited capacity that could help pressure Leary which would make a big difference in this game.
The NC State defense is their strength and before I make it sound otherwise, they did hold Clemson to 200 yards less than Wake Forest which was a defense FSU didn’t do the best against last week. It won’t be easy to move the ball on them especially running it. But Texas Tech and Clemson found some success running their mobile qb so Jordan may have to use his legs in this one. I also believe this will be one of the better receiver groups NC State has faced this season. My biggest concern for this game was FSU blocking NC State and they do like to bring pressure.
Speaking of another thing I noticed about NC State was maybe they’re not as dominant at bringing pressure as I gave them credit for. They’re 104th in sacks and did not record a sack vs ECU or Clemson but did record 4 sacks and 22 pressures against Texas Tech. So, I questioned how good TTU was at protecting their qb and here’s what I found. First, they are 125th in sacks allowed and then look at how they have fared against other teams vs what NC State did.
》Other teams vs TTU
Here’s another example.
Again, I’m not saying they are bad by any means, I’m just pointing out when compared to other teams NCST wasn’t quite as impressive as I thought. NC State played a lot of soft zone against Clemson which their defensive coordinator said was a mistake and they should have played more aggressive. We’ll likely see a different game plan this week. They have talented, experienced players on defense with 9 players grading out at 70+ on PFF. That doesn’t mean there aren’t weaknesses to try and get the right matchups against. They have 3 starters with PFF grades below 60. Two of which are in the secondary.
They do play fast, physical and attack downhill. It won’t be an easy night for the FSU offense, but they aren’t an immovable object either. Rankings wise they are on par with LSU and the second-best defense on the schedule. We saw FSU put up 24 points and leave a lot more on the field vs LSU. They will have a starting corner out for the first half due to targeting vs Clemson. His replacement had a PFF Grade of 44.8 in that game.
Knowing they average 20 offensive points per game I think FSU will need mid to high 20’s to win on the road which is possible if they can hold their own up front.
I think it will be close but hopefully it doesn’t come down to kicking. Their kicker is perfect on the year in both FG’s and PAT’s but maybe I just jinxed him! We may even see a new face at kicker this Saturday for FSU.
I really could see this one going either way. Other than being a tough road environment, I felt this was the most winnable of the tough 3-game stretch. I just can’t ignore how they played against power 5 teams and even ECU. They escaped one game on a missed field goal against a group of 5 team. They beat an average Big 12 team who played a sloppy game in which they outgained NC State by almost 100 yards. Then they got beat by the only other power 5 team they played who didn’t make those mistakes.
That makes me feel FSU is a little more battle tested and getting some guys back will help too. I can’t lie, I hate picking against FSU, so I’ll wear it later if I have to but I’m going with the Noles in a road upset 28-27! Thanks for reading and Go Noles!
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