Florida State vs Wake Forest Preview and Prediction

The ACC revenge tour heads to Winston-Salem this week for a game that FSU fans are both excited and probably a little nervous about. It’s not that Wake Forest is a better team because they’re not. It’s not that Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium is a hard place to play because it’s not.

However, for some unexplainable reason, the Demon Deacons have been a thorn in the side of the Seminoles for the past few years. On paper, FSU should dominate Wake Forest, but we know games aren’t played on paper. FSU is currently on a three-game losing streak to the Deacs. They are 6-4 in their last 10 trips to Winston-Salem, and 6 of 10 games were decided by 10 points or less.

Before we give Wake too much credit, that three-game streak came on the heels of one of their best periods in program history while FSU was in one of its worst. Florida State has still won 7 of the last 10 meetings and during that stretch recorded wins by 52, 56, and 43 points.

The big difference for 2023 is not only Florida State being a better team, but Wake Forest no longer has their all-time leading passer at quarterback. The biggest question for the Deacs this year was if they could still win in the post-Sam Hartman era. So far, it has not gone well as Wake is off to a 4-3 start and is 1-3 in ACC play despite playing the 99th toughest schedule, according to PFF.

Wake has played 4 consecutive ACC opponents and is 1-3 in those last 4 games. Clemson was the only one of the four that ranked in the top 50 in advanced metrics at 20th, whereas FSU is currently 9th. The Noles will be the biggest challenge the Deacs have faced this season.

Wake Forest’s recent success can largely be attributed to winning games with a high-powered offense run by veteran quarterback Sam Hartman. However, the Wake offense has taken a step back since he departed for the Fighting Irish.

Hartman wasn’t the only big loss for the Demon Deacons as back-to-back thousand-yard receiver AT Perry also left for the NFL. They had holes to fill up front, lost their number 2 back, and their second leading receiver in 2022, Donovan Greene, is out for the season with an injury this year.

Wake has struggled to replace the production and currently ranks 99th in scoring offense at 23.1 PPG compared to an average of 38.6 PPG the past two seasons. They have really struggled in a few areas, ranking 132nd in red zone touchdowns, 125th in sacks allowed, and 128th in TFLs allowed.

About the only thing they do well is run the ball at 145 YPG on average, which ranks 45th. This is also considering they have only faced one scoring defense that ranks in the top 50 (Clemson at 40th), and FSU is currently 21st.

Of course, we all know that Wake still runs that slow-mesh offense, which is downright painful to watch. Replacing Hartman, who ran that offense to perfection, is Mitch Griffith… maybe.

Griffith came into the season as the starter but got injured against VT and didn’t play last week against Pitt. Backup Michael Kern also got injured and is not projected to return this week. Third-string QB Santino Marucci started against Pitt, and led them to their first ACC win in his first career start.

Mike Norvell mentioned in this week’s press conference that they expect Griffith to return, and he is by far their most veteran guy. It’s been a tough year for Griffith so far. His QBR of 33.6 ranks 119th. He has a sub-60 % completion percentage and 9 touchdowns to 6 Interceptions. This has led to Wake having the 81st-ranked passing offense. FSU has been good against the pass the past few weeks and is currently tied for second in passing touchdowns allowed (3) and leads the country in completion percentage allowed at 50.2%, so this could be another good game for the secondary.

The biggest issue for Wake has been their offensive line. For starters, they have struggled to protect whoever is playing QB. They have allowed 31 sacks so far this year, which ranks 125th. He was sacked eight times against Georgia Tech and five against Clemson. Even FCS Elon sacked the Wake QB five times. Although Griffith is somewhat of a mobile guy and does run the ball quite a bit, he has only been able to do so much when it comes to avoiding pressure.

The Deacs run game has also struggled, averaging under 3 YPC in four games and an abysmal 1.1 YPC against Virginia Tech, who has one of the worst run defenses in college football. They are allowing 8.7 TFLs per game, which ranks 128th.

Florida State struggled to blow up the mesh point last year with a depleted interior defensive line unit. However, it is a totally different story this year. I fully expect Florida State’s talent and depth on the defensive line to take over this game and wreak havoc in the backfield.

If Marucci plays, he’s less of a runner but does throw the deep ball better than Griffith. Wake still has some talent at the receiver position, and that slow-mesh offense can be tricky to defend, but FSU should be able to dominate this offense. Wake only averaged 13.75 PPG against their four ACC opponents, and VT held them to just two field goals on offense.

While I would love a shutout here, even if that is not the case, I feel good about FSU holding them to 14 points or less.

Unlike previous years, Wake’s strength this season has been the defense. However, that speaks more to how much their offense has struggled, rather than how good their defense has been. Wake ranks middle of the pack in most categories.

They are 46th in scoring defense at 22.1 PPG allowed and have yet to give up over 30 points in a game this season. We also know that FSU comes into this contest having scored 30+ points in 13 consecutive games.

I will point out something that we also saw against Duke, FSU will be the best offense they have faced so far this year. The best scoring offense Wake has played was Clemson at 50th, and FSU is currently 5th. Duke was in a similar situation and had not given up over 21 points in a game until FSU hung 38 on them, and they have a much better defense than Wake Forest.

They are 85th against the pass, allowing 239 YPG, and 50th against the run at 128 YPG. They have been good in the red zone and third-down defense, but that’s about it.

When we look at their pressure numbers, it’s an odd story. Wake has generated 17 sacks this season, but 15 came in two games, meaning they have only gotten two sacks in their other five games. Wake has a quick but undersized defense line that FSU should be able to push around if they get their hands on them.

Wake played a lot of soft zone coverage against Pitt, and they ate them up, passing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. I don’t see their DBs being able to match up in a one-on-one situation with Keon Coleman or Johnny Wilson (if he plays). If they run a lot of zone again this week, the FSU tight ends should have another nice game. I feel good about the Noles extending their 30 points-per-game streak to 14 this week.

On special teams, Wake is 13 of 15 on field goal attempts but has not hit any from 50+. They have returned one kickoff for a touchdown as well.

Although we laid out a strong case of why FSU should theoretically hammer the Demon Deacons, knowing the history between these two programs, getting out of there with a win is all that matters.

You also may want to save a few extra dollars for the swear jar this week. In Wake’s two home ACC games this year, they have been flagged 6 times for 51 yards, whereas their opponents have racked up 27 penalties for 243 yards.

For me, this game comes down to a few main points. FSU should dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Wake has been turnover-prone this season, sitting at -5 in turnover margin, which included a 5-turnover game against VT. Wake has struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone, and they aren’t going to beat a team like FSU with a bunch of field goals.

Wake hasn’t played nearly the strength of schedule that FSU has and lost to almost every ACC team they have played. If FSU can avoid the sleepy noon game atmosphere in front of a small crowd and overcome the screwing that’s coming by the ACC refs, they should be able to run away with this one.

My score prediction has FSU winning 41-14, but I could see it being around 34-13, depending on garbage time or the penalty situation getting out of hand.

At the same time, if things start to unravel for Wake, I could see this one getting ugly quick. FSU is the far superior team that must overcome a history of finding themselves in a dogfight with Wake Forest for no good reason. But this year, I think the losing streak ends as the Noles serve a heaping helping of humble pie to a program that got a little out of pocket this offseason. Thanks for reading, and Go Noles!!

This game has been circled on FSU fans’ calendars since the schedule came out, but not for reasons you would normally expect. Florida State lost the last game against the Demon Deacons in frustrating fashion and now it’s time to exercise those “demons” as the 4th-ranked Seminoles (7-0, 5-0) travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest (4-3, 1-3).

Sam Hartman is off to Notre Dame, A.T. Perry is off to the NFL, and this isn’t Wake Forest of the past few years. Florida State is a deeper, more talented, and overall better program. With all that said, this is Snuggy Hill – the crowd is not in it, it’s a small stadium, and the officiating is often one-sided. This is the true definition of a ”trap game.” Even ESPN Gameday Analyst Kirk Herbstreit is putting FSU on upset alert: “I just think Florida State, going to Wake. It’s always sleepy at Wake, and Wake has a good team, well coached, and if you don’t show up with the right attitude, you’re going to be in the fourth quarter looking up, and it’s a three-point game. It has that kind of feel this week for Florida State,” Herbstreit said this week.

Florida State has historically struggled to win at Wake Forest with a 6-4 record on the road vs the Deacons since 2003. If FSU takes this game lightly, they will leave there with a loss. If they take this seriously, don’t make many, if any, mental errors, and play with a sense of urgency- this game should be over by halftime. The coaching staff believes starting QB Mitch Griffis will get the start, which will require the defense to not get out of rush lanes and contain his scrambles. Wake Forest will attempt to run the ball to set up the pass in their trademark “slow-mesh” offense that has been a pain for FSU’s defense to deal with.

Defensively, the Demon Deacons have a quick and athletic defensive line that has given teams trouble with 17 sacks on the season (15 came in two games against Elon and Old Dominion). FSU’s offensive line will need to play a sound, fundamental game to keep Jordan Travis upright. Speaking of JT, Wake Forest will play a lot of zone coverage, which will force Travis to hit underneath routes. He needs to take those and force long drives to tire out that defense.

All in all, Florida State “should” have this game in hand by halftime. However, it’s Wake Forest, it’s Snuggy Hill, it’s ACC officiating, so I’m going to account for that in this prediction: I have the Noles winning 31-10.

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