"Sometimes, if you get more time, you get more complicated ... and you can start chasing ghosts, too. You've got to be careful in an off-week not to add so much that it gets too crazy."
The time off has coincided with rival Florida also having an open week, enabling the Seminoles to continue getting most of the positive statewide media attention due to a superior record and drastic improvement in the ACC. The Seminoles continue to make inroads in national recruiting.
They are bracing for a loud, wild setting Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C., against North Carolina State. This game has lost a little bit of luster since the Wolfpack played so poorly in an Oct. 16 loss to East Carolina, another bad hit for the ACC in non-conference games. But the Florida State players expect to get a full-throttle atmosphere Thursday.
"I love the environment," receiver Bert Reed said. "Two years ago, we had been through a little bit of that trouble stuff, and they were killing us down there. Calling us criminals, doing a lot of crazy stuff, which is motivation at the same time. We were getting it that game because the stands are so close to the bench."
--More noticeable difference from a year ago: The Seminoles ranked No. 107 in total defense among FBS teams after seven games in 2009. They are No. 22 now.
--The Seminoles chose to practice three days last week, giving players Sunday, Monday and Friday off, but scheduling a practice Saturday to begin implementing a game plan for N.C. State. While Florida State's administration has been reluctant to host a Thursday night home game (the Seminoles have done it only once), coach Jimbo Fisher said he is open to the idea of playing a Thursday night home game.
--For the season, Florida State now has 40 pass deflections in seven games. The 2009 defense broke up 46 passes in 13 games.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads North Carolina State 21-9 (last meeting, 2009, 45-42 Florida State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: At this point last season, QB Christian Ponder had passed for 2,176 yards, 12 TDs and one interception, completing 70 percent of his passes. After seven games this season, he has passed for 1,187 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 60 percent of his passes. There is some uncertainty with Florida State's offense, based upon on how healthy Ponder really is and the Seminoles' struggles to produce a downfield passing attack. But the running game has been one of the nation's best, No. 19 among FBS teams through games of Oct. 23. The Seminoles have set up the run as their big-play staple and used it to free Ponder on rollout throws. But as Boston College showed, teams will continue to walk up safeties and blitz linebackers unless the Seminoles can burn teams with play-action throws. The Seminoles' offensive line was mediocre at best against Boston College, but maybe part of it was the letdown from the Miami game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The difference in Florida State's defensive turnaround, aside from new coordinator Mark Stoops' more suitable scheme, has been the play of its defensive line. The Seminoles have regained their speed and prevented teams from making big gains around the edges and into the open field. The N.C. State game represents another chance to prove dramatic improvement. A year ago, the Seminoles' won a 45-42 track meet in a game that looked like flag football. The Seminoles surrendered 538 yards total offense to the Wolfpack, plus another 107 yards in kick returns and somehow still won, having the ball last and scoring on a Bert Reed 3-yard run. That game helped elevate N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson, who passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The kid is a winner. He's a champion. I know what's in his heart and his mind. I don't ever doubt on him. I believe on him. You measure players on their bad days, and when you are able to scrounge around and win on your bad day that says a lot about you." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on the merits of QB Christian Ponder.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State at North Carolina State, Oct. 28 -- This will be the third consecutive time Florida State (6-1, 4-0 ACC) has traveled to Raleigh, N.C., for a Thursday night, ESPN game against the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-1). The dynamic of this series has changed since former FSU assistant Chuck Amato was ousted following the 2006 season. The Seminoles have won all three games against Amato's replacement, former Boston College coach Tom O'Brien. But the game Thursday shapes us as one of the most important FSU has played against N.C. State. An FSU win would put the 'Noles in position to clinch an ACC division title at home, possibly as early as Nov. 3. A loss makes November more of a make-or-break situation on the season. With this being a nationally televised game, it's going to bring more scrutiny on how much progress Florida State's program has made this season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seminoles are facing one of the best quarterbacks and offensive teams they'll see this season. N.C. State went into its bye week leading the league in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense. The issue in this game is whether FSU's pass rush, which leads the nation in sacks, can contain N.C. State QB Russell Wilson enough to slow the passing game. On the flip side, the Wolfpack has been mediocre on defense and it will be a matter of whether Florida State QB Christian Ponder can prevent the kind of slow, struggling start that will fuel the crowd and N.C. State.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB Greg Reid -- He'll likely be matched up against N.C. State WR Owen Spencer or Jarvis Williams, the top two go-to players for the Wolfpack offense. Reid has been most dangerous as a punt returner, however, forcing teams to punt out of bounds or kick shorter, higher punts that can't be returned.
QB Christian Ponder -- A year ago, he passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolfpack. The Seminoles would gladly take those totals again. The issue will be how sharp he looks after some limited work in practice the past week.
DE Brandon Jenkins -- He leads the team with four sacks and seven solo tackles for loss, and he will be vital in a defensive plan to keep Wilson in check.
--QB Christian Ponder (elbow) practiced Oct. 23 for the first time since the Boston College game and looked sharp, according to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. The media are not permitted to watch practice. "He threw the ball well," Fisher said. "He really did. He did 7-on-7. He did red-zone 7 on 7 ... He did inside drill and all of that. And I was as shocked as well as he did throw it. I was thinking (Sunday) might be a hard day for him, but shoot, he went out there and threw the ball well."
--QB E.J. Manuel is a capable backup, and coach Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that if the Seminoles had played Oct. 23, Manuel would have started. The Seminoles are very loyal to QB Christian Ponder because he's a senior and been through a lot of travails with this team, so they want to put him in a position to succeed.
--OG David Spurlock (concussion) will not play, leaving a void in the starting lineup. Bryan Stork, a redshirt freshman who finished the Boston College game when Spurlock got injured, will get the start.
--CB Xavier Rhodes (hip pointer) figures to play after being limited in the past two games. He has been bothered by the hip injury since preseason, but said he benefited from the week off. "So I can get much better and feel much better about the N.C. State game," he said.