TSX Preview: North Carolina at Florida State

Florida State will look to get back on track Saturday vs. North Carolina. Both teams will need to win out to get to the ACC Title game. Here is a preview of the Saturday afternoon's contest in Doak Campbell Stadium.

KEYS TO THE GAME:

-- For North Carolina: Stop the run. That's going to be difficult because the Tar Heels are giving up 150.4 ypg to opposing rushers, and the Seminoles are churning out 207 ypg. QB T.J. Yates needs to get back to his earlier form, when he had only one pass picked off through the first six games, after throwing three interceptions in the last two outings.

-- For Florida State: Get back to the level of play shown in the win over Miami. North Carolina has a solid-enough offense to pose big challenges for the Seminoles' defense, starting with QB T.J. Yates. But the biggest issue is Florida State's offense and whether QB Christian Ponder can shake the bad memory from N.C. State and play winning football without turnovers.

SCOUTING THE TEAMS:

-- Despite the efforts of TB Johnny White, North Carolina has had problems mounting a consistent running game and is averaging 135.5 ypg rushing, ahead of only Duke and Boston College in ACC rankings. QB T.J. Yates is producing 234.1 ypg passing, which ranks third among conference quarterbacks. He lost his favorite target, TE Zack Pianalto, to a season-ending knee injury but has seen junior WR Dwight Jones emerge in recent outings.

North Carolina's defense has recovered from some staggering personnel losses due to suspensions and injuries and is holding foes to 340.0 ypg in total offense, sixth in the league. The Tar Heels are holding opposing passers to under 190 ypg and have come up with 13 interceptions, tied for second most in the ACC with Boston College behind Miami's 15.

Florida State is averaging 33.5 ppg, nearly 10 points more than the Seminoles averaged last season. Through eight games, this has been the most productive scoring season by the Seminoles since 2001, when they averaged 33.6 points per game. The Seminoles are threatening the 2000 season scoring average of 39.5 ppg, when Heisman Trophy-winning QB Chris Weinke led the team to the BCS national championship game. Florida State's school record for scoring average is 48.4 ppg, established in 1995.

The Seminoles blamed themselves for failing to adjust on defense at halftime last week, leading to a back-to-back N.C. State touchdowns that tied the game. But for the most part, this team is still playing solid defense since the Oklahoma blowup in the second game of the season. The Seminoles remain the national leader among FBS teams with 33 sacks. They are on pace to post their most productive season for sacks since 1996 and '97, when they had two of the best defensive teams in school history.

FAST FACTS:

Tar Heels: QB T.J. Yates needs only 127 passing yards to become the just the second player in North Carolina school history to have three 2,000-yard seasons, joining Darian Durant (2001-04) on the list. Yates is 168 yards short of the 8,000-yard mark and will be facing a Florida State defense that is giving up 200.1 yards per game to opposing passers. ... The Tar Heels have unpleasant memories from last year's meeting with the Seminoles. The Heels led 24-6 early in the third quarter, only to see QB Christian Ponder rally the Seminoles to the comeback win. Ponder threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State's win. Ponder goes into this game averaging only 172.9 yards passing per game with 13 touchdown passes. ... North Carolina's only victory in the series against Florida State was a 24-6 win in 2001. The Seminoles were ranked No. 6 at the time, making them the highest-ranked team the Heels, who had gotten off to an 0-3 start, had ever beaten. That feat was eclipsed three years later when the Heels beat fourth-ranked Miami. ... DE Michael McAdoo and FB Devon Ramsey are the last two players who have yet to have their fates resolved from NCAA and school investigations into eligibility and academic issues. Seven players have been cleared to play, and six others definitely will not play this season.

Seminoles: OG Rodney Hudson was named one of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman. Hudson is one of only two offensive linemen among the dozen candidates. ... Florida State running backs have not lost a fumble this year, a streak of 194 carries without a turnover. ... The Seminoles are 4-0 at home this season, equaling their best start since 2004, when they won their first five games in front of the home crowd. ... With five plays covering 25 yards or more against N.C. State, Florida State's offense equaled a season-high in one game and pushed its season total to 24. Florida State's running game has produced 15 of those plays covering 25 yards or more. ... LB Kendall Smith finished with a career-high 15 tackles against N.C. State. He said his personal best is 24 tackles, which he made in high school. ... QB Christian Ponder is sixth in school history in passing yards with 6,211 but well within reach are No. 5 Danny Kanell (6,372) and No. 4 Gary Huff (6,378). With eight more completions, Ponder will take over the No. 4 spot from Kanell. Ponder has completed 522 passes in his career. ... Florida State is averaging a national-best 4.13 sacks per game. That's more than twice what the Seminoles averaged in sacks in 2009.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Tar Heels:

WR Dwight Jones -- With an injury sidelining TE Zack Pianalto, Jones, a junior, has emerged as Yates' favorite receiver. He has 32 catches for the year for 483 yards with 20 of the catches and 379 of the yards coming in the last three games.

TB Johnny White -- White has broken off scoring runs of 76 and 67 yards the last two games, both on runs that started left and then finished down the right side of the field. Thrust into a starting role because of player suspensions, White has responded with 713 yards, an 89.1 ypg average that ranks second in the ACC.

DT Quinton Coples -- Coples is North Carolina's sack leader and is tied for third in the conference with 5.5 total and an average of 0.69 per game. He is third on the team in tackles with 42, with 5.5 of them for losses.

Seminoles:

QB Christian Ponder -- Until his fumble on a fake in the final minute against N.C. State, Ponder may have played his best game of the season. He threw with more zip and made plays downfield. But his confidence was shaken by the loss. Now it becomes a question of whether that bad experience carries over.

TE Beau Reliford -- He caught the winning touchdown pass last year from Ponder in this matchup, and the Seminoles are trying to get him more involved in this year's offense. He was the player Florida State had open when Ponder fumbled in the final minute against N.C. State.

CB Greg Reid -- He will be part of a secondary that is going to be tested by North Carolina's solid passing attack. The Seminoles are also hoping Reid can deliver some big plays on punt returns. Florida State's entire kick return game has been subpar in recent weeks.

INJURY WATCH:

Tar Heels:

CB Terry Shankle (knee, out), CB Mywan Jackson (groin, questionable), CB Tre Boston (ankle, questionable).

Seminoles:

QB Christian Ponder (elbow, probable), OG David Spurlock (concussion, out).


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