This has been a strange year so far for Florida State. After a 2013 season in which the Seminoles were unusually healthy, which has yet to play at full strength against an FBS opponent through three games. Second receiver Jesus Wilson didn’t play for the opener against Oklahoma State, and quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for last week’s overtime win against Clemson.
Now top defender Mario Edwards, Jr. is out for the Seminoles’ trip to what has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles in recent years, as FSU has lost five of their last eight games in Raleigh dating back to 1998. Edwards’ absence will be magnified by the loss of starting nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, DT Derrick Mitchell and DE/OLBs Chris Casher and Demarcus Walker have been better than expected so far this year, and they’ll have to step up in the absence of Edwards and Lawrence-Stample. Below we look at a few keys to this game before predicting the result.
Key #1: Win the Interior on Offense
The Florida State offensive line was touted as the nation’s best coming into the season, but the Seminole front has not lived up to expectations so far, struggling with the quick fronts of Oklahoma State and Clemson. New starting center Austin Barron looked outmatched against Clemson, allowing too much penetration in the running game and struggling in pass protection. But Barron was by no means the only weakness—left tackle Cam Erving and usually-steady left guard Josue Matias also struggled against the Tigers.
NC State’s strength on defense is disruptive defensive tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal, providing yet another solid test for the Seminole interior. FSU hasn’t made any changes yet on the offensive line, but if the interior line continues to struggle, don’t be surprised to see Cam Erving move to center at some point in this game.
Whether by shuffling the lineup or not, FSU needs to show improvement in this area, as you can’t win consistently while allowing penetration and pressure in the middle of the line. Florida State has only averaged 21 points in Raleigh since Jimbo Fisher took over the offense in 2007, and if the Seminoles want to avoid yet another upset, they’ll need to run the ball better than they have through the first three weeks.
Key #2: Stop the Run
NC State brings a big and experienced offensive line into this game, which will put the Seminoles’ ailing defensive line to the test. Edwards is of the nation’s best run-stopping defensive ends, and the Casher/Walker combination will have to play as well as they did in the second half against Clemson to limit the Wolfpack running game.
I think quarterback Jacoby Brissett is one of the nation’s best signal-callers (I’ll never understand why Florida went with Jeff Driskell over Brissett), and NC State’s offense will be very dangerous if the Seminoles allow them to be two-dimensional. FSU needs to win first down to be able to pressure Brissett and get him out of his comfort zone, or the upstart Wolfpack could get enough confidence to make this uncomfortable for the Seminoles.
Key #3: Close in the Red Zone, Close Out the Game
Last year’s Florida State team was one of the best I’ve ever seen at closing teams out, displaying a killer instinct and putting games out of reach at the first opportunity. This year’s Seminoles, however, have fallen just short of that standard, missing on red zone opportunities to put away Oklahoma State in the first week and settling for field goals on the first two drives of the second half against The Citadel.
One common feature of Florida State’s losses in Raleigh has been poor performance in the red zone, as the Seminoles simply didn’t take advantage of opportunities to put the Wolfpack away. FSU needs to be efficient in the red zone and score touchdowns early in the game; the longer NC State stays in the game, the more the demons of the past start to whisper.
I think Florida State finally starts to put things together on offense in this one, as Jameis Winston comes out blazing after three weeks off and Bobo Wilson has a bit of a coming-out party. Whether due to a reshuffled lineup or simply better communication, I expect the Seminole offensive line to begin looking more like they should, with Karlos Williams going over 100 yards for the first time this season.
But I do expect the defense to have some problems with Brissett, whose accuracy and size will cause some problems for FSU without Edwards.
NC State has some young talent to go with Brissett, but I think they’re ultimately a couple years away from challenging Florida State through four quarters. Florida State wins in the red zone and pulls away, FSU wins, 38-20.
Wayne McGahee III’s Prediction:
NC State is undefeated and coming off back-to-back dominating wins over South Florida and Presbyterian after a rough start where they barely squeaked by Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. Sagarin ranks NC State’s schedule at 178. To put that in perspective, there are only 125 teams in the FBS. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett is very talented, as Jimbo Fisher recruited him very hard before he decided on Florida, and has immediately upgraded the Wolfpack offense from last year. He’s completing just under 70% of his passes and has 10 touchdowns to just a single interception.
That being said, Florida State is completely different than anything the Wolfpack have faced this season. As far as talent goes this game is a complete mismatch. Add in the return of Jameis Winston and I don’t expect Florida State to come out with a hangover from their close win against Clemson. I think Jameis Winston comes out trying to make a statement and puts the game away by halftime. Noles roll to a 38-13 victory.