Florida State and North Carolina State look to be two teams heading in opposite directions when they meet this weekend in Tallahassee. The Noles are coming off of what is considered their biggest win in a couple years with the 21-14 win over Alabama. North Carolina State comes limping into Doak with a 1-4 record, with it's only win over Division 1AA Wofford. Three of the Wolfpack‘s four losses have been to 3 teams that were in the preseason top 20 in Boston College, Clemson and Louisville. For them, it has not been only have they been losing, but they have been losing ugly. Can they turn things around this weekend against a Seminole team that may finally turned the corner this past weekend in Jacksonville?
While many fans are feeling great coming off of their win, FSU has had very little success against the ‘Pack. Over the past 6 games from 2001-2006, the Noles have only managed two wins in 6 tries. During that time span the Noles have amassed a 1-2 record at home, one of those being the first ACC home loss FSU experienced. Much of that success the Wolfpack had can be attributed to some shoddy coaching on the Noles part, but maybe most to the Chuck Amato factor.
Chuck Amato was a key cog in the dynasty era for the FSU program. Several of his players found success in the NFL, and fans would never see his players not be physical and tough. As soon as he took the head coaching job at his alma-mater in 2000, he was able to turn the program into a consistent winner and bowl contender, amassing a 49-37 record. He often dominated his former coaching staff at FSU, and was able to win several top level recruiting battles against his long-time friends and colleagues.
Like the tie-ins last week in the Alabama game, this game is important to Amato. Having recruited the majority of the players on the NC State roster, many feel this is a game he has been looking forward to. Add in the fact that he was fired this past off-season, there is fuel added to the Noels to win this game as retribution not only for the two losses in a row, but for coach Amato to feel some satisfaction in beating his former employers. For people to not consider the fact that he knows these players very well, they may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Knowing the tendencies and habits of these players will play a part. If you ask current NC State head coach Tom O'Brien, he disagrees, "It really plays no part in this game. Yeah he recruited these guys, but the schemes are different. I have never really met Amato, but I am sure he is a great guy. But, I don't think it is going to play a role this weekend."
Along with the stifling defense the Noels have played the past 2 games, maybe the biggest reason for the boost in confidence for the Noels is the emergence of Xavier Lee as the signal caller. While Drew Weatherford steady and had no interceptions, he was unable to put the points on the board when needed on a consistent basis. After a quarter and a half the coaches made the change to Lee againt Alabama, causing the offense to play like it hasn't in several years. If Lee can remain consistent, confident and steady, there is no reason to believe that the Noles won't improve. The Alabama game showed that the FSU offense does have the capability with a quarterback who makes plays, which allows the defense the rest it hasn't gotten is quite some time. Simply put, if Lee plays like he did against Alabama, this game could get ugly for the Wolfpack. The simple fact he doesn't have the short leash that has impacted his confidence should allow Lee to calm down, relax and have fun, which are all things he stated in the post-game last week he was striving for.
In no uncertain terms, NC State is struggling. They have been hit with injuries, and 3 players asked for their release this past week. They lost maybe their best running back in the 1st game in Toney Baker, and the offense hasn't been right since. Also, their defense has not been the defense NC State fans have come to expect under Chuck Amato. Harrison Beck was able to beat out Daniel Evans for the starting quarterback spot leading into the season. To say he has struggled would be an understatement. The fact that he is battling a shoulder injury leaves the ‘Pack with Evans as the starter. Neither have been stellar as the total offense is currently ranked 97th in the nation, with the once potent rushing attack at 102nd and the passing at 59th. The inability to put points on the board have killed them, especially with the poor defense they have.
Under Chuck Amato and his staff, the ‘Pack had a ton of kids that were high NFL picks, culminating in 2006 1st overall pick Mario Williams. NC State's rushing defense has been a paltry 116th in the country. The passing defense has been better, coming in at 23rd. Against this team, though, there is no reason to pass because the 86th ranked total defense has not been able to stop anyone on the ground.
Turnovers and injuries have been a killer, much like the Noles went through last year. With 18 turnovers given, the ‘Pack comes in as the 4th worst team in terms of giving the ball away. Against teams that are BCS level schools, they have turned the ball over in droves. This is one reason for the large 18 point spread given coming into this game. Taking into consideration the fact that the defense has forced only 5 turnovers, one can see that the team is having problems in their turnover margin.
Like we mentioned before, Beck is battling the shoulder injury, so there is a chance he won't play. Earlier in the week Coach O'Brien did mention that right now it looked like Evans was getting the nod going into the game. All-American candidate Demario Pressley has also been battling the injury bug with injuries to his knee and elbow. He has been listed as indefinite, but he gave it a go last week and stated in his press conference he was playing this week, saying, "We don't want to lose to our old coach, so we are going to be ready and we are going to win this game."
Everything is setting up for the Noles to end their 2 game losing streak to the Wolfpack and continue their improvement as they head towards a huge payback game at Wake and the heated rivalry game with Miami. All of these statistics provide trends and hints to what may happen, but as we saw last week there are no givens in college football. The Noles must come out and play hard, because no matter the struggles the ‘Pack will. If the Noles come out and play the suffocating defense like they did against Colorado and Alabama, along with the potentially potent attack with Lee at the helm, FSU should have no problems pulling out the win and allowing Chuck Amato the sense of a little bit of redemption. For FSU, consistency and more improvement must continue heading into the meaty part of their schedule.