Statistics normally provide trends in sports and often provide clues to how a game may turn out. Overall FSU has a record of 21-3-1 over Wake. Before last year, to say the Noles dominated the Demon Deacons may be an understatement. But as we learned, Wake was a team full of experienced, hungry kids that eventually became ACC Champions. During that run, Wake showed the nation on national television just how much in disarray the Noles were.
Coming into this year, Wake has struggled as starter Riley Skinner has battled a shoulder injury. Florida State made the quarterback change against Alabama and has looked like a different team since. Coming into Thursday's match-up, Wake's offense has been less than stellar. They come into the conference clash with a total offense ranked 92nd in the nation, averaging 338 yards and 27.6 points per game. FSU's defense has been inconsistent in every game except Alabama, but they come in ranked 17th overall allowing 302.6 yards from scrimmage and a top ten 15.6 points per game. On the outside, it looks as though the Noles have the advantage when the Demon Deacons have the ball, but we all know the fits Wake has given FSU with their misdirection and motion offense. For the Noles, they must come out steady and ready for what Wake brings. They must cut the missed tackles to a minimum and stop Wake from jumping out early.
FSU's offense has gotten better since Xavier Lee took over. While the Noles have yet put up huge numbers in games, they have shown that the consistency and understanding of the new offense is getting better. The overall numbers for the Seminole offense do not look impressive, coming in as the 88th overall offense in the nation. Wake's defense has done a stellar job with the run, but has been susceptible to the pass as they are allowing 247.4 yards per game. Florida State must continue to get better in the running game, but they have shown so far to be much better with a passing attack. With the emergence of Greg Carr, DeCody Fagg and Preston Parker over the last few games, look for Jimbo Fisher and the Noles to continue moving the ball through the air.
Maybe the biggest advantage FSU has coming into the game is in the turnover department. Florida State comes in ranked 16th nationally with a +5 turnover margin, whereas Wake has given the ball up as much as they have forced turnovers resulting in a margin of 0. The defense for FSU is coming off of two games against Alabama and North Carolina State where they have forced 4 turnovers resulting in points for the Noles. It is essential that the Noles continue this trend against Wake.
Simply put, Wake embarrassed FSU at home last year. Amid questions where the program was heading, a quarterback controversy and a record the Noles hadn't seen since the 70's, the Noles just couldn't do anything against Wake last year. This game has been circled on the calendars of the players for some time, and revenge is on their minds. Defensive tackle Budd Thacker told NoleDigest earlier this week, "We got to pay them back. No one comes into Doak and shuts us out. Everybody's real excited and we're just ready to get after them boys." Freshman linebacker Kendall Smith was not apart of the game last year, but watched on TV. His feelings are not different from the kids who played last year, saying, "This game right here is personal. We owe them big time. We're gonna go up there and play, I think, one of the best games we play this year. I wasn't at the game last year, but I watched on T.V. I was committed at the time, and I was embarrassed my self. I felt like I was a part of the team already. I'm gonna go out there with emotion and be enthusiastic, do my best and knock the hell out of somebody."
For Wake Forest, they are looking to show that last year was not a fluke. Riley Skinner has played the last two games for the Deacons, showing that the shoulder injury is becoming less of a concern every week. Now that their star quarterback has retuned to a team that has 9 starters back on that side of the ball, can they continue to roll as they have averaged 36 points per game over the past few outings. Their 3-2 record is not as bad as it looks as they have stayed in the game against 5th ranked Boston College and lost a nail-bitter to Nebraska early in the season. Their last game against Duke showed they do have some improvements to make, but this team is traditionally tough at home. It is vital that the Noles do not take this team lightly.
Both teams already have conference losses, as the Noles lost to Clemson and the Deacons lost to Boston College. Both teams are chomping at the bit to get back to the ACC Championship game. With Clemson losing their second conference game last week to Virginia Tech, the Noles have a clear path the Jacksonville if they can continue to take care of business. Another loss to Wake Forest would be the first time they have lost two straight to the ACC rival, and it will most likely take them out of the running for the conference championship. This is a statement game for the Noles. They must show the nation that they are in fact getting better, and that getting back into the rankings is not a fluke. Can they play sound defense and get out to a quick start on the offensive side of the ball? Can Wake stop the pass and limit their turnovers against a Nole defense that is showing they are becoming a dominant force again? These are the underlying factors for tonight's game.
FSU was able to score on the first drive last week against N.C. State, but they weren't able to turn it on until the second half. This has been the M.O. for the Nole offense, and they cannot do that on the road. The defense has come full-circle since the poor tackling performance against Clemson, and they must continue that against a physical, misdirection team Wake brings to the field.
This game is going to come down to which team forces the most turnovers and can do the best with ball control offense. Neither team has been dominant on offense with the run, but the Noles have shown they are better in the passing game. This game may come down to the Noles defense carrying the team early until the offense turns it on in the second half. If they don' this could get ugly. The statistics and trends show that this happening is pretty good.
Combined with the motivation to show the program is on the up-swing and the retribution the team is looking for, look for the defense to come out fired up like they did against Alabama. The offense cannot come out flat, as they must be able to put points on the board in the first half. This game is going to be close early, but look for the improving offense and the suffocating defense to make the plays necessary to come out of Winston-Salem with the win.
Prediction: FSU 26 Wake Forest 14