Florida State limps into this weekend's match-up with Wake Forest with a losing record and a growing list of players out for the season. At 4-5 the Seminoles must win 2 of their next 3 games to continue the nation's leading consecutive bowl streak which is currently at 27 straight. With the ACC title an afterthought this is what the players and coaches have to play for.
Wake Forest has played tough over the past few months but they come into Saturday's game riding a 4 game losing streak. Close loses to Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami have taken the Demon Deacons out of ACC contention, but they too are still playing to keep their bowl streak alive.
This game is a match-up of two teams on a downward swing. The winner inches closer to a bowl while the loser most likely can start making plans for December. NoleDigest gives their 3 main factors heading into this game and predicts how the game will turn out.
E.J. Manuel and his First Start
To many the biggest storyline heading into this game is FSU's leader and the ACC's leader in total offense, Christian Ponder, is out for the season with a right shoulder injury. Redshirt Freshman E.J. Manuel will be making his first career start against Wake after playing minimally in mop-up duty this year.
An interesting statistic heading into this game is that the Seminoles have won 14 of their last 15 games played with a first-time starting quarterback. The only loss in that span came in 2006 when Xavier Lee made an emergency start at Maryland. Despite the unfavorable result, Lee had a successful evening completing 22 passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes.
While that is a stat in FSU's favor only 5 of those players were freshmen. Manuel has gotten a lot of reps in practice since camp, but that is the only real action he has seen. Last week he spent most of the time with the ones while Ponder sat out resting his ribs, and this week the coaches spent a lot of time getting E.J. ready for this week's game. While Manuel won't have the wide range of plays to choose from that Ponder had Coach Fisher said Thursday it is time to take to take the training wheels off of E.J.
Last year Ponder made his first BCS start against Wake and it was an utter disaster, hence the worry from fans of FSU. What we'll most likely see is FSU go to a running attack with Manuel using short to intermediate passes to help move the chains.
E.J. is a smart, athletic signal caller, but we can't really speculate as to what we will see this week from him. This is his first important snaps as an FSU QB. The players have confidence in him. If Manuel comes out and plays controlled, turnover free football the ‘Noles have a good shot. If it's like 2008, FSU will struggle.
FSU's Running game vs. Wake's Defense
Jermaine Thomas has been on a roll recently as he's rushed for over 100 yards in the past 2 games. Part of that have been him getting healthy and the offensive line finally starting to live up to the preseason billing.
With Manuel making his first start this weekend look for the coaches to really lean on the stable of backs the Seminoles have. Thomas, Chris Thompson, Lonnie Pryor and Tavares Pressley are all expected to play big factors for FSU's offense this weekend. Throughout practice this week the focus has been getting all of the back ready for an increased workload.
With their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield look for the backs to be safety valves this weekend for E.J. Primarily the backs, as well as the line, need to be able to click and play well.
When I initially looked at Wake's rush defense I thought FSU would have relative ease running as they're giving up 169 yards a game. When you dive deeper into that stat you'll see Navy and Georgia Tech, arguably the top 2 rushing attacks in the nation, are the only teams to have a lot of success against the Deac's defense.
FSU is going to have to rush for much more than their 136 yard per game average if they expect to win. The Seminoles rushing attack was stellar against BYU, N.C. State and Ga. Tech. 200 yards is the benchmark for this unit as that means the Seminoles more than likely are controlling the clock and the tempo of the game.
Riley Skinner vs. FSU's Defense
Riley Skinner hasn't been lights out this year, but he has been his normal steady self as he is completing 65% of his passes with 20 touchdowns. Skinner does have 10 picks this year and he has been sacked 26 times in 2009, so he has shown that when a team brings pressure there is the possibility of him making mistakes and taking negative plays.
FSU's defense has made just about every signal caller they've faced this year look great, and Skinner is not the guy to keep that trend going because he will dink and dunk the Seminole defense to death. Skinner is 3-0 against FSU, and utilizing the short, controlled passing game is what has helped him give FSU fits. The Seminole defense has a tendency to play undisciplined. Skinner will look to take advantage of that and have a big day.
FSU played well in spurts last week against Clemson as Markus White and Nigel Bradham had their best games in a Seminole uniform. Can they sustain a pass rush this week? They haven't been able to so far this year so it is tough to expect it to happen this week even though Wake does give up a lot in that area.
If Ponder was healthy for this game I would expect FSU to win this game. He isn't, though, so FSU must put their trust on a freshman in Manuel who is making his first start. As it was stated earlier the players and coaches have faith in E.J., but no one can know how he'll react to the pressure and schemes Wake throws at him.
NoleDigest feels that Manuel will play decent, and he will lead this team to a few scoring drives. In the end it won't be enough as the defense has had issues stopping people all season. It would not shock us to see Greg Reid finally break one as he has been close all year.
I expect a close game going into the 2nd half, but look for Wake to force Manuel into a mistake that ultimately costs the Noles the game late.
Wake Forest 30 Florida State 24
Game Preview: FSU vs. Wake Forest
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