Scout By Numbers: FSU @ NC State

A look at how NC State matches up against Florida State and what needs to happen for the Wolfpack to come away with a win on Thursday night.

When Tom O'Brien told the press during his Monday press conference that his NC State team would have to be ‘perfect' to beat Florida State, it sounded like coach-speak.

Certainly Florida State is a good team and it's been beating up on its ACC competition. But it didn't look very good against an offensively-challenged Boston College team, a team the Pack demolished earlier in the month.

Unfortunately for the Pack, the Seminoles are just as tough as O'Brien makes them out to be. Perfect might still be a stretch, but the Pack will have to play far and away its best football of 2010 to come out on top. Delving into the numbers for this Florida State team we find a dominate defense that compliments a strong running attack – a combination that remains lethal even in the pass-dominated college game.

Pack Offense against Florida State Defense

Category NC State Offense Florida State Defense
Points per Game 36.0 (17) 16.1 (13)
Yards per Play 5.6 (51) 4.3 (9)
Yards per Pass Attempt 7.2 (53) 5.8 (13)
Yards per Rush 3.8 (82) 2.9 (10)
3rd Down Conversion % 40.5% (54) 32.1% (16)
Turnovers per game 1.9 (68) 1.4 (93)
Red Zone Efficiency 76% (100) 75% (19)

Sometimes perception clouds reality and Florida State's defense might be a perfect example. The lasting impression for many is watching Oklahoma torch the Seminole defense for 47 points in the early stages of the season. But even with that game included, the ‘Noles have ranked as one of the most impressive defensive teams in the nation. It's important to note, however, that the Seminoles have yet to play an offense that ranks in the top 40 in yards per play and two offenses that rank below 100 in that category nationally.

The Seminole defense has one glaring flaw – the ‘Noles haven't generated a lot of turnovers. A sharp departure from the great Seminole defenses of the past – this isn't a risk-taking squad living off big plays. This defense is conservative, content to hold you to three-and-outs and let the offense do the rest.

For the Pack offense to succeed on Thursday, it absolutely has to keep its turnovers down. The risky throws that Russell Wilson has been making have to stop – this defense is simply too good for the Pack to overcome unforced errors. The offense also has to convert when it gets close, has to turn red-zone chances into touchdowns. That means looking to your two best possession receivers – Jarvis Williams and George Bryan. Both need to play well and make big catches for the Pack to succeed deep in Florida State territory.

Pack Defense against Florida State Offense

Category NC State Defense Florida State Offense
Points per Game 23.7 (55) 34.9 (20)
Yards per Play 5.5 (66) 6.3 (26)
Yards per Pass Attempt 6.9 (59) 7.2 (53)
Yards per Rush 4.3 (67) 5.7 (10)
3rd Down Conversion % 28.7 (6) 49.4% (18)
Turnovers per game 2.7 (17) 2.0 (90)
Red Zone Efficiency 89% (100) 91% (10)

Like the Wolfpack, the Seminoles have seen a slight drop-off on this side of the ball that's gone mostly unnoticed. Potentially just a product of being ahead instead of behind, the passing offense has slowed while the running game has blossomed.

Christian Ponder, miscast as a Heisman hopeful coming into the year, has helmed one of the nation's best running teams. Ponder's running ability has helped some, but most of the credit goes to the offensive line and the stable of talented backs the Seminoles can throw at defense. Given superb running attack, it's no surprise that the ‘Noles have among the nation's best at both converting on third down and scoring in the red zone.

What is mildly surprising is how poorly the Seminoles have been at holding onto the ball, coughing it up 14 times in just seven games. The Pack defense, which has done a great job to date in creating turnovers, has to nab a few to help out its offense.

If there's a single great strength versus strength match-up in this game, it's the Pack defense on third down against the Florida State offense on third down. Whoever wins that battle will have a huge leg up in winning this game.

The road to victory

The Pack doesn't have to play perfect to win on Thursday, but it does have to execute better in a few key areas. The offense has to hold onto the ball and convert in the red zone against the stingiest defense it's seen all season. The defense has to be able to slow the Seminoles ground attack and get off the field on third down.

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