Florida State, picked to win the ACC and challenge for a national title, saw all of its dreams washing away in a three-week stretch. Losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest squashed almost all hope of even making the ACC Championship Game. Injuries to key personnel and some disappointing play by the defense have left the Seminoles trying to salvage the season and simply make a good bowl game.
All of that said, this remains a very talented and very dangerous team. The Pack, entering the game as huge underdogs, will have to put together their best game of the season if they want to leave with a win on Saturday afternoon. Let's take a look at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses and how the Pack can exploit some opportunities to pull off a big upset.
Before we dive into the numbers, a quick house-keeping note – the final row in the tables below has been adjusted from simple red zone efficiency to touchdown efficiency in the red zone. Instead of reflecting the effectiveness of getting points inside the 20, the new stat shows the team's ability to actually get in the endzone when they get close to pay dirt. As you can see below, the offense has been good at scoring touchdowns while the defense hasn't been good at preventing them inside the 20.
Pack Offense against Florida State Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||Florida State Defense|
|Points per Game||31.4 (40)||19.3 (19)|
|Yards per Play||5.4 (70)||4.3 (6)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.4 (56)||6.7 (43)|
|Yards per Rush||3.4 (101)||2.3 (3)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||40.6% (60)||33.9% (28)|
|Turnovers per game||1.9||0.9|
|Red Zone Efficiency - TD%||71% (20)||50% (21)|
It is safe to say that NC State has not seen a defense this impressive all season long. Virginia was the closest equivalent, but they have nothing on Florida State's pass rush and its run defense. The Seminoles are allowing an insane 2.3 yards per carry, a figure so low it's surprising that it's only third-best in the nation. Factored into that total is the 26 sacks the ‘Noles have racked up in just seven games, the 4th beset total in the nation and tied for the league lead with Virginia Tech. This is bad news for an offensive line that has allowed 17 sacks already this season, though they have shown improvement in recent weeks.
The weaknesses, in so far as they exist, lie in two areas for the Seminoles – pass defense and turnovers. If the Pack can protect Mike Glennon and give him a pocket to work in, the talented junior should be able to throw the ball on the Florida State secondary. But Glennon has not shown himself to be an effective scrambler so the offensive line absolutely has to protect him or this offense will grind to a halt.
The Seminoles have forced less than a turnover per game, one of the main reasons they've failed to live up to their preseason hype. So it's crucial for the Pack, if they want to be in position to pull off the upset, to not only win the turnover battle but win it handily.
Pack Defense against Florida State Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||Florida State Offense|
|Points per Game||27.9 (71)||35.9 (24)|
|Yards per Play||5.7 (78)||6.6 (11)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.0 (53)||9.1 (7)|
|Yards per Rush||4.5 (83)||4.0 (68)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||41.0% (73)||48.8% (17)|
|Turnovers per game||3.1||2.0|
|Red Zone Efficiency – TD%||87% (91)||58% (68)|
NC State's defense couldn't be facing two more different opponents in two weeks than Virginia and Florida State. While the Cavaliers had a punishing running game and questions at quarterback, the Seminoles have two very capable passers and an offense that loves to throw the ball downfield but a problematic running game.
The Pack needs to build on its momentum from last week – it will take an even better defense effort to keep the Seminoles from racking up touchdowns. With EJ Manuel back and healthy for the Seminoles, he will be a threat to run and the Pack will need to balance rushing the quarterback with containing the quarterback. It also can't allow the Seminoles to get a ground game going – as good as their passing game is the Pack is better off if the Seminoles stay one-dimensional.
The road to victory
Florida State is a very good team that's had a rash of injuries and some terrible luck, the combination of which has put it out of both the national and ACC title hunt. But it's still a very good team, and one that's been extremely difficult to beat at home over the years.
To win this game the Pack has to first and foremost win the turnover battle. The Seminoles are somewhat mistake-prone on offense and not very opportunistic on defense – they have one of the worst turnover margins in all of FBS football. The Pack has to keep that trend going.
Offensively, the key is to protect Glennon and get enough yardage on the ground to keep Florida State from pinning its ears back and attacking the junior quarterback. The Pack doesn't need to dominate on the ground - it simply needs to do enough to keep the Seminoles off-balance. From a defensive standpoint the Pack has to contain Manuel and turn him into a passing quarterback – if he escapes the pocket and starts making big plays with his feet and his arm it's going to be impossible to hold down the Seminole offense.