Saturday, October 29, 2011
12:00 pm (EST), ESPNU
|Doak Campbell Stadium|
NC State (4-3) at Florida State (4-3) Oct. 29, 12:00, ESPNU
Here's The Deal … With baby steps in each of the past two weeks, Florida State is gradually creating a fresh start following its disappointing first half of the year. The Seminoles have defeated Duke and Maryland by identical 41-16 scores to move above the .500 mark for the first time in over a month. The program is using the softest portion of the schedule to get healthy, regain some confidence and work a few of the younger kids into the rotation. The job of head coach Jimbo Fisher and his assistants will be to keep the players focused until the next marquee game, a Nov. 12 visit from rival Miami.
North Carolina State is in the midst of a revival of its own, winning consecutive games against Central Michigan and Virginia. The latter was an upset in Charlottesville, easily the school's most impressive victory of the year so far. The Wolfpack has renewed hope of winning the three games necessary to become bowl-eligible, especially since head coach Tom O'Brien has exhibited a knack for rallying troops in the latter stages of the season.
Why NC State Might Win: Despite a mess of injuries to his supporting cast at the skill positions, QB Mike Glennon is starting to make a mark on the offense and the rest of the ACC. He's thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of the last six games, presenting a challenge to an inconsistent Florida State pass defense that's short on takeaways and lockdown cover guys.
The junior is elevating the play of his young receivers, such as redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, and is hoping to have veterans T.J, Graham, Jay Smith and Tobais Palmer all at his disposal this weekend. If the turnover trend continues, the Seminoles are going to be in trouble; they rank last in ACC turnover margin, while the Pack is first.
Why Florida State Might Win: Since getting trucked by Oklahoma on Sept. 17, the offense has amassed some momentum courtesy of four straight games with at least 30 points. A healthy E.J. Manuel has settled down behind center, while getting more help from some of his younger teammates. True freshman RB Devonta Freeman has rushed for 100 yards and a score in each of the last two games, and underclassmen Rashad Greene, Christian Green and Kenny Shaw have all chipped in at the receiver position.
Greene is the best of the bunch, but has been saddled with a bum ankle. An overmatched NC State offensive line will get whipped by a Seminoles front seven that's responsible for a No. 3 national ranking in tackles for loss.
What To Watch Out For: Wolfpack CB David Amerson has snuck up on conference quarterbacks. Pack coaches, though, knew they had a good one when they plucked him out of Dudley (N.C.) High School. The 6-3, 195-pound sophomore leads the country with eight interceptions, including a game-sealer last week in the win over Virginia. Manuel might want to entirely avoid No. 1, who's been the catalyst for an attacking defense that ranks No. 5 nationally in takeaways. The ‘Noles will become eminently vulnerable on Saturday if they allow NC State to dominate the turnover battle.
What Will Happen: The formula and the ingredients are a little different than they were when the season began, but Florida State is finding a way to get back on track. The Seminoles will continue to seek balance on offense, paying special attention to ball-control and the prevention of turnovers. The D will manage Glennon with pressure, getting in his face with enough regularity to disrupt his timing and rhythm. The Wolfpack's problems up front will be impossible to ignore as the ‘Noles sell out with some of their best athletes at end and linebacker.
CFN Prediction: Florida State 31 … NC State 16
WIN THE TRENCHES
Perhaps the biggest key for NC State on Saturday will be their ability to compete at the line of scrimmage. Florida State is one of the nation's best at getting after the quarterback and are currently ranked fourth nationally with about 3.5 sacks per contest. The Noles have tallied 25 sacks through the first seven games of the year with most of those being generated by their defensive linemen. Former Wolfpack recruit Bjoern Werner leads FSU with six sacks.
Clearly, Florida State is going to try to make plays on NC State QB Mike Glennon with their down linemen while dropping seven into coverage. For State's part, they have to control the line of scrimmage and limit the Seminoles' pass rush. The good news is the Pack has been better of late, giving up just three sacks in the last three games after a six-sack debacle at Cincinnati.
Helping the Wolfpack's cause will be their ability to run the football and stay out of obvious passing downs. State also showed a few screen passes last week against Virginia and that could be another weapon the Pack uses to slow down the FSU pass rush. The bottom line is State simply can't afford to give up huge negative plays by allowing Florida State to sack Glennon and control the line of scrimmage with their defensive linemen. The Pack needs to force FSU to get additional defenders involved and then try to take advantage of matchups in the passing game.
PROTECT THE BALL
Florida State will likely have a talent advantage against NC State which means the Wolfpack has to play error-free football to have a legitimate shot at beating the Seminoles.
The good news for the Pack is that they have generally done a pretty good job of taking care of the football. However, While Mike Glennon's 19-6 touchdown to interception ratio is very good, five of the six picks tossed have come on the road. State simply doesn't have enough margin of error to absorb very many turnovers so Glennon has to be smart with the ball.
Glennon seems to be most vulnerable to interceptions when throwing down the middle of the field. Going hand in hand with protecting the quarterback, Glennon will need time to survey the field and stay away from being rushed into bad, hasty decisions. State has also been very effective at utilizing their short passing game with T.J. Graham, Bryan Underwood and Tobais Palmer which will also help to limit mistakes in the passing game.
STICKING WITH THE RUN
State likes to throw the football so that much is a given. Being able to run the football, however, has been a better indicator of the Pack's ability to win or lose.
So far in 2011, when NC State has rushed the ball at least 35 times they have a 4-1 record. After a three game slump against Wake Forest, South Alabama and Cincinnati where the Pack averaged just 59 yards on the ground per game, State has picked it up of late. In the last three contests, the Wolfpack has averaged 157 yards per game and that has played a big part in State being 2-1 in those games versus 1-2 in the previous three contests.
The Pack doesn't have game breakers at running back and success isn't dependent on that. State simply needs consistent production and that can be just three and four yard gains. What they can't afford is getting dropped in the backfield and forced to convert on third and longs.
GETTING OFF THE FIELD
The Wolfpack has been exceptional defensively on third down lately, and it has been a reason for their recent success. Over the past six quarters, NC State opponents have converted 9-of-33 chances on 3rd down (27%). Previously, the defense allowed conversions 48% of the time.
The Pack must continue this trend against the Noles, who have been outstanding on third down. FSU is converting 49% of the time, which leads to extended drives and plenty of scoring opportunities.
Having success on first down will be the key to slowing down FSU's attack. State may have to be a little more aggressive than usual here because they can't afford to allow FSU to dictate the flow of the game when on offense. The Wolfpack has to knock the Seminoles off track and keep them off schedule because of how strong they have been on third down.
Much of that success has come via Florida State's ability to consistently get itself into third and short situations. Regardless, if NC State can't win on third down they can't win this football game.
WINNING THE INDIVIDUAL BATTLES
If the Pack is able to slow down the run and force Florida State into third and long then that opens the door for NC State's linebackers to get after E.J. Manuel. FSU will likely counter by using three-step drops, quick screens and slants to get rid of the ball ahead of the pressure.
The Wolfpack will probably employ some zone blitzes to get into passing lanes and getting their hands up and altering Manuel's throwing motion will be important.
Florida State doesn't boast the proven game breakers at wide receiver of year's past and have been hit hard by injuries, but the Noles always have talent at the position. The Pack is likely to play quite a bit of zone against FSU so making plays on the ball and getting the Seminole receivers on the ground will be critical.
When the opportunity arises, the NC State defenders have to find a way to win their one on one matchups.
GET THE BALL BACK
At the end of the day, NC State is going to have to be able to pressure E.J. Manuel. If they don't it could be a long day for the Wolfpack.
FSU has had offensive line issues all year, and are allowing 2.98 sacks per game, which is No. 99 nationally in sacks allowed. State is No. 24 in the country in sacks (2.57) and if they can get to Manuel it should enable the Pack to potentially force some turnovers through the air.
The Pack has been a pest defensively, forcing 22 turnovers this season which ranks among the nation's best. FSU has had turnover issues all year (14), and this is an area NC State could exploit.
If the Pack can pressure Manuel effectively and force turnovers, they will have a chance at pulling off the upset in Tallahassee.
Scout By Numbers
It has been a disappointing season in Tallahassee.
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 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.
Florida State has an aggressive pass rush, and the Pack's offensive line is going to have a tough task on its hands Saturday afternoon. They need to be able to protect Mike Glennon, who operates much better if he can sit in the pocket, for long enough to allow him to get rid of the ball. The Pack needs Glennon upright if it expects to move the ball down the field at all.
The Pack's offensive line has been inconsistent at protecting Glennon throughout the year but has shown signs of improvement lately. After allowing 12 sacks over the first four games of the year the line has allowed just three in its last three games and did not allow a sack against Virginia last week. Some of the responsibility for this lies with Glennon as well, who will need to get rid of the ball quickly and be willing to throw the ball away to avoid negative yardage.
2. Where is George Bryan?
The disappearance of Bryan has been one of the biggest mystery's of the Pack offense this year. He's on pace to have his worst season since his freshman year – he's got just 10 receptions in seven games and has been targeted a mere 19 times all season. More than half of those nine incompletions have been drops by Bryan himself.
Yes, Bryan has received more attention from defenses than ever before. But it still doesn't completely add up – Bryan is presumably still capable of being the dangerous weapon that made him a near unanimous preseason All-ACC pick. Against Florida State the Pack coaching staff, Bryan and Glennon all need to make an effort to get him involved in the offense and give the Seminoles another threat to worry about in the passing game.
3. Will James Washington and Tony Creecy be able to keep the Seminoles off-balance?
No matter how good Glennon might be, the Seminoles will dominate defensively if the Pack offense becomes predictably one dimensional. It's easy to look at the stingy Florida State run defense and think that running the ball is a waste of time, but the Pack has to keep the running game in play to keep the Seminoles off-balance defensively.
The burden will be on the line as well as Washington and Creecy. The two backs have complimented each other nicely since Curtis Underwood's injury put Creecy in a more pronounced role. Both backs have averaged more than four yards a carry this season and both have also been weapons catching the ball out of the backfield – combining for 33 receptions. The Pack needs both players to pick up consistent yardage on the ground and hold onto the football on Saturday.
4. Can the Pack contain EJ Manuel?
The Florida State offense is an entirely different beast with a healthy Manuel behind center. The Seminoles haven't lost a game this year in which Manuel played from start to finish. He's a threat both with his legs (he ran for 62 yards and two touchdowns against Duke) as well as his arm. Manuel has completed 64 percent of his passers and has 11 touchdown throws to go with seven interceptions.
Manuel is hardly a bad pocket quarterback, but making him a one-dimensional passer is the first step in slowing down the Florida State offense. The Pack will need to keep Manuel contained first, then try to create enough pressure to force errant throws or rushed decisions from the junior.
5. Will the Pack keep generating turnovers?
As a massive underdog on the road in a very hostile environment, the Pack is almost certainly going to have to win the turnover battle to pull off the upset. The Pack is 3-0 when it wins the turnover battle this season and 1-3 when it breaks even or loses – with the only win coming over FCS foe South Alabama.
Interceptions specifically seem to be the road to victory for NC State. When it picks off more than one pass in a game the Pack is 4-0 while its 0-3 if it gets one or fewer interceptions. Eleven of the Pack's 15 interceptions have come in three games, so the team tends to pick them up in bunches, and being able to pick off Manuel multiple times on Saturday would go a long way to pulling off the upset.
Florida State Snap Shot
Despite their position, which is likely out of ACC and BCS bowl contention, and facing underdog opponents, Fisher has practiced the spirit and work ethic of the team. He believes it's something will help the Seminoles (4-3, 2-2 ACC) beyond Saturday's game against another underdog opponent, N.C. State.
"We're still learning. I don't think we're gonna stop learning. It's a whole process," Fisher said. "This is till the end of the year, how you handle your business and how you overcome things. The character from it will build after the season. What you're doing now is revealing character and where you're at and I've been pleased for the most part with what we've been doing.
"We still have mistakes we need to clean up, but I love their attitude and how they're approaching things. There's gonna be times in life when everything doesn't go well. You gotta buck up, man up, and go at it."
A win Saturday inches the Seminoles closer to bowl eligibility, which has to be the immediate goal right now. They are playing an opponent that has a history of shocking them. N.C. State is tied with Clemson for the most ACC wins (6) against FSU.
But one of the reasons for the optimism is how the Seminoles are getting all the components back in the passing game. The receivers are returning and quarterback E.J. Manuel is getting in rhythm with them.
"It should be pretty exciting to see," said senior receiver Bert Reed, who had a season-high five catches for 76 yards last week against Maryland, following his month-long absence with an injury. "Just for all of us playmakers to be on the field and rotate and doing everything we can do to help this team win."
-- Another week, another apology from the ACC to FSU about officiating errors. In this case, it was a punt return that Greg Reid brought back for an apparent 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Maryland. But officials brought the play back, saying when Reid briefly pointed at a bouncing ball, he was calling for a fair catch.
The ACC officials said Reid was not allowed to do that. But Doug Rhoads, the ACC coordinator of officials told the Tallahassee Democrat those officials were wrong.
"It was overly technical," he said. "A pure point is legal. ... Waving is the crux of (the invalid fair-catch rule) because you try to avoid any coverage team being at a competitive disadvantage."
This rules clarification follows the Wake Forest game when video captured an official inching a ball closer to a first down in favor of a Wake Forest spot, thus receiving a verbal reprimand. It also follows the Clemson game when FSU officials sent numerous plays they believed went against them.
-- TB Devonta Freeman became just the fifth freshman in FSU history to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games. The last freshman to do that was Chris Parker in 1988. His 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter vs. Maryland last week was the longest of the season for a Seminole.
--The most telling stat of the season for FSU? It might be the fact none of the Seminoles' cornerbacks have recorded an interception this season. The Seminoles have forced only six turnovers in seven games. And the four interceptions they have resulted in zero return yards.
-- The diversity in FSU's offense is illustrated by the fact 15 different players have accounted for the team's 30 touchdowns.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads 21-10
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With the receiver corps returning to health, a running game discovered and quarterback E.J. Manuel returning to form after his injury, this group looks better than the pre-Oklahoma offense. Remember, the first two games against patsy opponents, the Seminoles still struggled to run the ball. Now, they know about their young receivers stepping forward and the steady mesh together of their patchwork offensive line. They seek a third straight game of having more than 200 yards rushing, more than 200 yards passing. Based on how porous N.C. State's defense has looked, it seems a probability.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Even with the disastrous performances against Clemson and Wake Forest in successive weeks, this defense has risen back into the top 15 in five defensive categories. The Seminoles rank sixth nationally in run defense, yielding just 82.86 yards per game. The categories are passing defense, rushing defense, total defense, sacks and tackles for loss. All this after giving up a combined 70 points in those two ACC losses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those three losses happened, and you can't erase it. If I could, I would. But injuries happen and things happen like that. I don't look into the past. We just have to focus on who we have to play next week" -- Florida State QB E.J. Manuel on the team's improved outlook after two consecutive wins.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina State at Florida State, Saturday Oct. 29 -- Despite being nearly a three-touchdown favorite, the Seminoles shouldn't need much incentive. All they have to do is look at last year's game film. Or the previous nine games before that. The teams have split the past 10 meetings with eight of the last 10 decided by fewer than 10 points. FSU's 28-24 loss to the Wolfpack last year was the Seminoles' worst loss of the season, considering the situation. They have been in this scenario so many times with N.C. State, heavily favored and yet ripe for upset. It's another test to see if FSU can win handily as expected.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It all depends on how well FSU's defense can contain the one play on the field, quarterback Mike Glennon, who could give the Seminoles' fits. He is second in the ACC in TD passes (19) and is only pace to surpass Philip Rivers' school record of 34. Glennon is not a scrambler, but he gets the ball out quickly and has proven very accurate. The Seminoles figure to be able to score points against the Wolfpack's porous defense. At issue, is whether the past two easy wins for the Seminoles will climb into their heads and cause a loss of focus.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Devonta Freeman -- The true freshman was named the ACC rookie of the week, following his second consecutive 100-yard plus rushing performance. Freeman now has 288 yards on 51 carries and three touchdowns during his first season.
QB E.J. Manuel -- He has completed 66.02 of his career passes, which ranks 10th nationally among Division 1-A active quarterbacks.
LB Nigel Bradham -- He was assailed for his penalties and other miscues in the losses to Clemson and Wake Forest. But now, it's time to praise Bradham, who has led FSU in tackles the last two weeks against both Duke (8 tackles, 6 solo, and a sack) and Maryland (7 tackles, 6 solo). Bradham has a team-high 41 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss so far this season.
CB Mike Harris -- He has supplanted Greg Reid at starting cornerback, a move the Seminoles' coaches hopes lights a fire under the underachieving Reid. While his kick-return skills have been solid, he has disappointed as a cover corner.
-- The Seminoles enter the N.C. State game in their best shape since early in the season. They did not suffer any serious injury coming out of the Maryland game. That has not happened in any previous game.
-- WR Rashad Greene (ankle) has practiced this week and FSU is hopeful he can play. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said he could have played last week, but was held out to enable the injury to recover even better.
-- OG David Spurlock (knee) is one starter who won't play. He has missed two consecutive weeks.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
Florida State Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and Florida State Athletics for much of the information in this preview.