Everyone knows about Florida State sophomore Dalvin Cook, arguably the top running back in the country. Cook is No. 2 nationally in rushing, and he's been dominant recently, rushing for 222, 163, 82, and 194 yards in his last four games.
He must be the focal point for NC State's defense, and priority No. 1 needs to be eliminating his long running plays.
Cook has 15 runs of 20+ yards this season and is at his best on first and second down. In fact, he is averaging just 3.85 yards per carry on 3rd down this season (13 carries/50 yards). The Wolfpack must limit him on first/second down so he, and the rest of the FSU offense, can be in third down situations.
NC State has to force Florida State to march up and down the field methodically because outside of Cook the Seminole offense has been up-and-down. In games he's struggled, the Seminoles have as well. He had 54 yards on 15 carries at Boston College... FSU won 14-0. He had just two carries at Wake before leaving with an injury... the Noles won 24-16. At Georgia Tech he totaled 82 yards on 17 carries... Tech pulled off the upset, 22-16.
It's not going to be easy, but if NC State is going to upset Florida State it all starts with limiting Dalvin Cook.
WINNING THE INDIVIDUAL BATTLES
Like with Clemson, Florida State has plenty of four and five-star recruits at the skill positions. Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane, Jesus Wilson, and Kermit Whitfield among others were high-profile signees and have plenty of talent... they can be difference makers in the passing game.
NC State must focus on limiting their effectiveness.
Look for the Wolfpack to run blitz/load the box to try and slow down Cook, which will leave the secondary in one-on-one matchups with FSU's wideouts. State has to win those battles this weekend, and that means making tackles in space and limiting busted coverages. They must force errant passes into tight coverage, and when the ball is there compete for it.
It's vital that NC State wins individual battles versus the Noles.
TURN UP THE PRESSURE... TAKE AWAY THE FOOTBALL
At the end of the day, NC State is going to have to be able to pressure Everett Golson, and this is an area where the Wolfpack could have success.
NC State ranks No. 10 nationally in sacks, led by defensive ends Mike Rose, Bradley Chubb, and Darian Roseboro. FSU's offensive line has been hit hard by injuries and lacks experience... they struggled last week with Clemson's defensive front.
It's not going to be easy because Golson is a fairly mobile quarterback, but State has to get after him. Golson is back in the lineup after being benched, so who knows what his mindset will be like. Look for the Pack to try and pressure him early and put him in tough situations where he will have to make plays down the field.
It will be tough to win even if most things go right for NC State, but if they are going to do it, they have to pressure Golson and hope they can force the senior to make some mistakes.
If the Pack can pressure Golson effectively and force turnovers, they will have a chance at pulling off the upset in Tallahassee.