Pack Pride's James Henderson, Steve Williams, Rob McLamb, and Bryant Carson answer several critical questions facing NC State heading into today's matchup with Florida State.
Florida State is up next for NC State. What is the biggest key of the game for the Wolfpack?
James Henderson: I said it last week, it didn't happen, and Boston College stuck around long enough to upset NC State. This week, if the Wolfpack is going to upset Florida State, they MUST start fast.
A fast start can help the offense because it enables the Wolfpack to stick with the ground game, but also impact defensively by potentially forcing Florida State to become one-dimensional.
More importantly, a fast start will give NC State some much-needed confidence and also keep the Wolfpack faithful involved. To beat Florida State, I believe Carter-Finley has to be rocking. That probably won't happen if NC State can't jump out to a lead early on.
Steve Williams: I think gaining confidence is the biggest thing for NC State. To do that they really need to get off to a good start, both offensively and defensively against Florida State. I believe State has the talent to beat the Noles, but I think State is pretty fragile right now so a quick start should help them a lot.
Rob McLamb: The biggest keys are both mental. NC State, both players and coaches, has to block out the negativity of the loss to Boston College. The Wolfpack will also need to have the focus required to prevented what in tennis terms is called unforced errors, such as dead ball penalties.
Bryant Carson: The biggest thing is shaking off the last few weeks and finding some of that offensive rhythm they had earlier in the season. I would hope after a terrible loss to BC this team is angry and hungry and that they’ll find a way to use those emotions to fuel them into better play this week. FSU is not competing for a National Championship this season but they’re still a very good team coming in off a tough loss to their divisional-rival at home.
Historically FSU is a team that the Pack likes to play hard at home and having an evening kick adds an interesting element for State.
The Seminoles use a lot of man coverage defensively. How would you look to attack the FSU defense?
James Henderson: I would run the football and work to get the ball to NC State's playmakers in space. Florida State has struggled defending slot receivers and tight ends with their linebackers and safeties, and FSU's top, healthy safety will miss the first half due to an ejection last week.
This should be a game where Nyheim Hines, Matt Dayes, and Jaylen Samuels can be major factors in the passing game.
Steve Williams: They're going to feel like their athletes are better than State's so I think you'll see a lot of man coverage and FSU bringing pressure. I believe the Pack has to get the ball out of Ryan Finley's hands quickly. However, this may be a game where the Pack can beat FSU deep if they can protect Finley long enough.
Rob McLamb: Deep routes, something NC State probably could have done more of against Boston College, may be the way to go Saturday. Go, post and flag routes exceeding 20 yards, along with will curls, are all on the table.
Bryant Carson: Looks like another opponent that is going to come in early and stack up the box to stop the run and allow one-on-one coverage on the outside—the Pack has not fared well against similar looks the last few weeks. I think State would do themselves a favor if they can find a way to beat FSU on the outside a time or two for big gains early on—get those safeties thinking.
The OL simply has to be better this week than they have the previous 2 for the State offense to have any chance. Dayes has to have some room to work and Finley needs a pocket he can stand in.
Strategically, what has to be the top priority for NC State's offense?
James Henderson: Run the football. NC Sate has to get the ground game going to open up the passing attack and sustain drives.
Steve Williams: I think it's the same thing every week and it was definitely under scored in the loss to Boston College. The Pack has to be able to run the football. If they become one dimensional they have no shot against the Noles in my opinion.
Rob McLamb: NC State has to attack the Florida State secondary. It is clearly the weaker part of the Seminole defense although FSU has considerable depth.
Bryant Carson: Winning the LOS—simple idea, difficult in execution. State’s OL looked to be above average the first 6 games of the season only to turn around and look a bit lost the last 2 weeks. State will need a strong performance from that group to get going offensively.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball for NC State?
James Henderson: Matt Dayes. If he plays well, NC State can upset Florida State. If he struggles, I don't think NC State has a shot to win this game.
Steve Williams: I'm not going to select one player. Instead I'm going with the entire offensive line. This unit has not played particularly well the last two weeks and has to perform better. They have to keep Finley upright and they must open some running lanes for Matt Dayes.
Rob McLamb: Kelvin Harmon can have the type of game Saturday where, if he performs well, the experts will say "he isn't really a freshman anymore."
Bryant Carson: In order for State to have a chance to win this thing I think it’s crucial that Finley settle back in and look a bit more like the QB we saw in weeks 1-6. I felt like his poise and decision-making were his greatest strengths but both of those aspects of his game have come into question the last 2 weeks.
Florida State's offense has been up-and-down this season. What has to be the top priority for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: Win on first down. If NC State can win on first down, they'll have a great shot at defending a Florida State offense that has had issues on third and long.
The Wolfpack must keep the Seminole offense off-schedule.
Steve Williams: I believe success against FSU begins with slowing down Dalvin Cook. He's likely going to get some yards but you have to prevent him from taking over the game. Personally I think State is set up pretty good to defend the Noles.
Rob McLamb: If NC State limits Dalvin Cook, the Seminoles will have serious issues offensively. The Wolfpack may want the other players on Florida State's offense to prove they can beat them.
Bryant Carson: FSU can beat NCSU even if Dalvin Cook has a bad day but, given the choice, I’m sure FSU would prefer to ride Cook to a W. To give themselves a chance to win State must find a way to stop or at least slow down Cook, especially early on.
Again, maybe FSU can beat you even if Cook has a bad day but the inconsistent QB play would at least provide a spark of hope for the NCSU D.
What is the biggest concern for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: Dalvin Cook. I think he's the best running back in the country, and he is the most dynamic tailback in the conference.
Steve Williams: To me it's Dalvin Cook. If he gets going he can wear a defense out. State has done a pretty good job of limiting running backs in 2016 and if they're to hang with Florida State they'll have to do it again Saturday night.
Rob McLamb: It is Cook. Although talented Florida State is also young at its other skill positions.
Bryant Carson: I feel like in the last two seasons, for whatever reason, struggling QBs have ‘found themselves’ against the Pack D. I thought that was the case against L’Ville and VT last season and I felt similar last week against BC. If you’re so worried about Cook that you start giving away easy throws to Francois and allow him to gain confidence it could be another long day for the D.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: Bradley Chubb has been playing well, but I still believe he can take his game to another level. A three-sack performance like Chubb had at home against Notre Dame a few weeks back is just what the Wolfpack defense could use Saturday night.
Steve Williams: Dravious Wright- Being a Florida guy I think he's going to have a big night. The Pack needs him to be active in pass defense and in run support. Wright has the ability to make big plays and that's something State will several of on Saturday.
Rob McLamb: Jerod Fernandez will have to continue to produce against the school he grew up supporting if the Wolfpack is to have a chance. He, along with guys like Airius Moore, will also have to endure Cook doesn't romp into the NC State secondary. Florida State's running game cannot be allowed to have explosive plays.
Bryant Carson: Flip a coin between Moore or Fernandez for me. I think both of those LBers had better come out ready to roll Saturday for State to have any chance—especially with Riley Nicholson banged up. They must make life tough on Cook and get him on the ground.
Prediction time... let's have it. What do you think happens on the field?
James Henderson: I actually think NC State can win this game, and it's a good setup for the Wolfpack. NC State is coming off a home loss where they didn't play well, and teams normally play better at home the following week in those situations.
Florida State, like NC State a couple of weks ago, is coming off a Clemson loss... a game the Seminoles probably thinks they should have won. Now with three losses, Florida State isn't going to win the ACC and isn't competing for a national championship. For FSU, those are the annual goals... so do they come to Raleigh in a letdown situation given their normal goals are no longer on the table.
In need of a big win, I think NC State finds some late-night magic to upset Florida State 31-28.
Steve Williams: I'm picking FSU 34-24
Rob McLamb: Florida State 37, NC State 28
Bryant Carson: Home games against FSU at night over the last 15-ish years have had an element of magic about them. This one very well could too, especially if NC State comes out ready to play. However, given the last few weeks, predicting this particular Wolfpack team to upset anyone seems like too tall of an order for me to make.
FSU edges State in a close one.