As with the past few seasons, turnovers continue to haunt NC State. The Wolfpack is currently No. 118 in the country in turnover margin, mainly due to the 5+-turnover outings against Boston College and Louisville.
Daniel Evans will be getting the start with Harrison Beck out due to an injury, and Evans has been better at limiting turnovers while he has been in the game. This season, Evans has tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions while Beck has thrown two touchdowns, nine interceptions and also suffered two fumbles.
With Evans in the game, look for the Pack to try and establish a ground game but take its chances on the edge. Either way, limiting turnovers is a must.
NC State has to get Andre Brown going early, but Brown can't have another outing against Florida State like he did last week. Sure, he rushed the ball well against Louisville, but he had two crucial fumbles that ended potential scoring drives. Knowing Brown, expect him to come out trying to more than make up for those miscues.
If there is a team out there that Brown might bust out against, ironically it could be the usual run-stingy Seminoles. In two career games against Florida State, the team he grew up rooting for, Brown has rushed for 292 yards and a touchdown in the Wolfpack's previous two wins. Averaging 6.6 yards per carry in the two matchups, Brown's been a thorn in Florida State's side. Two years ago in Tallahassee, he rushed for 179 yards on 26 carries, including a 65-yard scoring run on his first carry from scrimmage.
For NC State to have a chance against the 18-point favorites, Andre Brown must be a major factor in the game.
ATTACK THE SECONDARY
In just his second career start at NC State, Daniel Evans had a dream game versus Florida State last season in Carter-Finley Stadium. Leading the Wolfpack to a 24-20 victory, Evans completed 13-of-22 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
How was Evans so successful against Florida State's pass defense? He attacked the Seminoles on the perimeter by hitting his tall, fast wideouts with passes placed only they could catch them at.
It's really simple. Florida State's starting corners, Tony Carter and Michael Ray Garvin, check in at 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-8 respectively. The Wolfpack's John Dunlap has proven throughout his career that he can outjump defenders to make tough catches. Geron James isn't around to duplicate his four-catch, 91-yard performance, but the Wolfpack have been steadily working Donald Bowens (6-foot-3), Jarvis Williams (6-foot-4), and Darrell Davis (6-foot-5) into the rotation.
Look for Evans to test Carter and Garvin on the edges with fly routes, fades and corner routes. The Pack will need to hit a few deep passes to open up the running lanes for Brown, but also to possibly put points on the scoreboard in a hurry.
NC State Defense vs. Florida State Offense
One of the interesting story lines will be the NC State defense versus the Florida State offense early in the game. The Noles have scored just three points all season in the first quarter. Conversely, NC State has given up 49 total points in the first quarter and that has been their worst quarter of the game.
The Pack must come out playing spirited ball and try to hold the Noles down early. If they can do this, it can hopefully accomplish two goals. One is to build some much needed confidence in a unit that has struggled at times this year.
Secondly, is to force Florida State to do things they may not be comfortable doing- mainly to force them to get away from the run and have to make plays in the passing game out of necessity versus throwing the ball when they desire.
STOP THE RUN FIRST
Bobby Bowden knows he doesn't have a fail-safe at quarterback and will look to run the ball often against NC State to keep the pressure off his signal-caller as much as possible.
On paper this would looks like a no-brainer considering the Pack is yielding nearly 250 yards a game on the ground and is currently rated No. 116 in the nation against the run.
However, the battle between State's defensive front four and the FSU OL will be an interesting one. They are not a dominant group and State may actually match up fairly well against the Noles' group. If State is to stay in the game, then they must. It is likely that Florida State will get some yards on the ground but State cannot let them dominate with their rushing attack.
If the Pack doesn't find a way to hold Antone Smith and company under 200 yards, it could be a long night for NC State.
Unlike Drew Weatherford, FSU quarterback Xavier Lee is much more of a running threat and he can be dangerous when he has to improvise. He is a guy that would prefer to stay in the pocket and isn't a scramble-first guy but he has good elusiveness and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
Lee led the Noles in rushing last week against a good Alabama defense with 62 yards on 11 carries and was not sacked. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Pack must be aware of Lee's scrambling ability and contain him in the pocket. At the same time they need to get a solid pass rush out of the front four and try to force him into bad decisions.
If the State defense can force the Noles into several third and longs and obvious passing downs, then the Pack has a chance to create turnovers.