GAMEDAY: NC State vs. Florida State

NC State (3-4) faces Florida State (3-4) today in a huge road game for the Wolfpack. Kickoff is set for 12:00, and the game will be televised on Raycom.

NC State (3-4) vs. Florida State (3-4)
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Tallahassee, Florida

Doak Campbell Stadium

NC State Links
Official Site

Florida State Links
Game Notes

CFN's Take

NC State (3-4) at Florida State (3-4),12:00 EST, Saturday, ESPN Gameplan, October 31

Why to watch: Although Florida State isn't back, it sure did stage an important turnaround last Thursday in Chapel Hill. Trailing 24-6 in the third quarter, the Seminoles channeled the glory days for a brief moment, stunning Carolina, 30-27. Was it a flash of brilliance or the beginning of a rally? We'll all get a much better read on this program's trajectory over the next few weeks. There's no debating where NC State is headed these days. After peaking with a comeback win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 26, the Wolfpack has yet to taste victory, dropping three straight league games. Even worse, it was blown out by Duke and Boston College, of all teams, in the two weeks leading up to last Saturday's bye. If the bounce back doesn't happen in Tallahassee, this could wind up being a lost year for Tom O'Brien and his squad.

Why NC State might win: Florida State shut down Carolina QB T.J. Yates a week ago. Russell Wilson is not Yates. And the Seminole pass defense is still among the worst in the nation. With its back against the wall, the Pack will hand the ball to its most reliable weapon and ask him to win the game. He's the type of leader and dual-threat, who just might do it, too. He's also the catalyst of the nation's No. 26 passing attack, with the help of receivers Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer, TE George Bryan, and RB Toney Baker swinging out of the backfield.

Why Florida State might win: In an interesting battle between athletic signal-callers, the edge goes to the Seminoles. Christian Ponder is quietly having a fantastic junior season, ranking No. 9 nationally in passing efficiency and basically carrying the team on his back. In the last three weeks alone, he's thrown for eight touchdowns and well over 1,000 yards. He's also a threat to run the ball on a Wolfpack defense that has been miserable over the last month. The nation's 100th-ranked pass efficiency defense also yielded 264 yards on the ground to Boston College's Montel Harris two weeks ago. A soft NC State offensive line will have problems containing the size and quickness of the ‘Nole front seven.

Who to watch: Instead of having one go-to receiver, Ponder has done a commendable job of spreading the ball around to a number of different hands. As if the NC State secondary doesn't have enough headaches already, it'll have to contend with a wave of possibilities that includes Bert Reed, Rod Owens, Richard Goodman, and Jarmon Fortson. If you shut one of these guys down, another will emerge in his place.

What will happen: Regardless of what happened in Chapel Hill, no one believes Florida State is suddenly vintage Florida State again. Still, that performance last Thursday night was the kind of shot-in-the-arm that could last for a while, especially versus a slumping Wolfpack team. Ponder will remain hot at the expense of a flimsy NC State defense, accounting for three touchdowns in a game that'll be out of reach by late in the third quarter.

CFN Prediction: Florida State 37 … NC State 21 ... Line: Florida State -7.5

Must See Rating: (The Damned United 5 … Cougar Town 1) … 2.5

Game Keys

NC State Offense vs. Florida State Defense

This is a huge game for NC State and Florida State. Both teams have three conference losses, and even in a crowded Atlantic Division, if you pick up the fourth this early you're likely out of the division race.

The key for NC State's offense is to start fast. They must get off to a good start offensively and put points on the board early. Whether it's by a big play or a sustained drive, the Wolfpack has to jump out front. With the way NC State's defense is playing you know Florida State will probably put up a lot of points so the Pack offense needs to do so as well.

The way State can do this is by being balanced because Florida State can be attacked via the ground or the air. It's been a brutal year defensively for FSU, as they are No. 99 nationally in total defense, yielding an astounding 413 yards per game. The crazy part is they aren't strong in any particular area. On the ground they are No. 98 in rush defense (182 YPG), and in the air they are yielding 231 yards per game, good for No. 79 nationally while being No. 109 in pass efficiency defense.

Look for the Pack to try and exploit FSU through the air with Wilson and his weapons attacking on the perimeter and across the middle of the field. If Wilson is effective it should open up rushing lanes for backs Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene.

If NC State can build a lead with a fast start and play from ahead behind a balanced attack, the Wolfpack has a chance to pull off what most would consider an upset.

For NC State to have a chance in this game the Wolfpack will need to have Russell Wilson on top of his game, and Florida State is the type of team he's capable of having that effort.

The Noles are known for their man-to-man schemes, and Wilson has had a lot of success against teams who run man-to-man. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible does a good job of dialing up passing plays that can free up wide receivers facing man coverage, particularly down the field with a variety of crossing routes and post patterns. Wilson's arm strength gives Bible plenty of options, and the sophomore signal-caller should excel through the air on Saturday.

The biggest advantage he has against man defense is it frees up running lanes. When Wilson's wide receivers run deep routes against man, it empties out the flats and sidelines, giving him a lot of running space. He took advantage of this time and time again against Pittsburgh, another team that uses a lot of man coverage. When Wilson gets out of the pocket, he's able to extend drives with his legs but also find receivers who have broken free from defenders.

As stated earlier, for NC State to have a chance Wilson needs to be outstanding. The Florida State defense should give him the opportunity to be just that.

The formula for NC State's offense is simple: sustain drives, control the clock, stay balanced, limit turnovers, and be efficient in the passing game. The Wolfpack also has to be opportunistic.

When NC State has a chance to make a big play, they must make it. If a wide receiver is open, Wilson has to find him and the wideout has to catch it. If there's one man to miss for a big run to happen, Jamelle Eugene or Toney Baker has to shake him. In a game that could be a high-scoring shootout, capitalizing on potential scoring opportunities will go a long way to determining the winner.

Against Pittsburgh, the wide receivers, tailbacks and tight ends did a great job of making plays when the ball was in their area. Baker caught a short pass in the flat and outran defenders for a score. Jarvis Williams won a jumpball for another touchdown. Jamelle Eugene beat another defender for a pass on a wheel route. NC State made a ton of plays in that game and it's a big reason why they were able to come back and pick up the win.

In the previous three games the offense has made some plays, but they've also left big plays on the field as well. This Saturday they can't do that... they must capitalize on all big play opportunities.

Nearly everyone expects this game to be high scoring... NC State needs to win the big-play battle.

NC State Defense vs. Florida State Offense

For the most part, NC State's back seven are young and inexperienced. That much is a given. However, the Wolfpack's struggles recently have gone well beyond just youth and it's become clear that confidence, or lack thereof, has played a large factor in the defense's recent downturn. It appears that several of the linebackers and defensive backs are thinking instead of reacting and making plays. This indecisiveness makes for a slower player who plays with a certain amount of tentativeness and that has been apparent, particularly in pass coverage and with tackling to some degree.

To improve, the Wolfpack defenders are going to have to trust what they've been taught, believe in their individual athletic ability and make plays when the opportunity presents itself. If each player can do their part individually then collectively, the overall play should improve. With that will come confidence and the belief that on any given snap, someone on the Wolfpack defense is going to step up and stop a drive.

In essence it boils down to defenders creating something positive and then building on it. The overall play won't be rebuilt in one game but this group has to show signs of progress.

One of the killers for the NC State defense over the last three games was the inability to make stops on third down. Not only do conversions keep a drive going, it can also demoralize a defense when teams are converting on multiple third downs and you can't get your offense back on the field.

Over the last three games, the Pack has allowed opposing teams to convert on 28 of 50 third down opportunities. That 56% conversion rate would currently rate the Wolfpack dead last in the nation for third down defense. If the Pack hopes to keep up with Florida State's offense, the defense will have get off the field on third down to get the ball back to Russell Wilson and company.

Keeping with the theme of simply executing the fundamentals, the most glaring weakness for NC State, particularly over the past four weeks has been poor tackling. The Pack has not done a good job of swarming to the ball and too often, have whiffed on arm tackles- allowing the opposition to rack up huge chunks of yardage.

As for Florida State, you can rest assured that the Noles are going to focus on getting the ball out in space to their play makers to try to force the Wolfpack defenders to make stops one on one. Florida State's receiving corp has plenty of speed to stretch the field so when a catch is made the Wolfpack defensive backs and linebackers will have to tackle as soon as the ball is caught to avoid the big play.

FSU's offense likes to hit the running back on swing passes and QB Christian Ponder is effective at looking off the defense while executing this play. Therefore, it's imperative that State's boundary players be able to secure the running backs and receivers out of the backfield because their speed and quickness can lead to big plays. If the defense is not able to swarm to the ball and make open field tackles then Florida State's speed will be evident all night.

If the Pack comes out and plays aggressive and gets a hat on the football then FSU has a tendency to fumble the ball. In their three losses, the Noles have coughed it up eight times, so ball control has been a weakness to some degree. For a Wolfpack defense desperately in search of something positive, creating turnovers could be a huge momentum boost and equalizer.

Florida State Game Notes

Although they haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations of many, Florida State showed resiliency a week ago when they overcame an 18 point deficit to defeat UNC. The Noles have struggled somewhat on defense but boast one of the nation’s toughest offenses to defend. Pack Pride takes an in-depth look at the Seminoles.

Record 3-4

Florida State National Statistical Rankings

Rushing offense...98 

Passing offense..8

Total offense...24

Scoring offense...38

Rushing defense...98

Passing defense...79

Total defense...99

Look back at Florida State’s last game from 

Florida State 30 … at North Carolina 27

In a tale of two halves, North Carolina got up 17-6 going into halftime helped by a five-yard Greg Little run and a 13-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Yates to Ed Barham, and took an 18-point lead in the second half on a ten-yard Yates run. And then it was all Florida State in a furious 25 minutes as Christian Ponder threw three touchdown passes including a 98-yarder to Rod Owens and an 18-yarder to Beau Reliford for the lead with 6:20 to play. The defense was able to hold on with a sack stopping a final Hail Mary attempt. The Noles won despite making 16 penalties for 121 yards.

Player of the Game: Florida State QB Christian Ponder completed 33-of-40 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns

North Carolina: Passing: T.J. Yates, 12-25, 64 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: Shaun Draughn, 23-126, Receiving: Greg Little, 6-60

Florida State: Passing: Christian Ponder, 33-40, 395 yds, 3 TD

Rushing: Chris Thompson, 6-18, Receiving: Rod Owens, 9-199, 1 TD

What It All Means: Just when you think Florida State stinks and is about to see its season go into the tank, it comes up with a flurry that shows just how good the team can be. Christian Ponder was brilliant in the second half, and he now needs to be in the discussion among the best quarterbacks in the nation as he’s producing week after week. The 16 penalties were dumb, and ridiculous, but the team turned it around just in time to save the game and its season. Defensively, Kendall Smith was terrific with ten tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks

Florida State Game Notes


Florida State enters Saturday’s game against N.C. State averaging an ACC leading 427.7 yards of total offense per game (311.4 yards passing and 116.3 yards rushing). Not only is junior All-ACC candidate Christian Ponder the ACC leader in total offense (330.4 yards per game) but he is the leader of the ACC’s top offense. The Ponder-led offense of 2009 is gaining more yards per game than Florida State’s 1999 National Championship team that fi nished with a perfect 12-0 record. The Seminoles’ 2009 offense is the fourth most prolific in terms of total offense since the 1995 season.


All-ACC candidate Christian Ponder enters Saturday’s game against N.C. State looking to become the fi rst quarterback in school history to pass for 300 or more yards in four consecutive games. He has thrown for a total of 1,095 yards in the last three games (341 against Boston College; 359 against Georgia Tech; 395 against North Carolina) and is only the sixth quarterback in school history to throw for at least 300 yards in three consecutive games. Chris Rix (2001) was

the last FSU quarterback to string together three consecutive 300-yard games.


Ponder completed each of his last 16 pass attempts – 16 of 16 for 236 yards and three touchdowns – in the Seminoles’ 30-27 victory over North Carolina. He was a perfect seven of seven for 77 yards in the fourth quarter alone in helping the Seminoles outscore the TarHeels, 24-10 to gain the victory.


Ponder has a knack for making his passes count. Of his 33 pass completions against North Carolina, 12 went for fi rst downs. The Seminoles managed 20 fi rst downs against the Tar Heels, marking the fifth time in seven games he’s passed for 60 percent of the team’s first downs.


Florida State scored 27 of the fi nal 34 points of the game and 24 of the 34 points scored in the second half of its victory over North Carolina. It marked the third time this season the Seminoles have scored 24 points in the second half of a game and fifth time in seven games that Florida State has outscored their opponent over the final 30 minutes of the game.


Five of Florida State’s wide receivers – Bert Reed (36-438), Rod Owens (29-425), Richard Goodman (27-355), Jarmon Fortson (24-300) and Taiwan Easterling (20-237) – all have at least 20 receptions through the fi rst seven games of the season. It marks the fourth time in the last five seasons that at least five Seminoles have caught at least 20 passes in a single season, but it is the first time since the 1992season that all five played wide receiver, excluding running backs and tight ends.


Senior wide receiver Rod Owens caught a career-high nine passes for a career-high 199 yards in the Seminoles’ victory over North Carolina – the 10th highest single game receiving yards total in school history. His total included a school record-tying 98-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of the game which drew the Seminoles to within four points. Owens came within one yard of the much coveted 200-yard mark on his personal best night. The last Seminole receiver to eclipse the 200-yard receiving mark in a game was Craphonso Thorpe (217 yards) against Notre Dame on Nov. 1, 2003.


Senior wide receiver Rod Owens has already established single-season career bests for receptions (29) and yardage (425) through seven games. His previous highs came last season with 15 receptions for 153 yards. Owens is the Seminoles’ second-leading receiver. His 13-yard, fourth quarter touchdown reception against Georgia Tech was his first scoring reception since Sept. 10, 2005 against The Citadel. That 5-yard touchdown catch was FSU’s fi rst of the season and the first of former quarterback Drew Weatherford’s 37 career TD passes.


Sophomore wide receiver Bert Reed maintained his team lead in receptions by collecting eight catches for 74 yards in the win over North Carolina. He leads the Seminoles with a career-high 36 receptions for 438 yards. With consecutive 100-yard games against USF and Boston College, Reed is the only Seminole with multiple 100-yard receiving games and the fi rst since Greg Carr in 2007 (against N.C. State and Wake Forest) to have consecutive 100-yard receiving games. De’Cody Fagg and Carr each had multiple 100-yard games in 2007.


Florida State’s defense, which entered the game against North Carolina ranked eighth in the ACC in pass defense, held the Tar Heels to 95 yards passing on 13 completed passes. The Seminoles’ defense limited the Tar Heel passers to a .481 completion percentage (13of 27) and allowed only four completed passes after the fi rst quarter of the game. The Tar Heels completed nine passes and held a commanding 14-3 lead after the fi rst quarter; they completed four passes and scored 10 points during the remaining three quarters of the game. It marked the fi rst time since Nov. 1, 2008 against Georgia Tech (55 yards passing) that Florida State allowed less than 100 passing

yards in a game.


When senior Jamie Robinson intercepted North Carolina’s T.J. Yates in the third quarter of the Seminoles’ victory North Carolina, it was the eighth interception of the season for FSU’s defense. The Seminoles have eight interceptions by six different players in the first seven games of the 2009 season after totaling nine interceptions by eight different players during the 2008 season. Robinson now has two career interceptions with both coming in wins – against North Carolina and in 2008 against Colorado in Jacksonville.


Junior linebacker Kendall Smith registered a career-high 10 total tacklesin the Seminoles’ victory over North Carolina. It marked the secondconsecutive game (also against Georgia Tech) and third time thisseason (also against Jacksonville State) that he has earned 10 tacklesin a game. Smith has a total of 20 tackles in the last two games andenters Saturday’s game against NC State as the Seminoles’ leader with50 tackles. He has more tackles this season (50) than he had in thefirst two seasons of his career (38).


Senior free safety Jamie Robinson registered eight tackles and one interception in the Seminoles’ victory over North Carolina and enters Saturday’s game against N.C. State with a single season career-high 43 tackles. In addition to establishing a career-high for tackles in a season, he has also established a single-season career-high for tackles for loss and tied his career-high for interceptions in a single season.


Florida State freshman cornerback Greg Reid is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and leads the team with 63 interception return yards. He returned an interception by Brigham Young quarterback Max Hall 63 yards for his fi rst career touchdown; a game-changing play on the Cougars’ opening drive of the second half. That play helped him earn ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors. Reid, a contender for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, has seen most of his action as a fi fth defensive back in the Seminoles’ nickel package and plays behind senior All-American candidate Patrick Robinson.


Jenije did something in the third quarter against USF that he had not done in the fi rst 27 games of his career – intercept a pass. He quickly gained the second interception of his career in the fourth quarter against the Bulls. He became the first Seminole to earn two interceptions in the same game since Tony Carter snared a pair against Miami on Oct. 4, 2008 in a 41-39 victory at Dolphin Stadium.


Senior defensive end Kevin McNeil pounced on his third fumble of the season against Georgia Tech, continuing his big-play productivity. McNeil, who made his second consecutive start against the home-state Yellow Jackets, shares the ACC lead in fumble recoveries. Despite seeing limited action in the fi rst three games, he has recorded three tackles for loss, two sacks a pass break-up and a blocked field goal. McNeil also had a game-clinching, fumble return for a touchdown against Jacksonville State.


All-ACC candidate Dekoda Watson, who ranks fourth on the team with 32 total tackles, is the Seminoles’ leader in tackles for loss (7.5) and quarterback sacks (4.5) through six games this season. The senior linebacker enters Saturday’s game against N.C. State tied for 14th in career tackles for loss with Marvin Jones at 27.


Freshman cornerback Greg Reid joined the parade of Seminole defenders into the end zone with a game-turning, 63-yard interception return for a touchdown against BYU. Reid joins senior defensive end Kevin McNeil and junior defensive end Markus White who have returned a fumble and an interception, respectively, for touchdowns this season. The Seminoles have seven defensive touchdowns and nine defensive scores in the last 16 games. Reid’s pick-six was the

fifth defensive score in the last seven games. White’s interception return marked the second time in the last 10 months that an interior defensive lineman had retuned an interception for a touchdown. White was lined up as nose guard when he dropped into coverage. Neefy Moffett, who was lined up as the nose guard, returned an interception in the Seminoles’ 41-27 victory over Clemson on Nov. 8, 2008.

Link to complete Florida State game notes and depth chart

Thanks to NC State and Florida State Athletics for much of the information in this preview.

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