North Carolina State Wolfpack @ Florida State Seminoles Preview

Time: Noon Eastern
TV: Raycom or
Line: FSU -10/ (Over/Under 64)

Last year, Florida State pulled the game out 26-17 on a Thursday night in Raleigh.  The Pack's offense tore up FSU's defense for the better part of the 1st half.  Then FSU's offense took over and held the ball for almost 40 minutes, taking the pack off their game.  FSU stopped only 4 of State's 12 1st down rushes for 1 or fewer yards.  The pack had 3 runs over 15 yards and a bunch of runs over 10 yards.  Russel Wilson had a QB rating of 139.  He completed 5 passes of 15+ yards.  FSu had only 1 sack on 26 Pack passing plays.  FSu's offense struggled early, being called for 5 holding penalties in the first half, and allowed sacks on 8% of passing plays.  Eventually, FSU managed to get the run game going and pulled it out.  

Inside, you'll find find the most comprehensive preview on the net.

NC State's Offense v. Florida State's Defense

NC State has roughly the 25th best offense in the country.  Here's what they've done so far against 1a teams.

NC State Offensive Performance
Opponent South Carolina Pittsburgh Wake Forest Duke Boston College
Opponent Defensive Efficiency Ranking (Opponent Adjusted) 17th 59th 46th 79th 3rd
Plays 56 80 69 53 82
Yards Per Play 2.4 6.6 5.5 6.4 4.8
Rushes 25 45 25 19 25
Yards/ Rush 3.7 4.9 4.4 8.6 3.8
Passing Plays 31 36 44 34 57
Yards/ Pass Play 1.3 8.9 6.1 5.1 5.2
1st Downs- Success-Stuffed 22-5 (23%)-11 34-14 (41%)-5
26-12 (46%)-10 33-12 (36%)-14
Standard 2nd Downs 4-9 (44%) 7-13 (54%)
2-5 (40%) 11-12 (92%)
Passing 2nd Downs 2-10 (20%) 7-17 (41%)
5-11 (45%) 4-17 (24%)
Standard 3rd Downs 5-5 (100%) 3-4 (75%)
4-6 (67%) 3-8 (38%)
Passing 3rd Downs 0-10 (10%) 4-9 (44%)
0-5 (0%) 2-12 (17%)
Note State lost their starting left tackle and never really recovered.  Untimely penalties also killed them. Had a 21 yard bad snap, so #'s are much better.  Plays of 25, 30, 16, 17, 13, 19, 17, 29, 17, 11, 19, 16, 23, 33, 24, 26, 38, 21, 22, 21 No down-by-down pre-sorted data available.  Pr j

Guys, this is scary.  The worst defense State has played was rated 79th.  FSU's is 104th.  There are only 120 teams in division 1.  I personally believe FSU's defense should be around #110 or 112, because 2 of their opponents ran a prevent offense while the game was still in doubt, which made their performance look better.  Let's show this to you in graph form.  Here are the defenses NC State has faced to date:


Of course, the lower the number, the better.  NC State should have their best offensive day of the year. 

But what about the offenses the putrid FSU defense has faced?


NC State is clearly a step above BC, UNC, and USF in terms of offense.

And here's what FSU did against those offenses

Opponent Miami @ BYU USF at BC GTech @ UNC
Opponent Adjusted Efficiency Ranking (Opponent Adjusted) 22nd 6th 94th 61st 2nd 91st
Plays 74 53 60 57 63 68
Yards Per Play Allowed 6.4 9 6.2 7.1 8.5 4.9
Rushes 29 18 37 34 55 38
Yards/ Rush Allowed 3.4 6.3 5 5.7 7.4 6.7
Passing Plays 35 35 23 23 8 30
Yards/ Pass Play Allowed 10.8 10.3 8.2 9.1 16.4 2.7

So NC State is decidedly the 4th best offense FSU will have faced.  Against similar or better offenses, FSU has been absolutely torched.


So back to NCST.  They haven't run but you know they will.  Their run game appears to be pretty good but for whatever reason, they've abandoned the run game.  No idea why they've been abandoning the run.  Against Florida State, I'd say they should not abandon the run.

Their primary run game is the zone read.

NCST runs the zone read play as their base run play.  Here's the video:



Here's a diagram:


  That's the one where the QB in the shotgun reads the backside defensive end.  The line blocks away from him.  If the end stays at home to keep the QB in check, the QB will hand the ball off because they have the numerical advantage.  If the end "crashes down", the QB will keep the ball.  As linked above, FSU does not do well against this at all.  This stuff is the number one weakness of FSU's defense.  By far.  And this defense is banged up, undisciplined, and unsurprisingly not well coached by a disinterested and fractured defensive coaching staff.  I would choose to run this against FSU even if I didn't have the personnel to do so.  That is exactly what Boston College did to beat FSU last season with their terrible offense.  it is what multiple offenses do to FSU.

So how do you stop this?  FSU's defensive coaches have no idea.  Good defensive line play helps.  Someone must  win their one-on-one matchup.  Chris Brown of has some ideas here

Unfortunately, defending this requires discipline.  This is particularly important when he is the read defender on the backside.  In Chris Brown's piece linked above, in the 2nd photo, think of Yarborough as the "E" (end) crashing down, and Nigel Bradham as the scraping linebacker.  There's an opportunity here for Bradham to have a huge game here.

The zone read is difficult to stop.  FSU must have a good gameplan and must change up their looks.  I do not have much confidence in FSU to do that.  However, I do think FSU has some advantages here.  FSU's linebackers are very fast and okay in coverage.  That will allow FSU to stay in a base defense or a nickel defense against State's 3 or 4 wide receiver look.  Many teams are forced to use 6 defensive backs against USF's look, but because of FSU's linebackers, the Noles can use only 5 defensive backs.  Obviously when trying to stop the run, linebackers are better than defensive backs. 

It really sucks to pin your defensive hopes on the chance that the opposing offense will play stupidly or get impatient and abandon the run.

I have noticed that NC State hits a lot of big plays.  Their drives are often erratic, looking like:  incomplete, scramble for 2, throw for 20, run for no gain, run for 40 (TD).  FSU gives up a ridiculous amount of big plays due to their coaching (players out of position due to coaching).


FSU must contain Russell Wilson.  The teams which have done the best job slowing this Wolfpack attack haven't even really rushed the kid at all.  They just play patty-cake with the opposing linemen, bull-rush the middle, and then tackle Willson if he tries to leave the pocket.  FSU's defensive coaches are negligent at best and won't have FSU's defense ready to do this.  Instead, they will wildly rush Wilson, he will break contain, and then we will throw things at the TV.

NCST likes to throw to their tight end a lot.  He's George Bryan.  FSU doesn't cover the tight end worht a damn.  That's a recipe for disaster, especially when you consider that...

NC State runs a ridiculous amount of trips sets.  FSU fans know that the 'Noles absolutely have no clue against a set involving trips.3 Wideouts to 1 side, with a tight end on the other, a good runningback and an exceptionally mobile quarterback. This could be ugly.

NC State's offensive line blocks well.  The offensive line boasts four seniors: Julian Williams at guard, Jerraill McCuller at tackle and Ted Larsen at center (Williams and Larsen are actually graduates). Those three players boast 69 starts between them.  They have a decent Junior left tackle.  These guys give Wilson a ton of time, though in fairness, teams rarely rush him. Their running back is 5'10" 225lb RsSr. Toney Baker.  The guy is a load and will be trouble for FSU's tiny defense.  Scat-back Jamelle Eugene provides a nice changeup.  State has one good wideout, Owen Spencer, who is a burner.  The rest of their wideouts aren't special.  Wilson is an excellent runner and he also has a good arm.  He is erratic at times, particularly when throwing to his left (tendency?  ;) ), but his problems do not show up against man coverage like they do against zone coverage.



Prediction:  I expect NC State to gain 7.7 yards per play, which would be their best effort on the year, by far.  Specifically, that'd be about 20% greater than their best performance of the year.  How many points will they score?  Read on.


North Carolina State's Defense v. Florida State's Offense.

FSU's offense isn't above average.  It isn't good.  It is elite.  And damn that feels good to say!

You know that FSU runs a pro-spread attack, which has been leaning more and more towards the spread due to the injury to excellent blocking tight end Caz Piurowski, the amazing play of QB Christian Ponder, the plethora of talented receivers, and backs who run well without a fullback.  FSU's offense is currently the 4th best in the country.  Here's their game by game breakdown:

Opponent Miami BYU USF BC GT UNC
Opponent Adjusted Efficiency Ranking (Opponent Adjusted) 12 64 40 3 39 20
Plays 71 77 64 71 66 65
Yards Per Play Allowed 5.7 6.6 4.5 5.8 8.2 6.7
Rushes 28 49 22 28 28 23
Yards/ Rush Allowed 4.5 6.4 2.8 2.9 6.9 2.3
Passing Plays 43 28 42 43 38 42
Yards/ Pass Play Allowed 6.4 7.1 5.4 7.7 9.1 9.2

That's a very good offense.  Every defense they've played has been in the top half (except BYU, which is 4 spots off).  5 are in the top 4, 3 in the top 20, and two in the top 12.  Looking at FSU's raw numbers without considering their opponents is insane.  Let's take a look at this in chart form: 


What sticks out to me is just how good BC and Miami's defense's are.  Carolina's is also very good and will look even better considering what they did to VTech last night.  It also tells me that USF literally played the game of their life. This indicates that NC State's defense is the 2nd worst FSU will have faced, and I agree with the numbers here.

So let's look at how NC State's defense has performed:

Opponent USCe Pitt Wake Duke BC
Opponent Adjusted Efficiency Ranking (Opponent Adjusted) 58 22 40 26 65
Plays 64 46 77 80 64
Yards Per Play Allowed 4 6.5 5.1 6.4 7.6
Rushes 39 22 26 28 38
Yards/ Rush Allowed 3.2 4.6 2.9 2.6 8.1
Passing Plays 25 24 51 52 26
Yards/ Pass Play Allowed 5.2 8.3 6.8 8.4 6.9

That's not a particularly good defense.  Let's take a look at the relative qualities of the offenses they have faced.


Yeah... FSU's offense is significantly better than anything NC State has seen so far.  And FSU has already seen 5 defenses better than NC State. 

They run a 4-3 most of the time, with a nickel, 3-4, or 3-3-5 on obvious passing downs. They play almost exclusively zone now, because their defense has seen some seriously bad injuries.  And it is a soft zone.  They do not pattern read.  They will try to stay in their base defense against 3 wideouts.

On defense, they have 3 good players.  Defensive End Willie Young is a mid-round NFL guy and he played well last year against Datko.  I expect Datko to handle him this time.  Alan-Michael Cash is a quality defensive tackle.  Smallish but a good penetrator, he has a shot at the NFL.  DeAndre Morgan is a quality corner.  The rest of their defense is average to below average. 

Remember our conversation with

NCST has given up a lot of points on defense this year, has there been any talk of personnel or scheme changes for the upcoming game? Where do you think NCST matches up well against FSU's offense, if at all?

I don't expect any significant changes simply because the staff's options on that side of the ball are extremely limited. In the secondary, for example, we've got underclassmen backing up all four positions. There's not much to like about NC state's back seven, but at the same time, I trust that they are playing the best guys available. Which is truly frightening.

With the defense flaming out so spectacularly over the last few weeks, defensive coordinator Mike Archer has earned the attention of the Fire Somebody crowd. Tom O'Brien voiced his support earlier this week both for Archer and for our zone-heavy bend-but-don't-break scheme. If there are some wrinkles in that scheme on Saturday, I would think they'll come in the form of a little more man pressure. But that's just not who these guys are, so I'd expect the conservative approach most of the time. Hope I'm wrong about that. Everybody's killed this poorly-executed zone, and Ponder won't be an exception. Teams are doubling defensive end Willie Young and effectively neutralizing him, and none of the other guys are stepping up to make plays. Take Willie out of the equation, torch the secondary. Rinse, repeat.

So, no, there is nothing I like about how the Wolfpack defense matches up with FSU's offense. Perhaps they'll be able to limit FSU's unimpressive ground game, but I don't figure that to matter.

The Pack is extremely thin on defense.  This year's team was hurt by a pair of offseason defections by kids who could have been useful players in the secondary. One of whom may have started at corner. Safety Javon Walker, who was very good two years ago, was lost to a knee injury and never got back on the field. Freshman corner Rashard Smith, one of the few pleasant surprises in the secondary, is done for the year. Linebacker Nate Irving survived a horrific car accident that cost him his season.  And Linebacker Ray Michel (who played with me in High School) is also out.  Michel was the defensive captain and called the defensive signals.  Freshman C.J. Wilson replaces Rashard Smith as the starter at boundary corner. Justin Byers is the backup. Freshman Gary Grant is now the reserve at field corner.  In the first seven games of 2009, NC State has used six different starting lineups in the defensive secondary. Injuries, abilities and experience have all been factors in the changes as the coaching staff tries to find the right combination. Cornerbacks DeAndre Morgan and Rashard Smith and safety Clem Johnson have all missed time due to injuries this season. Some players have started at different positions, including Koyal George at field and boundary corner, Johnson at field and boundary safety and Justin Byers at field safety and boundary corner. This week could mark the seventh new lineup in the backfield, as Smith went down with an injury and C.J. Wilson is slated to be back in the starting lineup (he started the season opener).  State has no upperclassmen at linebacker.

I expect FSU to come out and run the ball if NC State plays as soft of a zone as I expect they will.  Look for FSU to put up 8.3 yards per play, their best performance of the season. 

Special Teams

Ah, the forgotten units.

Let's just say that FSU's special teams return and cover units have been great while NC State's have been terrible:


FSU has the 12th best return/ cover teams while State has the 117th best (or 3rd worst nationally).  Greg Reid against a depleted cover team?  Yes please.

NC State has been unlucky

A large percentage of State's turnovers have been returned for touchdowns or long returns.  That is a bit unlucky.  Keep that in mind.  Their defense is not as bad as the 50 BC put up or the 49 duke put on them.  Part of that was ridiculous turnovers.

Bye Week

NCST off of a bye week has been great under O'Brien.


This is big.  Both teams could slow the pace and look to protect their defenses.  The Over/Under for this game is the highest in recorded FSU history (64).  But this game could be lower scoring than some are predicting if the teams try to hold the ball.  That's not to say the offenses won't dominate- they will, but the total number of play could be reduced.


lt's go time.  I do think that the teams might run the ball a bit more than usual (wise to do).  That'll result in a reduced number of plays.  How about 65 per side.  NC State gains 500 yards.  FSU gains 540.  A nice return play by Greg Reid will help the 'Noles to pull this one out, 38-34.  That might be a shock to some of you, but this team is off a bye, FSU's defense is truly one of the worst in the entire country, and NC State's offense matches up perfectly.  In the end, Ponder will abuse State's linebackers with passes over the middle, and pick apart the zone.

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