Florida State Football Preview: N.C. State Wolfpack

The Florida State Seminoles (4-3; 2-2) welcome in the N.C. State Wolfpack (4-3; 1-2) to Doak Campbell Stadium. N.C. State has played Florida State closer than the experts think for ten straight games! That's irrelevant to this contest, but it is interesting.

Time: Noon | TV: ESPNU | Vegas Line: FSU -19 | Weather: Beautiful | Opposing Blogger Q&A w/ Backing The Pack

FSU is off a dominant performance against the Maryland Terrapins. N.C State has not been a better than Maryland, but they are likely better right now. Why? Injuries. N.C State has been one of the most banged up teams in the conference, and played many of its games without key defensive stalwarts. Many of those kids are finally healthy and back this week. FSU is not facing the same group of kids who got blown out by Cincinnati. 

How did N.C. State get to 4-3?

These reviews are from the week of each game.

-They were unimpressive in beating Liberty

State Wake
Yards/Play 6.3 6.3
Plays 67 70
Starting Field Position Own 32 Own 28

-The Wake Forest Demon Deacons took on the N.C. State Wolfpack and came away with the 34-27 victory. This was a very even game, with Wake jumping out to the big early lead, and State dominating the second half. Jim Grobe said this team would be much better than last year, and he was right. Wake is a team that simply cannot win with young players. Luckily for the Deacons, this group is much more mature. I don't think State missed Russel Wilson all that much, but they absolutely missed the top three receivers from a season ago. State also failed to run the ball like they should against an underwhelming Wake front. Wake has a very talented QB in Tanner Price. He'll be a pain to defend and will give people some trouble. N.C. State has to figure out what's going on with what was a very good defense. Massive injuries are not helping the Wolfpack.

- Beat South Alabama

  NCSU CIN
Plays 52 64
Yards/Play 6 6.9
CIN outgained NCSU by 15% per play
Avg Field Position NCSU 22 CIN 36

-N.C. State lost to Cincinnati on national TV, 44-14. The Wolpack has a lot of problems right now, including: defensive tackle injury nightmare scenario leading to walk-ons playing meaningful snaps. Ouch. The passing game isn't bad, but the run game has not developed into what the Pack expected. That's an obvious issue without Russel Wilson. NCST doesn't miss Wilson's arm, and Wilson doesn't play defense, but he sure could run. Recap from Backing The Pack.

GT NCSU
Yards/Play 6.6 5.2
Plays 64 74
GT outgained NCSU by 25% per play
Avg Field Position GT 37 NCSU 27

-Georgia Tech beat the N.C. State team missing virtually all defensive players about like we expected, 45-35. N.C. State was again left to play offensive walk-ons on the defensive line. Yes, walk-ons who normally play offense were playing defensive line and attempting to defend the GT triple option. Here are your N.C. State thoughts. Pretty comprehensive there. 

Tech actually held a 42-14 lead at one point int his game with 10 minutes left. After that, they seemed to really shut it down mentally and got a bit sloppy. Early in the game, though, I really thought the 19-play, 9-minute, 81-yard drive ending in no points for N.C. State really took the wind out of the Wolfpack's sails.  

CMU NC State
Plays 59 79
Yards/Play 7.49 5.19
CMU outgaind NCST by 44% per play
Field Position CMU 33 NCSU 40

-A team outgains its opponent by a significant margin but loses the game because its offense gives the opposing offense tremendous field position thanks to a +4 turnover margin? We've seen this before. That 7.49 yards/play must be concerning to N.C. State, but the Pack has to be satisfied with its red zone efficiency (5 TDs in 6 tries). And QB Mike Glennon keeps getting better and better.  Here's a CMU-NCSU postmortem. Here's BTP's game story. And here's an excellent statistical analysis showing how NC State's DC forgot how to be an defensive coordinator.

  NCSU UVA
Score 28 14
Plays 72 67
Yards/Play 4.8 3.7
NCSU outgained UVA by 31% per-play
Field Position Own 29 Own 37

NC State was clearly the better team in this contest, as you can see by the 31% advantage per play. This game could have been a blowout in State's favor, but NCSU missed a field goal, and only scored a TD on 33% of its red-zone trips.  

Neither team ran effectively in this one, but one team did pass effectively. Virginia was 11 for 35 for 125 yards and three interceptions. Awful. Mike Glennon was 20-36, for 230 and 2 INTs (3 TDs). Acceptable. 

And the Wolfpack had to be better on a down-to-down basis, because its kick coverage was terrible. NCSU kicked off five times, and UVA started at its own: 50, 26, 35, 40 and 41.  

NC State 28, Virginia 14 - Backing The Pack

Mike Glennon played a near-perfect first half; his throws were on target in almost every case, but he didn't get any help from the guys at the receiving end (NC State was missing two key receivers for much of the game). Brian Underwood dropped a sure TD that hit him in the hands; later on a receiver in the end zone had a ball hit him in the stomach and drop to the ground. Should have been a better afternoon for him, stats-wise, but that's so much water under the bridge. He wasn't sacked all afternoon, and though the offense stalled for a long period in the second half, they played through the drops and managed enough points to avoid a woulda-coulda-shoulda finish.

Florida State Defense v. N.C. State Offense

NC State Offense
Pos. No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl.
LT 79 R.J. Mattes 6-6 306 Jr.
  74 Tyson Chandler 6-6 340 *Fr.
LG 62 Duran Christophe 6-6 302 *So.
  64 Andrew Wallace 6-5 304 *Jr.
C 53 Camden Wentz 6-3 301 Jr.
  50 Cameron Fordham 6-3 281 *Fr.
RG 72 Zach Allen 6-3 322 *Jr.
  73 Andy Jomantas 6-7 289 *Fr.
RT 76 Mikel Overgaard 6-6 289 *Sr.
  78 Rob Crisp 6-7 312 So.
TE 84 George Bryan 6-5 265 *Sr.
  87 Mario Carter 6-4 262 *Jr.
QB 8 Mike Glennon 6-6 232 *Jr.
  12 Tyler Brosius 6-3 233 *Fr.
HB 24 James Washington 6-0 180 Jr.
  26 Tony Creecy 6-0 196 *Fr.
FB 49 Tyler Purvis 6-3 220 So.
  44 Logan Winkles 6-1 240 *Fr.
WR 86 Jay Smith 6-2 206 *Sr.
  85 Steven Howard 6-2 200 *Sr.
WR 6 T.J. Graham 6-0 180 Sr.
  4 Tobais Palmer 5-11 175 *Jr.

Offensive Style: pro-style with a commitment to an ineffective run game that sets up a very good play-action vertical passing game.

Priority #1: Stop the run.

The 'Noles should be able to do this. This offensive line isn't special and neither are the backs. It is common sense, but play-action on 3rd-&-7 is a lot less effective than play action on 3rd-&-2. And FSU can whip this offensive line with its pass rush on 3rd-&-7.

 

N.C. State has had a greater commitment to its run game as of late. This could be because of some greater offensive line continuity, a desire to protect the injured defense and shorten the game, or to reduce the load on the shoulders of quarterback Mike Glennon.

Despite being much more committed to the run game, the Wolfpack have not been all that successful with it. There's a lot of pulling guard type stuff. It's nothing that FSU hasn't seen. If FSU is gap sound and not over-aggressive, it should be fine.

 

The quarterback is very good. Very, very good. He'll play in the NFL at 6'6" ~232. Jimbo Fisher recruited him. Here's what Jimbo had to say about what he liked about Glennon:

"One thing that jumped out at you when you saw the arm count. The ball jumps out of his hand, he can drive it, he's accurate. And you met him and very intelligent, sharp, good leader. Make a very -- just a great overall person you would like to have in your organization. We were just very impressed when I saw him in the camps and the things he did. I saw him in a Nike camp one time. Very complete football player. Great size which I think is important, too, if you can have it. Big, physical, can take punches; in other words, with his body, is not a thin guy, strong guy, and has good instincts for the game. Moves in the pocket well. He's a good quarterback."

Glennon is not mobile, but he does have a cannon for an arm. That brings us to priority #2.

Priority #2: Stop the big play.

Playing defense is all about taking away what the offense does well and making them fight left handed. In this case, N.C. State is very good at vertical routes. This inexperienced receiving corps is very, very fast. But they aren't always on the same page with the QB. This is particularly true when working short and intermediate routes against zone coverage. To counteract that, State just goes deep. A lot. 

FSU needs to make N.C. State be precise instead of explosive, by playing rather conservative zone coverage and making these inexperienced receivers read the defense and find the holes. Take away the deep ball.

N.C. State is not a good red-zone team. FSU cannot allow long scores and fail to leverage its great size advantage by letting N.C. State bypass the red zone. 

Priority #3: if N.C. State completes the short stuff, get them on the ground. 

A defensive strategy such as this is going to give up some short completions. That's fine. What's not fine is giving up the short completion and then failing to tackle. FSU needs to tackle well after the short completions.

Goals

-Limit N.C. State to less than 5.25 yards/play before garbage time

-Allow no more than four plays of 25+ yards.

-Hold N.C. State to no more than 50% TDs in the red zone.

-Force two turnovers

Florida State Offense v. N.C. State Defense

NC State Defense
Pos. No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl.
DE 55 Brian Slay 6-3 290 Jr.
  98 McKay Frandsen 6-3 255 Jr.
DT 91 Markus Kuhn 6-4 303 *Sr.
  67 Wayne Crawford 6-3 303 *Gr.
DT 52 J.R. Sweezy 6-5 293 *Sr.
  75 T.Y. McGill 6-1 290 Fr.
SE 92 Darryl Cato-Bishop 6-4 281 *So.
  95 Art Norman 6-1 242 *Fr.
SLB 31 D.J. Green 6-4 220 So.
  45 Michael Peek 6-2 215 Fr.
MLB 42 Audie Cole 6-5 239 *Sr.
  43 Ryan Cheek 6-1 240 *So.
WLB 35 Terrell Manning 6-3 233 *Jr.
  41 Dwayne Maddox 6-2 234 Sr.
FC 1 David Amerson 6-3 194 So.
  37 Tyrell Burriss 5-11 177 Fr.
FS 30 Brandan Bishop 6-2 210 Jr.
  25 Dontae Johnson 6-3 190 So.
BS 27 Earl Wolff 6-0 201 *Jr.
  29 Dean Haynes 5-11 199 *So.
BC 20 C.J. Wilson 5-11 187 *Jr.
  2 Rashard Smith 5-11 176 *So.

N.C. State's defense has been about as banged up as Florida State's offense, as I said above. This week they get a few key guys back.

The Wolfpack plays mostly zone defense, and they will blitz a lot, particularly on passing downs. 

Recently, they've gone to a bigger lineup, which has paid dividends. This is a very solid front four, particularly against the run. The reserves are a bit questionable. 

I think a key here will be to take advantage of spacing and taking what N.C. State wants to give.

What will N.C. State likely give? The pass on first down. I expect N.C. State to play defense much like FSU will: not allowing the big play and selling out to stop the run. 

FSU has some advantages, however, that N.C. State does not. Namely, E.J. Manuel's legs. N.C. State needs an extra defender to stop Manuel's running ability. This should open up the pass on early downs. N.C. State's defensive ends aren't great pass rushers, which further lends itself to the strategy of taking what N.C. State gives on first downs.

FSU's ability to exploit this will depend on Manuel's ability to use his mind before the snap. He needs to identify the likely coverages and get FSU into the correct play on a more consistent basis. 

If N.C. State loads up against the run (more defenders than FSU has blockers), Manuel needs to get to a pass play and quickly and accurately flip the ball out to one of FSU's many playmakers. Then, they must make N.C. State defenders miss in space. 

If N.C. State adjusts to this and stops loading up against the run, then Manuel must identify this, check to the run play, and then FSU can run. 

FSU should be able to have success with this strategy, but there will be some series in which N.C. State makes a good individual defensive play, Manuel makes the incorrect read, FSU drops a ball, etc.

And when that happens, N.C. State is going to bring the house on 2nd-&-8+ and 3rd-&-5+. They'll try to confuse FSU's offensive line and get hits on Manuel. When this happens, FSU needs to have its counters ready. One such counter to the zone blitz is to max protect (fewer guys in pass routes and more staying in to block). I like this strategy against the zone blitz for this FSU team for several reasons:

  1. FSU's offensive line isn't great and needs all the help it can get.
  2. Even if EJ Manuel gets protection, he almost never goes through four progressions, much less five. He's simply not a great reader of defenses.
  3. EJ has a cannon for an arm. Max protecting gives the deeper routes time to develop. More time and fewer options suits his game. 

Here's a solid video of Jermaine Thomas with a great pass block:

FSU has a really, really good defense. Manuel needs to be the leader of this offense. The better he does with the mental side of the game before the snap, the less amazing physical plays he'll be called upon to make.

Goals

-At least 6.3 yards/play before garbage time.

-66%+ touchdowns in the red-zone.

-No more than 1 turnover. 

-No more than 1 operational penalty (false start, lining up wrong, illegal motion)

Special Teams and Other Considerations

N.C State has poor kick coverage, but a very good return team. FSU should have an opportunity to break one here.

Prediction

I'm going with 34-22. I think NC. State will get two TDs (stopped going for two after one of the TDs) and three field goals. I like FSU to get four TDs and two field goals. If FSU gets up big, expect to see the backups because FSU plays another game on Thursday, affording just four days rest.

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