The Florida State Seminoles will try to get back in the win column this week following a tough loss to No. 3 Clemson last week, but their matchup with NC State doesn’t set up as the easiest bounce-back game. FSU will be playing at Carter-Finley Stadium, where it has lost four of its last six trips, against a Wolfpack team that – despite reeling since a close loss at Clemson – has a top-20 defense.
Despite playing its best game of 2016 and outgaining Clemson on a per-play basis 7.13 to 6.31, the Noles let an epic performance from Dalvin Cook and another improved effort from the defense go to waste by blowing an eight-point second half lead. It will be tough to replicate to emotion of that effort against one of FSU’s primary rivals, but a letdown in Raleigh could see the Noles looking at a 5-4 record.
A week after gashing what was the nation’s second-ranked S&P+ defense for almost 9 yards per carry and four touchdowns, Cook will see another unit that has been very good on the season. NC State boasts a top-17 opponent-adjusted defense and is among the top 25 in the country in defending the run. Cook and FSU will need to stay on schedule against a Wolfpack team that is very good on standard downs, but the Noles’ success rate indicates they should be able to especially after a good showing against Clemson, which ranked higher in just about every category.
Deondre Francois continues to display great toughness, but he also continues to display accuracy issues. The redshirt freshman QB connected on only 48.6% of his throws against Clemson, marking another poor completion percentage in a big game after he hit on just 38.9% at Louisville. Francois has completed 56.4% of his throws against FBS defenses, and he’ll see a top-25 opponent-adjusted pass defense in Raleigh. While NC State is better on standard downs, the Wolfpack is good at getting teams off schedule on first down and still ranks 25th in S&P+ when it comes to passing downs.
While the FSU O-line hasn’t been great in pass pro, Francois needs to do a better job of getting rid of the ball and avoiding drive-killing sacks and painful hits than he’s done thus far. It will be on him to hit throws on early downs to stay on schedule. The good news is the emergence of Noonie Murray – who had 96 yards and a TD last week – gives him a new, explosive playmaker.
While Deshaun Watson wound up going for 8.8 ypa and 2 TDs, the performance from the FSU defense was still admirable in the loss to Clemson. After a slow start, FSU held Clemson to two field goals across nine drives to eventually take a 28-20 lead, but the ejection of Trey Marshall eventually swung things back in the Tigers’ direction and allowed Watson to feast on a thin secondary late.
The key for FSU’s defense this week will be winning on first down, as NC State’s first down S&P+ offensive ranking (109) is terrible. NCSU isn’t an explosive offense, and Ryan Finley (7.6 ypa, 13 TD, 6 INT) is middle of the pack or worse in the ACC in many passing categories, but the Wolfpack are still better offensively when they need to throw. The running game features Matthew Dayes (5.05 ypc, 4 TD), which FSU will look to stop fresh off holding Clemson to 3.5 yards per rush despite Wayne Gallman and a much more dangerous runner at QB in Watson.
Be sure to listen to this week’s preview edition of the Nolecast, where you’ll get more quality, in-depth analysis than you’ll find anywhere else from Bud and Ingram, brought to you as always by Louisiana Hot Sauce and Madison Social.