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Nole your opponent: FSU at N.C. State

Learning about Florida State’s next opponent, N.C. State.

Florida State travels to N.C. State this weekend. FSU is favored by six points in a spot it has not performed well in under Jimbo Fisher. To learn more about the Wolfpack, we spoke with Will Thompson, of SB Nation’s Backing The Pack.

1. The ‘Pack sits at 4-4 after starting 4-1 in the 2016 campaign. What were your expectations entering the season, and what are they for the balance of 2016?

Honestly, the schedule at the beginning of the season looked incredibly daunting to Wolfpack fans. Imagine a few months ago seeing a stretch of games that involved Notre Dame, then @ Clemson, @ Louisville, Boston College, and then Florida State. At the beginning of the year, four of those five games looked like they were against potential top fifteen or better teams. Most of us believed the only winnable game out of that stretch was Boston College. Well, about that.

I can't really stress how bad losing that game was for the Pack's bowl chances. We knew heading into the season that there was little margin for error given the schedule, and that game fell into the category of "must-win" for bowl chances. Now with four games left against Florida State, on the road against a tougher Syracuse team, Miami at home and closing with UNC on the road, finding two wins out of those four looks down right impossible.

2. Ryan Finely has had a strong start to the 2016 season. What does he do well in Dave Doeren’s offense, and where, if at all, has he struggled?

Up until the last few weeks, Finley had been remarkably consistent in his ability to keep control of the game and the offense. He was the steady hand that kept the chains moving, and the Pack became a team that maintain long drives and control the game. Lately, in particular against Louisville, he has looked far more unsure of himself. His completion percentage is just above 50% over the last three games, and has had two turnovers in each of the last three games (although admittedly one in the BC game was not his fault). Perhaps some of it is from the quality of defenses he's played in Clemson, Louisville and Boston College, but he needs to do something to get his confidence back. Find ways to make plays and for the love of God stop turning the ball over.

3. What do you expect the Wolfpack offense to do to attack FSU’s defense on Saturday, and where do you expect them to have success?

First things first, they have got to find a way to get Jaylen Samuels the ball. Samuels is one of the most explosive playmakers on the Wolfpack offense, and for reasons that still baffle me to no end, out of thirty plus snaps last week against Boston College, he was thrown to only 3 times, making one catch for 8 yards. For a guy that can line up all over the field, whether it's in the back field, as a tight end, in the slot or out wide, and can hit a home run play from any of those positions, it's pretty inexcusable for him to not see the ball more. So hopefully the staff has figured out a gameplan to get him involved early and often Saturday evening.

In addition, they're going to need a strong performance from Matt Dayes, much like his performance in the game against Clemson. Having him come in and keep the chains moving would take a lot of pressure off of Finley, and could keep Dalvin Cook off the field. For the Wolfpack to have any success against the Noles Saturday, they need to limit the amount of touches Cook can get, and dominating time of possession is certainly a great way to do that.

4. What does Dave Huxtable’s defense do well, and how do you expect them to defend Dalvin Cook, in particular?

Huxtable's defense has a really hard hitting front 7, so expect early and often for them to try and get to Francois. The Pack has a ton of size on the defensive line, in particular Kentavius Street. The secondary is probably the weakest part of the defense, but they definitely can hit just as hard, and are often involved in a lot of tackles. Josh Jones, currently averages almost 10 tackles per game, and has 78 tackles attributed to him this season.

As far as trying to stop Dalvin Cook? Whew...that's a tall order. Probably the best way to stop him is to keep him off the field, as I mentioned above, but the defense will certainly have their hands full when he's on the field. Look for the defense to stack the box a lot, which could potentially open up some one on one coverage for Francois to throw.

5. How have NC State’s special teams fared to date? Are there any unmentioned players FSU fans should have their eyes on this Saturday evening?

Some of the special teams have had a rough go of it. Kyle Bambard has had 9 FG attempts this season, and has made just 5. His confidence has been completely shot (understandably so) since he missed the potential game winner against Clemson. He's also missed three PATs as well this season. From the punting side, AJ Cole III has been one of the best punters in the conference, and currently averages around 43 yards per punt. If there's any field position battles to be had in this game, Cole will certainly help out. If this comes down to any sort of FG battle...well...I think you might see Doeren go for it on fourth down more often than not.

As far as any other players to keep an eye on, I hope he gets involved in the offense this game but Randy Moss's son, Thaddeus is a freshman on the team this year, and he certainly inherited his father's ability for spectacular catches. Also, Kelvin Harmon has fast emerged as one of the most sure-handed receivers on this team. He had an absolutely sensational touchdown catch against Boston College last Saturday.

6. Finally, let’s get a prediction. How do you envision this game unfolding?

The Florida State game in Raleigh is always an incredibly entertaining game. However, I'm wondering what the psyche of Wolfpack is right now, particularly after a brutal loss to Boston College last week. If they come out flat and let Florida State get up 10-0, or 14-0 early, this will be a total blowout. If they can keep the game close early in the first half, I think they'll relax and forget about last week.

That being said, Dalvin Cook is still an absolute monster, and I think he'll ultimately be the difference maker for Florida State this weekend. Noles will win 31-17.