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Schedule Preview: NC State Wolfpack

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Carter Finley? Carter Finl-pbbbbbbbbbbbttthhhhh

ehyman@newsobserver.com

The Florida State Seminoles Football team has struggled with their Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division rival, the North Carolina State Wolfpack. These struggles have happened, however, primarily at NC State’s home stadium, Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

‘Noles fans will remember the 2012 loss in Raleigh without much difficulty. Well, we will, but with a begrudging memory that recalls the overuse of FSU star running back Chris Thompson, the mistakes of EJ Manuel, and the near inexplicable success of noted giraffe Mike Glennon on 3 consecutive fourth downs to win the football game.

Ugh. That’s enough of that.

Let’s remember the games that happened at Doak Campbell Stadium. Those have gone far better. The Wolfpack have won just two games in Tallahassee in the last two decades, a 20-15 grinder in 2005, and a 2017 nooner 21-27 loss that foreboded the end of Jimbo Fisher’s decade in Tallahassee.

The Wolfpack have a nasty habit of catching FSU at a bad time. For the 2021 season, this couldn’t be timed worse. Florida State plays Dave Doeren’s boys in a sandwich game between FSU’s real rivalry matchups between Clemson the prior week and Miami the following week. Manny Diaz, himself a former NCSU assistant, couldn’t have planned this better.

Doeren’s team comes in projected to be 45th in ESPN’s Bill Connolly’s SP+. NCSU is projected to improve from a 51st defensive finish in 2020 to 37th in 2021. Their offense is projected to take a minor slide from 62nd to 68th. Connolly’s system has the Wolfpack as a 53% favorite over the ‘Noles.

HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF - the offense

Y’all remember Thayer Thomas? Unfortunately, FSU fans will remember him - Thomas caught 11 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Seminoles. While Thomas is the most memorable target, Emeka Emerie and Devin Carter flank him as first and third, respectively, on the stat charts for NCSU’s 2020 offense. One with more tact than I might yet call this trio... a Wolfpack.

The quarterback position has changed. While former FSU lefty Bailey Hockman was the tosser for much of last season, he transferred to Rick Stockstill’s Middle Tennessee State University. The previously assumed starter Devin Leary now takes his place at the helm of Doeren’s offense after suffering a broken leg in the middle of the 2020 season.

Leary is a gunslinger. There simply isn’t a better quick description. Leary can stretch the field, with an arm that can push the ball downfield with plus level accuracy. The returning quarterback isn’t afraid to push the ball into tight windows, either, with enough arm strength to make those throws. Leary won’t show up on your favorite twitter NFL Draft scout’s day 1 charts, but he has plenty of ability to show up and ruin your Saturday.

WEREWOLVES OF RALEIGH - the defense

So the above paragraphs make it sound like Dave Doeren’s offense is the unit to keep their eyes on. Well, much like Doeren’s teams at noted Orange Bowl regular Northern Illinois University, the defense is the better unit while the annoying offense gets the headlines.

Jordan Lynch, get back down on your knees, your defense made your career possible.

Payton Wilson headlines the Wolfpack defense. Wilson will be a name Seminoles fans will hear regularly on ACC broadcasts throughout the season. Partially because he is a very good college linebacker, and as much so because he racks up stats and is an easy pick for media.

This is Doeren’s defense, make no mistakes. The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator has his fingerprints all over this unit. Doeren was the defensive mind behind noted shirtless man Bret Bielema, and his offensive counterpart for the Badgers was former Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst.

Current defensive coordinator Tony Gibson brings a 3-3-5 stack bent to Doeren’s defense. Seminoles fans will remember the difficulties this unit gave FSU’s offensive line in run blocking last year. This scheme brings a lot of pressure from various locations out of a one gap look. Gibson and Doeren will try to use this pressure to disrupt the opposing offensive line.

WHO LET THE DOGS OUT - Matchup

Yeah, the Baha Men are the soundtrack for our final section.

I like the song, and I hate NC State.

Florida State has had notable struggles on the boundary side of the defense, although the Seminoles have addressed many of these issues with transfer. Mike Norvell has done the same in the trenches, adding Jermaine Johnson from the Georgia Bulldogs. Brandon Moore likely will man the boundary corner position.

Leary will face more of Norvell’s transfers, with Moore on the short side and a mix of Florida State’s stellar defensive back recruiting and transfers like Jammie Robinson at the second and third levels.

The 3-3-5 stack will do what it does - frustrate the offensive line and be boom and bust. Expect the seasoned FSU offensive line (wow, it feels strange to write that) to find some solid holes, and get beat at times. It’s a defensive scheme that will find success against even the best units up front - albeit with limited levels of success over time.

If McKenzie Milton can get comfortable and find his short area success, he will frustrate Doeren and Gibson more than most teams.

Norvell’s Seminoles will be happy to get a solid NCSU team at home, and will do well to add this particular game to their win column.

Offering my particular crystal ball’s divinations seems futile, so I will defer to my magic eight ball.

PREDICTION: DANCES WITH WOLVES - FSU 38, NCSU 27

But don’t be surprised if this sandwich game crushes your spirits.