Since 2010, the Seminoles have won just twice inside Carter-Finley Stadium, one of the nation’s most hostile home environments.
That group of teams (Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida State and NC State) seem to be the frontrunners in an extremely competitive ACC Atlantic, with the Seminoles, Demon Deacons and Wolfpack seeming to be jockeying for second.
On this week’s Line of Scrimmage, Coach Rob McLamb of FanNation’s All Wolfpack on Sports Illustrated joins us to break down what he describes as a “separator game” that’ll show who is truly a contender to have a significant season. He offers insight into NC State’s offense and defense, names to know, and other insider analysis ahead of Saturday night’s game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Wolfpack’s clear leader is quarterback Devin Leary. The redshirt junior would probably have been drafted last year but chose to come back to lead NC State to what is already well on its way to another successful season. Through the first 5 games, how is 2022 Leary performing compared to 2021 Leary?
Well, statistically, it’s probably slightly down in terms of yardage and such he does not have that deep threat that he’s had — there’s been more of a dink-and-dunk type of offense. The opposition is not allowing the deep ball and NC State doesn’t have someone who can press against that. I know you go back to like years ago, when Florida State was dominating the ACC. The opposition would pick a style of offense, “We don’t want the Seminoles to do this.” But the Seminoles would be so good, they would do it anyway. NC State doesn’t really have that skill level. When teams decide they’re going to let them stay in front, the Wolfpack generally has to stay in front and their drives tend to be a little longer so Leary is not getting the yardage in terms of what he had last season. He’s making good decisions — interception wise he’s not throwing a lot, that’s kind of what he’s known for. The Wolfpack actually want him going forward, starting with FSU, to press it a little more, maybe throw that 50-50 ball, give it a shot, because they believe in him and they believe in what he can do. But he’s actually played a safe and productive season. And yeah, they did lose to Clemson. But I think most teams in the country would lose to Clemson. They’re very good. So he’s having a great year. And I think this is really a barometer game coming up with the Seminoles.
NC State suffered a big offensive line blow with the departure of Ekwonu but still boasts a very experienced line. How have the big fellas handled the season so far? Do you feel that there is a strength in pass blocking vs run blocking?
There were times where the Tigers would go seven back and go four rush, and they would beat five NC State offensive lineman. Clemson has talent that’s gonna probably compete for a national title. And that really shows that NC State has that wall that they have to break through to get to that top tier, they still haven’t quite done that yet.
That said, they have a good solid offensive line. If (running back) Bam Knight had come back, I think they would have had a better running game this year than what they’ve had. They’ve gotten some good production, I think offensive line overall has done alright.
Offensive skill position-wise, NC State no longer has Emeka Emezie at wide receiver or Ricky Person and Donovan Knight at running back. Which players have stepped in to fill these holes?
NC State is an odd front team. Now they do obviously send linebackers and nickel and safety up gaps, and so generally there are four or five blitzing you just what the odd front does is disguise where the blitz is coming from. But odd front teams are generally the ones you prefer for a running game. And if the Seminoles can block up front, if they can deal with the front three and they can pick up where the remainder are in terms of the insertion where that’s coming from defensively from the back eight, then they should have some ability to run the ball regardless of what injury issues they have.
Getting off to a good start is something that really would really behoove them it would help their running game. NC State has been a team that’s scored 120 points in the first half and in the second half of games scored 44 points. So they’re an offense that starts well, but they tend to fade after intermission. If you’re leading if you’re close, if you’re tied, if you’re in the ballpark, you can run on the Wolfpack in the second half that’s what East Carolina did to great effect. And let’s be honest — the Pirates line up for the game-winning field goal, they probably should have won that game. So there’s opportunities for Florida State to run the ball, especially if they stay within a stone’s throw to not panic and stick with the run game and wear the defense down.
Devin Leary gets the attention at NC State, but personally I think the stars of this team reside on the defensive side. I’ve been a Payton Wilson fan since his highlights in high school, pair him with Drake Thomas and I think you’ve got two of the best in the ACC. Does the Wolfpack defense start and end with the success of this linebacker group?
I think so especially with it being as I said, an odd front team. The linebackers have to really plug the gaps they’re assigned — it’s not a conventional 4-2 or 4-3 where you know where you’re going to be every play. These guys have to have intelligence, they have to have lateral speed. They have to have forward and back mobility.
You mentioned Wilson and Thomas, but there’s also Isaiah Moore — he’s really, really good. He’s a leader and was given the No. 1 jersey, which is an honor at NC State. I think the linebacker group at NC State is extremely talented. I think they can hang with most in the country.
The defensive line is anchored by former Seminole Cory Durden, where as the defensive backfield also has a former ‘Nole in Cyrus Fagan, who I think is banged up. What other names should fans know about on from these position groups?
There’s Davin Vann — I actually coached against him in high school. He’ll start, CJ Clark’s behind him who gets a lot of burn at well at the left end. Their ends are very talented — No. 9 Savion Jackson. Those guys probably at some point will make some plays.
A night game at Carter-Finley is a daunting task. Throw in an FSU team that isn’t at full strength and it’s a tough task. What’s your confidence level going into Saturday night?
To me, it’s a flip-em type of game. Florida State could go in there and win this game, I don’t think that’s something outrageous that would send the world of its axis. Florida State has talent, NC State will have to execute. They’ve got to do a better job in the second half at scoring.
The night games in Carter-Finely are magic, I know the ones that probably stand out for bad reasons with FSU fans will be 2010 and 2012, they were both night games. They don’t have the capacity that Doak or Death Valley has, but they’re packed and for big games, they fill the stadium up and it’s a wonderful atmosphere.
I think this is a game that’s gonna separate — I don’t think either one of these teams are going to go on to win the division, but there is a team that’s going to be second or third and has a 10-2 or 11-1 type of season. This is a seperator, the games against Wake Forest wil be seperators and Syracuse will probably be a sperator — the Atlantic is a meat grinder and there could be cross carnage, if you will, with teams beating up on other teams underneath Clemson (assuming Clemson doesn’t lose games.) Neither team really controls its destiny right now, but it’s a big one if you want to get to the back end of that schedule and be in the mix for an elite type of season.
Florida State Seminoles vs. No.14 NC State Wolfpack
Saturday, October 8
Everything Florida State Seminoles, all the time.
The Tomahawk Nation podcast channel, presented by SB Nation, features insider Seminoles recruiting, football, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer analysis and commentary, featuring shows hosted by staff writers Tim Alumbaugh, Matt Minnick, Michael Rogner, Brian Pellerin, and Ben Meyerson, featuring contributions by Joshua Pick, David Stout, Jon Marchant, Max Escarpio and the entire Tomahawk Nation staff, produced by managing editor Perry Kostidakis.