Column: NC State showed it still has more to play for after dominating FSU
The storyline for this game was two teams at a crossroads, albeit with different ambitions.
NC State is hoping for a double-digit win season. After two straight losses however, the Wolfpack needed to stop the bleeding and right the ship with a favorable schedule looming.
Florida State typically takes double-digit wins for granted, but the roles are reversed this year. The Seminoles just want to get to a bowl game. It’s done that for 36 straight years, but with a 4-4 record entering Saturday and a daunting remaining schedule, Saturday had to have felt like a must-win for them.
A week ago, after an embarrassing 59-10 home loss to juggernaut Clemson, FSU first-year head coach Willie Taggart called out his team for quitting during the game. NC State head coach Dave Doeren meanwhile complimented his team’s grit in trying to come back from a 24-7 first quarter deficit on the road to Syracuse before losing a shootout 51-41.
One thing is clear after Saturday's 47-28 win for the Wolfpack. Doeren and his squad responded, Taggart and his did not.
To be fair, this Florida State team is a shell of what it has been and probably will be again, especially on the offensive line. But it has the athletes to be more competitive than what it showed Saturday.
Also, just like Syracuse had built-in motivational advantages a week ago, NC State had it this time: chiefly playing at Carter-Finley Stadium on homecoming in front of a crowd that finally got to enjoy a kickoff that was not noonish.
That helped NC State play like a team that understands it still has a lot to play for this year.
“It’s not often that you beat Florida State two years in a row,” head coach Dave Doeren said following the victory. “That just doesn’t happen a lot for anybody. For us to do that on homecoming, to keep the home winning streak (5-0 this season), and to keep the bowl streak going (five straight years) — that’s a lot of positive things happening for our guys, and there’s a lot to play for still.”
After losing two straight games by a combined score of 106-38 and facing games at Notre Dame before finishing at home against Boston College and Florida State, all three ranked this weekend, the Noles’ prospectus may not be looking bright. Perhaps that reality was dawning on them when the Pack jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“We wanted to start fast and I thought we did that,” Doeren said.
There’s a reason why jumping on FSU mattered, and the Wolfpack players could see in their opponent's body language the benefits of doing that.
“You can definitely tell when the other team is getting frustrated, especially when they are on the road it’s kind of hard because you don’t have fans pushing you to get back to your old self,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Larrell Murchison, who had his first career interception of any level of football, said.
Statistical evidence of what unfolded in born out in the penalties. Florida State had 16 of them for 121 yards. NC State had just four flags for 50 yards. The Pack played an overall clean game, not turning it over once compared to twice for FSU, which is not counting three times Florida State failed to convert on fourth downs.
More telling was the domination in the trenches. NC State rushed for 177 yards, and that’s counting two kneel downs and a bad snap that lost a total of nine yards. FSU has had their issues this year but giving up big yards in the run game was not one of them. The Noles ranked 12th going into the game nationally at the Football Bowl Subdivision in allowing 102.9 yards per contest.
On the other side, NC State limited Florida State to just 24 net yards rushing on 20 carries, a number somewhat skewed by the five sacks piled up by the defense. Florida State did not have a single sack in the game. The Wolfpack had 10 total tackles for loss, double the amount Florida State had.
Going forward, the Pack’s pass defense is what it is — and that’s vulnerable. It allowed 421 passing yards to Florida State, but the final four offenses on the schedule feature a pair of true freshmen quarterbacks coming to Carter-Finley Stadium in Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman and East Carolina’s Holton Ahlers and a pair of passing attacks on the road in Louisville and North Carolina that are far less threatening than what NC State has faced the past three games.
All three ACC teams on the slate have passing offenses that entered this weekend ranked 63rd or worse nationally at the FBS. The past three opponents were all in the top 37.
That is a good example of why Saturday’s game was a crossroad moment in NC State’s quest for a double-digit win season, which would also include as a byproduct an undefeated home record.
And the Pack responded in the right direction.