Keys To The Game
Compete: First and foremost, NC State has to compete in this game, it's really that simple. If the Pack plays like it did at Wake Forest in the team's first road contest under head coach Dave Doeren, it could get ugly fast.
Historically, NCSU has had Florida State's number, at least as much as any other team in the league. In 2001, the Wolfpack was the first ACC program to go to Tallahassee and beat the Seminoles as a member of the conference. That was followed up with a 20-15 win in 2005 when the 'Noles were ranked ninth nationally, making NC State the first ACC school to top FSU on the road twice.
The Wolfpack has had success against its Atlantic Division rivals recently, too. The two programs have split the last eight games, although three of the Pack's wins have come in Raleigh, with that 2005 tilt being the lone exception. In the last seven times that Florida State was ranked while playing NC State, the Pack has pulled off an upset five times. Of course, FSU enters this game ranked third in the country by The Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls, while checking in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings of the year.
Start the momentum for a strong finish: NCSU has recently used the bye to its advantage and, in addition to winning six of its last 10 games played following an open date, the Red and White have often used the break to propel the team to a strong finish. The Pack has gone 22-14 overall in the last six years after the bye week, and the mark improves to 19-10 if you exclude last season.
Doeren has also been pretty successful in his time as a head coach after a bye week. He won both games following an open date in his two years as the head man at Northern Illinois, and he will be getting several key players back from injury this weekend.
Even if NC State doesn't record a win, the team needs some positive signs to build on for a strong finish. If the Pack wants to go bowling, it must find three more wins down the stretch, and that path starts with building some good mojo in Tallahassee.
Sweat the small stuff: A major area of focus for NC State should be playing a clean game in terms of penalties and turnovers. If the Pack does that, it could hang around in this one.
The Wolfpack made drastic improvements in the penalty department the last time out against Syracuse, getting flagged just four times for 35 yards. Now the key is having a similar performance away from home; in its first road game at Wake Forest, State was flagged eight times for 74 yards.
The team has also cut down on turnovers, with just four in the past three games. Limiting turnovers against Florida State is a tall order, but that's the type of thing NCSU should be focused on.
Get the offense running with Mitchell: Fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell excited fans with his stellar debut on the first three drives of the season. The possibilities of the new-look offense seemed endless while he led the team on touchdown drives of 65 and 75 yards on the first two possessions of the season and completed all three of his attempts for 93 yards.
However, the moment was as short as it was encouraging. Mitchell's broken foot took him out of the game after 15 snaps, but he will make his return on Saturday. The good news is the offense, which has battled even more health problems since the opener, could be the best it has been all year. Several key performers are back from injuries of their own, and the freshmen that have played key roles are more experienced than ever before.
One of the unit's biggest problems recently has been its inability to run the ball effectively. After the team totaled just 115 yards on the ground against Wake, the Pack averaged just 2.9 yards per carry en route to 129 yards on the ground against Syracuse. The hope is the return of Mitchell, who is more of a running threat than backup Pete Thomas, and left tackle Joe Thuney can give the ground game a shot in the arm.
Game outlook: Florida State looked like one of the premier teams in the country last week, smashing Clemson 51-14 on the road. The impressive win was reflected when the Seminoles opened the BCS standings as the nation's No. 2 team while NC State is still searching for health and its first conference win of the season. There's a reason FSU opened as a 29.5-point favorite and the line only got bigger as the week went on. The Pack is going to have its hands full in this one.
Five Florida State Players To Watch
Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene — Greene is perhaps the fastest of the Seminoles, which he showed on a 72-yard touchdown in the 51-14 win over Clemson last Saturday. The 6-0, 180-pounder caught eight passes for 146 yards and two scores against the Tigers, all tying or exceeding season bests, and that showing earned him ACC Wide Receiver of the Week honors. Greene has caught 31 passes for 553 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He has topped 100 yards in three out of six games.
Senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner — Joyner set the tone against Clemson with two forced fumbles, one interception and a sack during the first half en route to eight tackles and ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. returned one of the forced fumbles 37 yards for a touchdown against Clemson. The 5-8, 190-pound Joyner is second on the team with 33 tackles, to go along with three sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles.
Senior wide receiver Kenny Shaw — The 6-0, 170-pounder is having the most productive season of his FSU career. He has caught 28 passes (six away from his career high) for 530 yards and three touchdowns so far in 2013. Shaw has been remarkably consistent, posting between 89 and 96 yards in five of six games. He caught six passes for 94 yards and a score against Nevada Sept. 14.
Senior outside linebacker Telvin Smith — Smith is usually in the middle of everything for the Seminoles and is a tough competitor. The 6-3, 218-pounder leads FSU with 43 tackles and has five tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and three passes defended so far this season. He had a game-high 11 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass broken up in the win over Clemson, which helped him win ACC Co-Linebacker of the Week honors.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston — The 6-4, 228-pounder is enjoying a remarkable first season. He is 112-of-157 passing (71.3 percent) for 1,885 yards with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions in six games. He also has rushed for three scores. Winston has passed for more than 330 yards in four games, and had his best performance last Saturday in the 51-14 win over Clemson to earn ACC Quarterback of the Week honors. He completed 22 of 34 passes for a season-high 444 yards with three touchdowns, plus he rushed for a score.
Three Matchups To Watch
1. Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been sacked 11 times in six games, including three against Clemson in the 51-14 win last Saturday. Winston isn't the type of quarterback that is quick to leave the pocket, but he has some mobility. He has rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries.
NC State will need to somehow disrupt his rhythm and get him outside the pocket with defensive ends Mike Rose and Art Norman, plus defensive tackles Thomas Teal, Carlos Gray and a healthier T.Y. McGill giving chase.
NC State was able to disrupt Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, but Winston has been in a season-long rhythm. Winston opened the season going 25-of-27 passing for 356 yards with four touchdowns (plus a rushing score) in a 41-13 win over Pittsburgh Sept. 2. All he has done since then is prove that wasn't a fluke.
2. NC State hasn't had to face too many teams that like to blitz their cornerbacks. FSU senior Lamarcus Joyner will need to be picked up whenever he blitzes. The former safety is pound for pound one of the toughest players in the ACC at 5-8 and 190 pounds. Joyner caused havoc against Clemson with one sack and a forced fumble, which turned into a quick six points.
FSU starts two defensive linemen who were former Rivals.com five-star prospects in defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman, and defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan and Nile Lawrence-Stample were both four-star recruits. The group has combined for three sacks, which is the same amount Joyner has.
3. Florida State has three high-level wide receivers and a quality tight end, and the fourth receiver, Christian Green, would probably start at numerous other colleges. NC State cornerbacks Juston Burris, Jack Tocho and Niles Clark will have their hands full. Having senior safety Dontae Johnson as a security blanket behind them helps, but FSU will spread out the NC State defense and attack.
Junior Rashad Greene has big-play speed, and senior Kenny Shaw isn't far behind, but where the mismatches occur is with Z-wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who is a massive 6-5 and 234 pounds. Benjamin has caught 20 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns this season, and is a master of the jump ball catch.
Three Questions With Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher
How do you let go of trouncing Clemson and get ready for NC State?
"We've got to move on from that one before we play North Carolina State. They're coming off a bye week. They'll be rested, they'll be healed. They'll get guys back on the field. They'll have a lot of time to study, bring in new wrinkles to the game.
"[We've] got to get our kids focused and move on, I think they will. They understand that. We'll get a good week of practice, get rested and get ready mentally and prepare to play this week and win the game during the week with that preparation."
What do you know about NC State quarterback Brandon Mitchell?
"He can play. He's a big, strong, athletic guy, can throw it, run, he's a heck of a football player. They'll get him back and he's a guy that can move around. He's a good player now."
What are your thoughts about redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston being in the Heisman Trophy race?
"If you want to be in the Heisman race, keep winning games. As much as it is about great play, it's about your team winning games and being successful. You've got to remember, 'How did we win?' power of preparation and 'How are you playing well?' power of preparation and are they keeping things in perspective that way. I think he will and I think our team will.
"A lot of teams don't do what we do and how there's a lot more on protections, and a lot more on the quarterback. There's a lot more on the offensive linemen and a lot more on the receivers. They have to learn it.
"We're picking up up-front, inside-out. [We're] making it a long way to get to him [Jameis] and it allows him that extra second to get it out."
Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren
What are your impressions of Florida State?
"As far as Florida State goes, they are a great team, everybody knows that, you saw what they did the other night [versus Clemson]. They have great coaches, sound schemes, guys that play hard and make plays. They have a bunch of different playmakers and a quarterback who is playing at an extremely high level with a bunch of receivers going up and getting the ball."
How are the Seminoles on defense?
"On defense, No. 20 [cornerback Lamarcus Joyner] is one of the best players in our league, if not the country at his position. I think he is a tremendous football player. They feature him and get him around the ball a lot.
"With that being said, we're very excited to compete against them. Anytime as a coach or a player you get to play, home or away, against one of the best teams in college football, it's exciting."
How good is Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston?
"I don't think you can look at your game plan and say you're going to get in somebody's head. We have to do a really good job of getting to him. I think our defensive line in the games where we've played well has gotten penetration and disruption. Against Clemson, we were able to get to Tajh Boyd early, and that helped us until the injuries in the second half.
"We talk about pressuring and disrupting and harassing and hitting. It's an 11-man show when you do that. You reroute receivers with your linebackers, you play good coverage with your secondary, and then you contain and collapse the pocket because he's so good at running around and throwing the football.
"He's a really, really good player. You just have to do everything you can, all 11 for all four quarters and hope it's enough."