Game 6: NC State Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1) vs. Florida State Seminoles (5-0, 2-0)
October 6, 2012 • 8:00 p.m. • ESPN2
Raleigh, N.C. • Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
Since that warm September day in 1998 when NC State picked off six Chris Weinke passes and Torry Holt zigzagged his way through Florida State’s punt coverage unit, games between the Wolfpack and Seminoles have taken on a ‘must see TV’ quality.
So it won’t be a surprise if well-informed college football fans from both far and near choose to spend at least a part of their Saturday night watching with some curiosity the latest match-up between Florida State (5-0, 2-0) and NC State (3-2, 0-1).
Kickoff time at Carter-Finley Stadium is set for 8 p.m. Wolfpack Sports Network coverage begins at six o’clock.
Ranked third in this week’s AP College Football Poll, FSU is the first team ranked in the top five to visit Carter-Finley since, well, that memorable afternoon 14 years ago.
With Weinke, a future Heisman winner in 2000, throwing to the wrong colored jerseys a half-dozen times and Holt returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown and adding a 63-yard scoring reception, State derailed the mighty ‘Noles 24-7 despite being a 25-point underdog.
The Wolfpack has gone on to win six of the last 14 meetings, including four of the last seven in Raleigh.
On Saturday night, NC State will perhaps need to bottle the recipe for success used by the ’98 Wolfpack to upset another powerful Florida State team that has designs on returning to the national championship picture for the first time since 1999. In other words, the Pack hopes to get a little help from the visiting team, while also channeling some execution magic from several key players on both sides of the ball.
Back in the 1990’s, Florida State was often viewed as an invincible force in some corners of the ACC. Does this FSU team possess that same swagger?
“I don’t know that because you only have evidence from five games,” said NC State head coach Tom O’Brien. “They had built their reputation over a number of years of being a top five and top 10 team. They fell on tough times the couple of years, but it certainly looks like their trajectory is heading back in that same direction. Until you do things year after year after year, that’s when you get to elite status.”
‘Elite’ is the word that best describes Florida State’s recruiting classes during the juggernaut years of the Bobby Bowden era. Now in its third year under coach Jimbo Fisher, FSU again appears to be assembling the type of speed, size, skill and depth that is required to get to the top and stay there.
While junior quarterback EJ (there are no periods in his first name) Manuel engineers an offense that is chugging out averages of 51 points and 544 yards per game, it’s the defense – especially the defensive front – that gives O’Brien and his staff the most concerns this weekend.
The Seminoles lead the ACC in scoring defense (11.4), rushing defense (72.4), total defense (200.8) and sacks (15).
Between them, defensive ends Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner have combined for 13.5 sacks in five games. Making matters more urgent, NC State will be starting its fifth different combination on the offensive line in six games due to injuries. Tackles Rob Crisp (back) and Andrew Wallace (foot) will be out of action once again, while starting left guard Zach Allen is now out for the rest of the season after sustaining a foot injury in last week’s game at Miami.
When Allen departed in the second quarter last weekend, Camden Wentz was forced to move from center to guard with redshirt freshman Joe Thuney taking over at center. In just the last two weeks, R.J. Mattes has switched from left guard to left tackle, while Tyson Chandler has flipped from left tackle to the other side.
Even after all the musical chairs up front, NC State managed to pile up a school record for total offense with 664 yards against the Hurricanes. And with 224 yards on the ground at Miami, the Wolfpack has rushed for better than 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1998.
“Running the ball is what offensive linemen like to do,” said Mattes. “We want to pound the rock down their throat. That’s what opens up the passing game. The first few games we weren’t very productive, but things have really picked up and hopefully we’ll keep that trend going. Mike [Glennon] really likes when we’re running the ball because it gives him more time in the pocket. When we’re running the ball people are thinking less about their pass rush and more about stopping the run.”
After his first encounter with the Florida State defense last year, Glennon can certainly vouch for the value of a complimentary running attack. In what was arguably the roughest outing of his career, Glennon completed just 19-of-34 throws for 130 yards and two interceptions. On many occasions, FSU’s fierce pass rush gave him very little time to go through the progressions necessary to find an open receiver. Florida State’s 34-0 victory a year ago was every bit as dominant as the score would indicate.
Fisher believes that rattling Glennon for a second straight year will be difficult.
“I think they present a lot of challenges,” Florida State’s head coach said. “You’ve got a guy like that who has another year under his belt and is that savvy, and has that much talent, you’ll have to bring your ‘A’ game again.”
It may take an A-plus game in every phase to upend the Seminoles on Saturday. For NC State, that means winning the turnover battle and limiting big plays when the defense is on the field. In its losses to Tennessee and Miami, the Wolfpack has a minus-nine turnover margin. It was plus-seven in the three games that it won.
On defense, State was torched for a total of 14 ‘explosive plays’ (plays that cover 20 yards or more) in the losses to the Volunteers and Hurricanes. Even All-American corner David Amerson, who set an ACC record with 13 interceptions last season, had several balls thrown over his head in those two disappointing defeats.
“In the secondary we’ve made a lot of mistakes and allowed things that shouldn’t have happened to happen,” said senior safety Earl Wolff. “He’s (Amerson) a competitor and we’re all competitors and we’re going to continue to fight.”
Dangerous as a runner and passer, the 6-5, 240-pound Manuel looks more like a tight end than a quarterback, but his career completions percentage of 67% proves his passing acumen. Big-play running backs Chris Thompson and James Wilder Jr. will put a lot of pressure on the entire NC State defense, as will a bevy of speedy, talented receivers.
The Wolfpack’s assignment sounds ominous. But then again, the challenge seemed every bit as daunting back in 1998.
“I feel like everyone is up to the level of the competition,” Wolff said. “We’ll have a great crowd and we’re playing at home. I wouldn’t ask to be anywhere else. The crowd is going to stay in it and we’re going to stay in it. It should be a fight all four quarters.”
The Wolfpack Sports Network will begin its broadcast day on Saturday with “Inside Wolfpack Sports,” which will air at 8:30 a.m. on MASN and Fox Sports South. This week’s show will feature a preview of the NC State-Florida State football game along with part two of an interview with men’s basketball coach Mark Gottfried.
Radio coverage from Carter-Finley Stadium opens with the ‘Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff” at 6 p.m. To follow the Wolfpack Sports Network on Twitter and to forward questions to game announcers, visit @packradio. Fans can also submit questions to game analyst Johnny Evans by going here.