Oct. 25, 2013
Mitchell Re-starts as Pack Starter | Thursday Football Notebook
Game 7: NC State Wolfpack at Florida State Seminoles
October 26, 2013 3:30 p.m.
Tallahassee, Fla. Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300)
TV: ABC/ESPN2 | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
RALEIGH, N.C. - Florida State's status among college football's elite programs of the last 20 years is undeniably secure, yet NC State has often shrugged off FSU's lofty reputation by winning six of the last 12 games in the series.
Webster's Dictionary defines the word `spoil' in these terms: "to damage or ruin; to impair in quality or value."
So it goes without saying that a `spoiler' has an uncanny knack for doing damage to something of quality or value. In the minds of many Florida State fans, a synonym for `spoiler' might be `NC State.'
Not surprisingly, high-level stakes will again be a part of the storyline for the 3rd ranked Seminoles Saturday afternoon when they host the Wolfpack at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. Kick-off time is set for 3:30 p.m.
Sitting No. 2 in this week's BCS rankings behind only Alabama, FSU has reached the halfway point of its season with its sights set on winning a third national title, to go along with championships captured in 1993 and 1999.
A little more than 12 months ago, the Seminoles were in a similar position when they brought an unbeaten record and No. 3 national ranking to Carter-Finley Stadium. But after NC State rallied for 17 unanswered points in the second half of a 17-16 victory, FSU's undefeated record and national title hopes were vanquished.
Dating back to 1998, the Wolfpack has knocked off nationally ranked Florida State teams six times, including a 1998 game in which the Seminoles were rated No. 2 in the national polls. Oddly enough, Florida State's last four wins in the series came at times when the Seminoles were not ranked (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011).
On Saturday, first-year NC State head coach Dave Doeren will have his first chance to shatter Florida State's quest for a BCS championship.
"We're very excited to compete against them," Doeren said. "I think anytime as a coach or player, whether it's home or away, you get the chance to play against one of the best teams in college football, it's exciting. I look forward to those opportunities regardless of where people think we may or may not be as a program. We look forward to the opportunity."
Quarterback play has been essential to NC State's success against Florida State in the past, and will be again on Saturday. Winning quarterbacks against FSU over the last 15 years include Jamie Barnette (1998), Philip Rivers (2001, 2002), Russell Wilson (2010) and Mike Glennon last year.
On Saturday, the 2013 Wolfpack will finally have its starting quarterback on the field for the first time since he went down with a broken foot in the first quarter of the opening game against Louisiana Tech on August 31st.
Brandon Mitchell returns just in time to face an FSU defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense (12.3) and sixth in total defense (285 yards per game).
"This is the game that has been circled for me to get back, so I've been preparing for this moment since then," said Mitchell, who led the Pack on two touchdown drives before leaving the opener against La. Tech. "I think I'm ready for it and when the moment comes I just need to seize it. I just have to play within myself and make plays when they present themselves. It helps me having played against Aalabama and big time SEC teams like that I did when I was a receiver [at Arkansas]. I don't think that this stage will be too big for me."
In Mitchell's absence, NC State's offense struggled to find any semblance of rhythm and consistency, especially in the running game. In back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Syracuse, the Wolfpack averaged just over 100 rushing yards per game. Mitchell's added dimension as a running quarterback should, at the very least, diversify the Pack's rushing attack.
"We have a different mix this week getting Brandon back," Doeren said. "There's obviously going to be rust because he's played just one quarter of football this year. He's excited; that's why he came here was to play in games like this."
Mitchell's quarterbacking counterpart this week has many college football observers asking the question "could a freshman quarterback win the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years?"
Last season, the talk of the football world was eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Of late, Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has been drawing rave reviews normally reserved for more seasoned veterans at his position. Winston's stock soared to another level last week when he threw for 444 yards and three scores in FSU's 51-14 thrashing of then third-ranked Clemson in Death Valley. Instead of crumbling to the pressure of playing a top-five team on the road, Winston flourished with his play and confident demeanor. Prior to the showdown, ESPN featured a shot of Winston getting many of his older teammates pumped up with a pep talk in the locker room.
While he leads the ACC in total offense and passing yards, Winston's most impressive asset has been his decision-making ability. He ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency primarily because he has 20 touchdown passes compared to only three interceptions.
"We have to do a really good job of getting to him," Doeren said. "In the games where we have played well, our defensive line has gotten penetration and has been disruptive. In the Clemson game, we were able to get to Tajh Boyd early and that helped us until we had the injuries in the second half. You have to contain and collapse the pocket because he's so good at running around and throwing the football. He's a really, really good player."
But he also has really, really good players around him, whether it's up front, in the backfield or outside at the wide receiver positions. With targets likes Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O'Leary surrounding him, it's no wonder Winston and the `Noles are averaging 53 points and 551 yards of total offense per game.
"[Winston] has a great supporting cast around him," Mitchell said. "He probably has top five guys around him playing at each position. He has that luxury of just throwing it up and hoping his guys make plays for him. He's a great player in his own right, but you have to give the guys around him a lot of respect to."
Along with Mitchell's return this week, NC State expects to be getting other key players back into the line-up, including receiver Rashard Smith, tackle Joe Thuney, corner Jack Tocho and defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop.
One unknown is the status of back-up quarterback Pete Thomas, who is listed as questionable after getting his non-throwing shoulder banged up in the Syracuse game back on October 12.
Florida State will be honoring legendary coach Bobby Bowden prior to the game.
Bowden was at the helm of the program when the Seminoles set an ACC record by winning 24 consecutive conference games between 1998-2001. Under Fisher, FSU is currently riding a 10-game ACC winning streak.
"Every game we've seen on tape they've dominated people, so we know we have to play well," said Doeren. "The good thing is that our players have played against them and played well against them. We know if we do things right, we have a chance to win in this football game. Obviously, not a lot of teams have gone down to their stadium and played well. The biggest thing is going on the road and doing it, but they're excited about the challenge and the opportunity."
The Wolfpack Sports Network will begin its pregame coverage with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff, which will be produced live at 1:30 from Jimmy V's Osteria on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. The second hour of the pregame at 2:30 will feature Farm Bureau's Ask the Analyst with former NC State All-American Johnny Evans. Questions for Johnny can be Tweeted @packradio or sent by email here.