TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is fresh off its biggest win in years and ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. NC State has dropped three of its last four games and arrives as the decided underdog. That’s actually been a dangerous scenario for the Seminoles in recent seasons, when NC State has made a habit of pulling the upset. Here are five keys likely to decide if Florida State keeps riding high or if the Wolfpack have another surprise in store.
1. Contain the QBs: Florida State’s Jameis Winston has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four ACC games. No other first-year quarterback has done that in the past 10 years. Winston’s four previous ACC foes, however, allowed an average of 230 pass yards per game, 61 percent completions and 7.4 yards per attempt. NC State (204 yards per game, 57 percent completions, 6.0 yap) could provide a more substantive obstacle. Meanwhile, Wolfpack QB Brandon Mitchell expects to play for the first time since suffering a foot injury in the opener. He’s athletic with a strong arm and could provide the NC State offense with a spark it hadn’t shown recently.
2. Eliminate the clutter: It’s Jimbo Fisher’s favorite mantra, but it’s particularly appropriate this week. Not only will Florida State have to shrug off the legions of fans dreaming of a national title after last week’s dominant win in Clemson, but the weight of the past will also loom large. Longtime coach Bobby Bowden is set to attend his first game at Doak Campbell Stadium since his ouster in 2009, and more than 300 former players plan to be in attendance. That’s a lot of fanfare and pageantry that has little to do with the actual game, and that’s meant a week of Fisher reminding his team to ignore all the distractions.
3. Remember the pain: That’s the other message Fisher has preached this week, but Florida State’s players haven’t needed the reminder. So many of this year’s Seminoles were on the field for last year’s 17-16 loss -- the one that sunk any hopes for a national title and sullied an otherwise successful season. Fisher has used last year’s loss as a reminder of what can happen if FSU overlooks an opponent, but it’s also a good reminder for the Wolfpack that they’re not an easy mark. In fact, since 2002, NC State is 5-2 against ranked Florida State teams.
4. Success in the slot: In last year’s win, Mike Glennon’s longest completion was a check down to his tailback that went 24 yards. On NC State’s two touchdown drives, Glennon had just three completions of more than 9 yards. The game-winning score was a 2-yard toss to slot receiver Bryan Underwood. In other words, it was death by a thousand dinks and dunks for FSU last year, with NC State’s slot receivers and tailbacks catching one pass after another against the Seminoles linebackers and nickel. Meanwhile, FSU’s slot receiver, Kenny Shaw, has been a master of the big play this season as 61 percent of his catches have gone for 15 yards or more, the third-highest rate in the ACC.
5. Get the run game going: In its five games against FBS teams this year, NC State is averaging 44 rushing attempts -- the second most in the ACC. The Wolfpack’s offense has lived and died with the ground game. During a 3-1 start to the year, NC State averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored 10 times on the ground. In its last two games, both losses, it has mustered just 3.2 yards per rush without a touchdown. Florida State, meanwhile, has allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season and has held its last two opponents to 2.4 yards per carry. The Seminoles’ offense has some potential concerns on the ground, too, though. James Wilder Jr. will miss the game with concussion symptoms, and FSU has seen its yards-per-carry drop in each of its last four games.