TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's something of a perfect storm for NC State coach Tom O'Brien.
Looming on the horizon is Florida State's vaunted defensive line, which through five games has a conference-best 15 sacks, led by Bjoern Werner and the reigning ACC defensive lineman of the week, Cornellius Carradine.
O'Brien's offensive line, meanwhile, is in turmoil. The unit has allowed 16 sacks this season, the most in the ACC, and will line up Saturday without three of its starters.
Add a traditional pocket passer like Wolfpack QB Mike Glennon, with the lingering memories of last year's 34-0 shutout at the hands of FSU, and it's a scenario that should give any coach nightmares.
"The problem we have right now is that we're starting our fifth offensive line in six games," O'Brien said. "We only have one guy that we came into the season with [as a starter]. That's definitely going to be a concern against this great front of Florida State."
Of course, Florida State has some concerns of its own.
The revamped offensive line was a major question mark entering the season, but the first four games of the season appeared to provide impressive answers. FSU's offense has marched along without much problem, the running game has sprung to life, and EJ Manuel was sacked just four times in the first four weeks of the season.
Last week against USF, however, a few flaws were finally exposed. In the first four games of the season, FSU's line allowed just 14 tackles for a loss. Against USF in Week 5, the unit allowed 10.
More concerning is that USF's pass rush was hardly dominant. Against Ball State a week earlier, the Bulls didn't make a single tackle in the backfield, but they looked far more impressive against Florida State. NC State's defensive front isn't necessarily its strength either, but the Wolfpack have racked up 40 tackles for loss in five games this season, the second-best total in the ACC.
"A lot of times we got off the ball a hair late," Jimbo Fisher said. "But it wasn't bad. ... We're getting better at it."
Florida State should have two big advantages in its corner when it comes to the offensive line, too.
First, the Seminoles will send the same starting five out for a third straight game -- something it hadn't done in nearly a year. The unit is coalescing nicely, Fisher said, and that communication will be crucial in what figures to be a hostile environment.
Secondly, the game plan for NC State's defense is less about pressuring Manuel and more about keeping him in the pocket.
"He got out of the pocket once last year and we missed him with six guys," O'Brien said. "He kind of ran over us."
Florida State, on the other hand, is eager to attack Glennon after concentrating on mobile quarterbacks in the past two games.
"Our goal is to get him uncomfortable sitting there," defensive tackle Anthony McCloud said.
Saturday's game should be a test for both offensive lines, but the expectations are decidedly divergent. For Florida State, it's a chance for the offensive line to earn a bit of redemption after last week's struggles. For NC State, the goal is simply to survive.
"Now it becomes fun because you get to test your manhood and physicality now," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "Playing a traditional offense, you don't have too much worries. It's just 'May the best man win.' "
Noles to watch:
1. Manuel. The Florida State quarterback had one of his best games against NC State in a 34-0 route last season. He threw for 321 yards -- the third-highest total of his career -- despite being without leading receiver Rashad Greene, and 166.4 passer rating was his second-best of the season for a game in which he attempted more than 20 passes.
2. Chris Thompson. In a hostile road environment, nothing quiets the crowd like a few long runs. Thompson has been exceptional in that role this season, and while the Wolfpack's secondary has been a big weakness, FSU's running game is likely to lay the groundwork for the offense Saturday, particularly early in the game.
3. Tyler Hunter and Nick Moody. NC State doesn't mind spreading things out a bit and using its depth at receiver to its advantage. Moreover, Glennon likes to throw to his tight ends and running backs. That should put some added pressure on FSU's strongside linebacker and nickel corner to hold up in coverage.
Wolfpack to watch:
1. Glennon. With a patchwork offensive line going against an FSU defensive line that's awfully excited to pin its ears back and rush a pocket passer, the pressure will all be on Glennon to make smart decisions and distribute the ball quickly. He has accounted for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in NC State's three wins this season, but has five TDs and six INTs in its two losses.
2. Bryan Underwood. The 5-foot-11 sophomore isn't NC State's standout receiver, but he has been a touchdown magnet so far, hauling in six touchdown receptions in five games, tied with Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins for the most in the ACC.
3. David Amerson. The NC State cornerback was an All-American last season after setting the conference record with 13 INTs. He has made hay by jumping routes, but he has been burned often this season. Amerson was in on the play on all five of Miami's passing touchdowns a week ago, and O'Brien admits the junior's confidence is a little rattled.
By the numbers:
73.3. That's Manuel's completion percentage this season on passes of 20 yards or more, and it's more than double his success rate a year ago, when he completed just 34.7 percent.* That should loom large against an NC State secondary that allowed an ACC-record 566 passing yards and five touchdowns -- including a 62-yard bomb in the final minute -- last week against Miami.
6 and 14. That's the number of turnovers and penalties, respectively, NC State had in last week's loss to Miami. On the one hand, it's perhaps a positive sign that the Wolfpack still only lost on a last-second touchdown pass in spite of all the mistakes. On the other hand, O'Brien knows that if the mental errors aren't fixed this week, things could get much uglier.
56.3. That's the percentage of Florida State's offensive plays this season that have gained at least 5 yards, the highest rate in the nation.* Last week, NC State allowed 41 percent of Miami's plays to go for at least 5 yards, including nine plays of at least 20 yards.
27.3. That's the percentage of plays by Florida State opponents this season that have gained at least 5 yards, also the best rate in the nation.* Last week, NC State gained 5 yards or more on 46.6 percent of its plays, including eight of at least 20 yards.
0. That's the number of points NC State has allowed in the second quarter of games so far this season. The Wolfpack are the only team in the country to hold opponents scoreless in the second quarter through five games.
* -- Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information