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Preview: FSU at NC State

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Florida State (2-5, 1-5 ACC) heads to Raleigh, N.C. to take on North Carolina State (4-3, 4-3) on Saturday night in a game that will be televised by the ACC Network at 7:30 p.m. The Seminoles are a touchdown underdog against the Wolfpack and need a win on the road to give themselves any chance at finishing the regular season with a winning record. This will be the 41st meeting between the two programs with the Seminoles holding a 27-13 record in the series.

The Wolfpack have rebounded nicely in 2020 after going 4-8 last season. Their wins this year have come against Wake Forest (45-42), Pitt (28-24), Virginia (38-21) and Duke (31-20). They are in the midst of a two-game losing streak after dropping back-to-back games to North Carolina (48-21) and Miami (44-41). The first loss of the season was to Virginia Tech (45-25).

NC State is led by coach Dave Doeren, who is in his eighth season as the Wolfpack’s head coach. His overall record at NC State is 51-45 and he is the third winningest coach in school history. Doeren’s overall record against FSU is 2-5.

“They’re an explosive football team,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “They’ve had to deal with some adversity this year, there are some injuries on the defensive side of the ball and at quarterback. They are a team that’s very aggressive in what they do. Offensively, I think they’ve done a really nice job of being multiple in their attack. They can run the football, they can push the ball down the field. They’ve got some special plays that obviously have to keep you on your toes of what you’re doing. You look at them special teams-wise, they’re going to be aggressive. They had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in their last contest, they’ve blocked two punts already this year. They’re gonna attack. Defensively, it’s the same. I’ve known (NC State defensive coordinator Tony) Gibson, we actually worked together for a year as assistants. His mindset and approach, they’re going to attack in everything they do, whether it’s pressure packages, whether it’s mentality in how they play. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. They’ve had a lot of injuries in the defensive backfield that have had to rearrange their lineups at times. But these guys, they play really hard. We’re gonna have to be on top of our game in all aspects.”

By the numbers: NC State’s offense & FSU’s Defense vs ACC opponents

NC State Scoring Offense ranks 37th out of 123 (32.9 ppg) vs. FSU Scoring Defense ranks 101st (37.8 ppg)

NC State Rushing Offense ranks 89th (131.7 ypg) vs FSU Rushing Defense ranks 104th (222.8)

NC State Passing Offense ranks 37th (263.6) vs FSU Passing Defense ranks 98th (276.2)

NC State Total Offense ranks 68th (395.3) vs FSU Total Defense ranks 114th (499)

NC State Big Play Offense (plays of 10-plus yards or more from LOS) 17th (109) vs FSU Big Play Defense ranks 98th (101)

NC State Third-Down Offense ranks 60th (41%) vs FSU Third-Down Defense ranks 101st (47.3%)

NC State on Offense

NC State looks like a much-improved offense in new coordinator Tim Beck’s spread offense, which uses a variety of personnel packages. Beck joined Doeren’s staff after spending the last three seasons in the same role for Tom Herman at Texas. Prior to that Beck was the co-offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The biggest improvement for the Wolfpack under Beck has been in the passing game and in the big play category. NC State is averaging almost an additional 40 yards per game through the air than they did a season ago and they are completing a much higher percentage of their passes than they did last year. After completing just 52 percent of their passes last season, Wolfpack quarterbacks have completed over 60 percent of their passes this season. Last season NC State totaled 48 plays of over 20 yards in 12 games. This season the Wolfpack already have 44 plays that have gained 20 yards or more in seven games.

Leading the Wolfpack offense at quarterback will be Bailey Hockman (6-2, 200 pounds), who originally signed with FSU out of high school before transferring to a junior college in Aug. 2018 and then signing with NC State. The redshirt junior was the starter when this season began, was benched in favor of Devin Leary in the third week of the season but returned to the stating lineup against North Carolina in week six after Leary went down with an injury against Duke (Leary is likely out for the remainder of the season. Hockman has completed over 61 percent of his passes this season (60 of 98) for 779 yards and five touchdowns. However, he has been turnover-prone, tossing five interceptions.

Hockman is surrounded by a solid cast at the skill positions. Running backs Bam Knight (5-11, 206 pounds) and Ricky Person (6-1, 215 pounds) have combined for 865 yards on the ground this season and both players are very capable receivers out of the backfield. Knight, a sophomore, leads the team in rushing with 451 yards on 82 carries. He also has 13 catches for 111 yards this season. Person, a junior, leads the team in carries with 85 and had run for 414 yards. He has also caught 11 passes for 69 yards. The duo has combined to score seven touchdowns this season.

NC State has four very productive receivers in the starting lineup that could present matchup problems because of their size. Senior Emeka Emezie (6-3, 220 pounds) leads the team in catches (27), receiving yards (465) and yards per catch (17.2) and has also scored three touchdowns this season. Redshirt sophomore Devin Carter (6-4, 216 pounds) is tied with senior tight end Cary Angeline (6-7, 250 pounds) and senior slot receiver Thomas Thayer (6-0, 195 pounds) for second on the team with 16 receptions. Carter averages 17.1 yards per catch. Angeline is a weapon in the red zone and he leads the team in touchdown catches with six.

The Wolfpack offensive line averages 6-3 and 305 pounds and, while the offense has been more productive this season, they have had issues protecting the passer. They are giving up 2.43 sacks per game, which ranks 75th in the country. NC State’s average of just 3.64 yards per rushing attempt ranks 92nd in the country. The starting five have a combined 74 career starts and the most veteran of the group is senior right tackle Justin Witt (6-5, 307 pounds), who has started 24 games.

“They again had a quarterback situation,” FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “They’ve played two of them, but now they’re back to Hockman. I think they’ve got some real physical receivers on the perimeter. I think they have one of the better pass-catching tight ends out there. I coached against him a number of years ago when I was at another school in (Cary) Angeline. They have two really physical backs and, I think, up front there are four returning starters who have played well together. I think they’re coming off one of their better performances against a good Miami team last week. I think they’ve got a good collection of wideouts and I think the quarterback has played well, especially with a little bit of the change going on during the year. Two very physical backs, very capable. Good, big, strong wide receiver corps. They play with three different tight ends, one of them does a great job on the perimeter just making one-on-one plays and the other two especially (Dylan Autenrieth) are extremely physical players at the point of attack. Offensive line-wise, a group that has played together, a physical group at the point.”

By the numbers: FSU’s offense & NC State’s Defense vs ACC opponents

FSU Scoring Offense ranks 108th (18.8 ppg) vs. NC State Scoring Defense ranks 89th (35.6 ppg)

FSU Rushing Offense ranks 50th (177.5 ypg) vs NC State Rushing Defense ranks 76th (183)

FSU Passing Offense ranks 101st (184.2) vs NC State Passing Defense ranks 108th (289)

FSU Total Offense ranks 92nd (361.7) vs NC State Total Defense ranks 102nd (472)

FSU Big Play Offense (plays of 10-plus yards or more from LOS) 40th (83) vs NC State Big Play Defense ranks 120th (131)

FSU Third-Down Offense ranks 90th (34.1%) vs NC State Third-Down Defense ranks 42nd (36.2%)

NC State on Defense

The Wolfpack run a base 3-3-5 defense under second-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who came to NC State from West Virginia, where he had multiple stints as a Mountaineers assistant coach. After spending last season in Raleigh as co-defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, Gibson is solely in charge of the NC State defense this season. And statistically speaking they haven’t been very good this season with the exception of third-down defense. They are also inexperienced on defense with just six players on defense who have started 10 games are more in their careers.

“This is a defense that is going to attack you from the top down, pretty drastically different than last week in terms of just the overall philosophy of how to play defense,” FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “They are going to move the back-end a lot. They are going to try to not allow big plays because of the 3-3 stacked structure. Their linebackers are going to fit aggressively and their defensive linemen are going to try to hold gaps and not let guys get to the second level. I do think their defensive line is talented. I do think they do a really good job of two-gapping. Their nose guard is a huge person that demands double teams. Their backers all play in unison. So I think they are a really well coached defense that tries to deny the big play and tries to make you dink-and-dunk down the field and their theory is that you are either going to get in your own way or they are going to make a play almost outside of their system before you score, but they want to deny the big play.”

Gibson’s defense is structured to allow the Wolfpack linebackers to make plays and they have done that. Redshirt sophomore WILL linebacker Payton Wilson (6-4, 240 pounds) covers a lot of ground and leads the team with 65 tackles and is second on the team with six tackles for a loss. Redshirt junior MIKE linebacker Isaiah Moore is the most experienced player on the defense with 29 career starts. He has been a force in the middle of the defense, where he ranks second on the team with 50 tackles and tied for first on the team with 6.5 TFL’s.

Redshirt junior defensive end Ibrahim Kante (6-2, 285 pounds) and junior nose tackle Alim McNeill (6-2, 320 pounds) are the most experienced players on the Wolfpack defensive line. Kante has 12 career starts, including five this season where he has totaled 12 tackles and one TFL. McNeill has 15 career starts, seven this season, and has 17 tackles, four TFL’s and a sack to his credit in 2020. Senior Daniel Joseph (6-3, 265 pounds) starts at the other defensive end spot and leads the team with four sacks this season.

The Wolfpack secondary is led sophomore strong safety Jakeen Harris (5-10, 189 pounds) and sophomore cornerback Malik Dunlap (6-4, 220 pounds). Harris is third on the team with 48 tackles. Dunlap has 16 tackles and leads the team with six passes broken up. Junior free safety Tanner Ingle (5-10, 182 pounds) has 19 tackles.

NC State Special Teams

Junior Christopher Dunn (5-8, 180 pounds) handles the place-kicking and junior Trenton Gill (6-4, 209) handles the punting duties. Dunn has been a model of consistency, making 51 of 59 career field-goal attempts (he is 7 of 9 this season). Of his eight career misses five have been on attempts of 40 yards or more. Gill is one of the best punters in the country. He is averaging 45 yards per punt and has forced 10 fair catches on 33 opportunities. Ten of his punts have resulted in their opponents starting possessions inside their own 20-yard line.

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