FSU (4-4, 2-4 ACC) will try to brush off a brutal loss to Clemson and spoil homecoming weekend for NC State (5-2, 2-2), keeping the Seminoles’ two-game win streak in Raleigh alive. Kickoff at Carter-Finley Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will air on ABC.
“We’re up against another tough opponent, another really good quarterback,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “A team that’s on a two-game losing streak, so we know they’re going to be hungry, and they’re at home and hungry to get back in the winning column.”
Teams don’t often schedule Florida State as their homecoming opponent, especially with the ’Noles ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press preseason poll.
But the Wolfpack have exceeded expectations, going 5-0 to start the season. Thanks to their strong play, NC State debuted at No. 21 in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
The Wolfpack, however, are riding a two-game losing streak, during which they surrendered a combined 92 points. In comparison, they allowed 84 points during the first six games of the season.
NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt leads the ACC at 10.4 tackles per game. His best game of the season came last week during a 51-41 loss to Syracuse when he recorded 16 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley, who ranks sixth nationally with 321.4 passing yards per game and ninth in total offense with 325.1 yards per game, will challenge FSU’s defense. He ranks fifth nationally with 25.3 completions per game.
“Him being in this offensive system on his third year, he’s a really good player,” FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “He understands coverages, understands where to go with the ball. And he has some talented receivers to throw the ball to.”
Finley has only been sacked four times, acknowledging the Wolfpack’s powerful offensive line, which ranks second nationally in sacks allowed.
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes,” FSU linebacker Dontavious Jackson said. “I think they have given up just four sacks. Pretty good offensive line. They know what they want to do and they know what their strengths are and they run their offense around it so, pretty well. They don’t get out of character.”
Pressuring Finley will be a major challenge for FSU, which ranks 15th nationally in sacks with 3.13 per game.
When Finley finds a passing rhythm, his favorite weapon is wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, who ranks fifth nationally with 113.4 receiving yards per game and is a key component of the ACC’s best passing offense (sixth best in the nation).
“He is a big receiver,” Barnett said of Harmon, who is 6 foot 3 and 214 pounds. “He has really good hands. He knows how to use his body. And they trust him. The quarterback trusts him when he throws the ball his way. That’s what makes it a challenge.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. We really are.”
NC State visited Tallahassee last season and handed No. 12 Florida State a devastating 27-21 loss. It was FSU’s first game after a 21-day break due to Hurricane Irma and an early bye week.
The Seminoles’ starting 11 will look a little different after wide receiver Nyqwan Murray and linebacker Zaquandre White threw punches against Clemson last week. As punishment, they will not play in the first half against NC State.
DJ Matthews will likely start in place of Murray and Jaiden Woodbey will likely see most of the field time in place of White.
As for Florida State’s quarterback status, the decision is still unclear. Deondre Francois did not throw during media viewing of practice this week. On Thursday, Taggart said Francois is day-to-day, but he did not confirm whether Francois is available to start.
All indications point to experienced backup James Blackman leading the Seminoles’ offense. He practiced daily with the first team and looked comfortable with the quick tempo required while leading Taggart’s Gulf Coast offense.
Blackman started 12 games last season while Francois was recovering from a major knee injury. Blackman lost the starting quarterback job to Francois a week before the 2018 season opener, but Blackman has remained a vocal team leader and is supportive of the offense.
“Very confident,” Taggart said of Blackman’s ability to run the offense. “James is fully prepared. He’s had plenty of experience and he had the backing of his teammates to go out there and get the job done. Very, very, very confident.
“He understands what we’re doing offensively and he can go out and execute at a high level and can get his teammates to do that, too.”