RALEIGH, N.C. — Florida State started the year with optimism from the arrival of a new coach and a national ranking, while North Carolina State earned its own spot in the AP Top 25 after a 5-0 start.
Now both the Seminoles and Wolfpack are trying to regroup from confidence-dinging losses entering Saturday’s game.
The Seminoles (4-4, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) arrive in Raleigh after a 59-10 loss to No. 2 Clemson, an ugly loss on several levels: It was the program’s worst at Doak Campbell Stadium and the questions about effort and discipline that lingered afterward.
Florida State’s leading receiver Nyqwan Murray and reserve linebacker Zaquandre White are suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-2) after throwing punches at Clemson players in separate incidents during the loss. There’s also uncertainty at quarterback, where the status of every-game starter Deondre Francois is in question after getting banged up against Clemson.
First-year FSU coach Willie Taggart hasn’t specified the nature of Francois’ injury, other than to say he thought he hit his head on the ground during the Clemson game. James Blackman, who took over as the starter in 2017 after Francois was injured in the season opener, got at least some first-team reps in practice while Francois did little during open sessions of practice.
“You guys didn’t see him do anything, but he’s still day to day,” Taggart said.
Florida State hasn’t had a losing season since 1976 and has played in a bowl game every season since 1982. A loss at N.C. State, where the Seminoles have won two straight meetings, will put those streaks in jeopardy with No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 13 Florida and No. 24 Boston College still on the schedule.
N.C. State suffered its own lopsided loss to the Tigers, a 41-7 road loss on Oct. 20. The Wolfpack then lost at Syracuse 51-41, a two-game stretch that exposed weaknesses in a defense that had gotten off to a good start in overcoming the loss to veteran talent to the NFL.
“I think we’ve beaten two really good ACC teams and we’ve lost to two good ACC team,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “Now we’ve got five games left. … And at the end of the year, you can look back and be proud of what you’ve accomplished or disappointed. You don’t want regret.”
Yet the Wolfpack still can pursue the program’s second 10-win season, the other coming in 2002 with a program-record 11 wins.
Here are some other things to know about Saturday’s FSU-N.C. State game:
N.C. State missed injured key players last week, including starting offensive tackle Justin Witt, starting cornerback Nick McCloud and No. 2 running back Ricky Person Jr. Doeren expressed confidence Monday that they would all be back this week, though he was noncommittal on their status after Thursday’s practice.
Wolfpack receiver Kelvin Harmon is an NFL prospect with the size and skill to make contested catches. Like the rest of the Wolfpack, he had a bad game at Clemson, then came back with 11 catches for 247 yards — the No. 2 single-game total in program history — and two touchdowns against the Orange. If Harmon gets in a groove with quarterback Ryan Finley again, FSU’s defense could have a tough time getting off the field.
Murray has 40 catches for 536 yards and three touchdowns, so the Seminoles will miss him as a threat for the first half. “I would say it’s an opportunity,” receiver D.J. Matthews said.
N.C. State could help itself by getting its rushing attack going again. The Wolfpack’s rushing total had increased for the first five games to a season-high 225 yards against Boston College, but the production has fallen off with 104 yards against Clemson and 68 yards against Syracuse. While Reggie Gallaspy has run for touchdowns in two straight games, North Carolina State missed Person’s big-play potential.
Florida State defensive end Brian Burns is tied for the ACC lead with nine sacks to lead a pass rush that ranks 15th in the Bowl Subdivision ranks by averaging 3.13 sacks per game. The Wolfpack will have to keep Burns away from Finley.