After two straight losses on the road, NC State football will look to get back on track with its homecoming game against Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium. Technician caught up with Blake Devine, a senior writer from FSView and Florida Flambeau, Florida State’s student newspaper, via email to break down the matchup.
Technician: It seems like people expected Florida State to automatically re-enter the top 25, but the team needed at least one building year. How has this season gone for the Seminoles?
Blake DeVine: A season that begun with sky-high expectations as a result of a new head coach touting an exciting spread attack and unique swagger, has quickly gone up in flames. There’s been some bright spots for FSU, such as a come-from-behind win at Louisville and its first-half performance at Miami. There’s also been some very ugly moments, such as a 30-7 loss at Syracuse and last Saturday’s 59-10 embarrassment versus Clemson. All things considered, fans have been disappointed with the Seminoles thus far this season.
T: What is Willie Taggart like as a coach, and how has he differed from Jimbo Fisher?
BD: Compared to Fisher, Taggart has the complete opposite personality. Despite his squad’s early struggles, Florida State’s newest head coach remains energetic and positively upbeat. On the other hand, Fisher was a ‘no-nonsense’ coach who stuck to his pro-style system and exhibited frustration when his team failed him. Taggart has brought new life into the program while introducing new traditions such as the Legacy Team Walk, blaring hype music during practice and allowing Florida State to sport retro jerseys in certain games.
T: What are Florida State’s strengths and weaknesses?
BD: A major strength for the Seminoles is their defensive line, which has been able to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks this year. This unit is led by star defensive end Brian Burns, who’s already accumulated nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss this season. Defensive tackles Marvin Wilson and Fred Jones have also combined for eight tackles for loss and six sacks in 2018.
FSU’s glaring weakness is its offensive line, which has been a complete train wreck this year. Despite having two solid running backs in Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, the Seminoles rushing attack is averaging less than 100 yards per game. More often than not, Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois is repeatedly hit hard and nearly knocked out of the game by the opposing defense. This is a direct result of the Seminoles’ lackluster blocking.
T: How will not having Nyqwan Murray for the first half impact the Seminoles?
BD: Although Murray is FSU’s leading receiver with 40 receptions and three touchdown catches, he’s been plagued by inconsistency throughout this season. During contests against Louisville and Wake Forest, he displayed flashes of brilliance with big plays and 245 combined receiving yards. Nevertheless, he was held relatively in check against Syracuse and Miami with only five combined receptions. During his absence, expect Francois to target junior wide receiver Keith Gavin and sophomore D.J. Matthews.
T: Who are some other key players?
BD: Redshirt freshman wideout Tamorrion Terry has seemingly come out of nowhere while making a noteworthy impact for the Seminoles. Thus far, he’s tallied 18 catches for 363 yards and leads the team with five touchdown catches.
Florida State senior defensive back A.J. Westbrook has been a dangerous threat to opposing quarterbacks. This year he’s tallied 38 total tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. If NC State quarterback Ryan Finley makes a costly mistake on Saturday, it’ll most likely be picked off by Westbrook.
Lastly, don’t be surprised if sophomore quarterback James Blackman makes an appearance in this contest. This week, he took first team reps in practice. Last year, Blackman ranked third in the country in passing yards by a freshman with 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns. During his first collegiate start against NC State last season, he had a solid performance while going 22 for 38 with 278 passing yards and one touchdown.
T: How do the Seminoles matchup with the Wolfpack?
BD: As far as talent goes, both of these teams matchup relatively equally. NC State’s defense isn’t great, which bodes well for Florida State’s attack. Expect the Seminoles to put points up on the board—especially when Murray returns in the second half—and make this game competitive. On the other side of the ball, FSU’s secondary is relatively weak and is prone to surrendering big plays. Similar to last year, expect Finley to have another big day against the Seminoles.
T: What is your prediction for this game?
BD: NC State 34, Florida State 24
The Wolfpack will exploit the Seminoles’ subpar secondary en route to a large halftime lead. In the second half, Blackman will replace Francois and Florida State will experience success on offense. However, it’ll be a little too late for the Seminoles, as the Wolfpack picks up a much-needed home victory.