North Carolina State has lost back-to-back games and dropped out of the Associated Press poll, but the Wolfpack still managed to land at No. 21 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings of the season.
Now, the concern is preventing a further tumble.
Although Clemson has a headlock on the ACC Atlantic Division title, there is still a good bowl at stake for the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-2 ACC, who host struggling Florida State (4-4, 2-4) on Saturday.
N.C. State’s losses to end October came on the road, but in much different fashions. There was the 41-7 blowout defeat to No. 2 Clemson and Saturday night’s gut-wrenching 51-41 setback to No. 19 Syracuse.
“They all would have loved to get the comeback win, there’s no doubt,” coach Dave Doeren said of this team. “Proud of the way our guys battled. Had the ball and a chance to win the game and didn’t get it done.”
Most of the scrutiny falls on the defense. The Wolfpack haven’t managed to do as well since facing teams with more versatile offensive attacks.
“We have to get back to playing N.C. State defensive football,” said linebacker Germaine Pratt, who had 16 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, last week. “Everybody just has to do their job and compete. … The defense as a whole has to improve. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and compete.”
Since 2002, the Wolfpack have often been a spoiler against Florida State, winning four of eight home games against the Seminoles. The margin of victory in those eight games has been 6.6 points. This time around, N.C. State was favored by 7.5 points early in the week.
Florida State was humbled 59-10 at home by Clemson last week — tied for the program’s largest loss ever. First-year Seminoles coach Willie Taggart said Monday he thought some of his players quit and that his staff needed “to find the winners” on the team.
“After the game, going home and watching the North Carolina State-Syracuse game, and then watching our film from Clemson, I felt there was a handful of players that didn’t play up to our standards and didn’t do the thing we expect out of them. …” Taggart said.
“We addressed it internally, and we’re going to make sure that we continue to build a culture and a program the way we want to, the way I know how. And we’re going to make sure we have individuals in here that are going to live up to those standards, that are always going to be great teammates who are going to compete, and guys that are going to put FSU first.”
Florida State still has to play No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 22 Boston College and No. 11 Florida, so coming together and getting a win over N.C. State seems like a near-must in order to extend the program’s NCAA-record 36-seasons bowl streak.
N.C. State is led by quarterback Ryan Finley, considered one of the top senior prospects at his position for the NFL Draft. He is averaging an ACC-leading 321.4 passing yards per game and is coming off a career-best 473 passing yards in the defeat at Syracuse.
“We feel like we have a talented d-line that can win some of those battles, and we’re going to have to in order to get him,” Taggart said. “He’s a really good quarterback, and (they’ve) got really good schemes to get the ball out into his guys’ hands.”
Wide receiver Kelvin Harmon racked up 247 receiving yards on 11 catches last week. He made only one catch in each of the past two meetings with Florida State.
Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois completed 17 of 36 passes for 180 yards, with an interception, last week. He left the game “beat up” — Taggart’s words — and was considered day-to-day, as of Tuesday. His replacement would be James Blackman, who started 12 games last season after Francois was injured.
The Seminoles’ run game has been non-existent. They rank 126th out of 129 teams nationally in rushing, averaging 83.5 yards per game. Running backs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers combined for 27 yards on 18 carries last week.
Senior Nyqwan Murray (40 catches, 536 yards, three TDs), Florida State’s leading receiver, will miss the first half after receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing a punch last week.