The Daily Nole

FSU-North Carolina: Five Things to Watch

Photo courtesy of Perrone Ford/FSU athletics

12th-ranked Florida State looks to even its ACC record this weekend as the Seminoles play host to North Carolina. Both teams come in with records of 3-1 and surging on offense, but struggling on defense.

For FSU to keep its College Football Playoff and ACC title hopes alive on Saturday, it’s virtually a must-win. North Carolina likely has a little more wiggle room in its bid to repeat as ACC Coastal champions, but snapping FSU’s 22-game home winning streak could serve as a huge pick-me-up for the Tar Heels.

As kickoff nears for Saturday’s contest, here are five things to watch:

1. Quarterback Play
Florida State redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and North Carolina junior Mitch Trubisky will each be making their fifth career start on Saturday. Francois was efficient in bouncing back from a disappointing effort against Louisville last week, finishing with 244 yards of offense and a touchdown both on the ground and through the air against South Florida. Francois will be facing a very talented North Carolina secondary on Saturday that features Donnie Miles, M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence and cannot afford to make mistakes and give the potent Tar Heel offense short fields.

Turnovers haven’t been a problem for Trubisky, who has yet to commit one in four games. Over the last three, there hasn’t has been much of anything that has been a problem for the junior as he’s completing more than 80 percent of his passes on nearly 12 yards per pass attempt. FSU’s secondary has struggled so far in limiting the big play and North Carolina is very deep at receiver. There are several factors that will decide the outcome of Saturday’s game, but taking care of the ball and making throws when they’re there will be among the biggest.

2. Running Backs
Saturday’s game will feature two teams who are among the worst in the country when it comes to stopping the run. It will also feature four very talented backs.

For Florida State, junior Dalvin Cook is coming off a career-high 267 yards on the ground against South Florida while sophomore Jacques Patrick also eclipsed the century mark with 124 yards rushing in the 55-35 win. Those two will be facing a North Carolina defense that ranks just 120th when it comes to stopping the run.

North Carolina has a bit more of a true “thunder and lightning” combination with Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan. Hood is a big, talented back who can carry the load for the Tar Heels while Logan can beat a defense in a variety of ways. Logan has five touchdowns this season and has scored them on the ground, through the air and in the return game. The Seminoles gave up 290 yards rushing last week to South Florida and though most of that came in garbage time, the Seminoles are allowing 5.5 yards per rush this season, which ranks 121st in the country.

3. The Right Side of FSU’s Offensive Line
Largely lost in Florida State’s rushing effort for the ages last week was the changes made up front offensively. Through four games, the Seminoles have had four different starting units along the offensive line, but the latest one might stick.

Landon Dickerson, a true freshman, has been officially named the starter in front of redshirt junior Wilson Bell at right guard while sophomore Brock Ruble took over at right tackle for junior Rick Leonard. Bell was one of only two FSU offensive linemen to start every game last season while Leonard is a converted defensive end. Cohesiveness along the front 5 was something that Florida State lacked a season ago and early on this season. We’ll see if Dickerson and Ruble can work to continue to buck that trend.

4. The FSU Pass Rush
The challenge facing the Florida State secondary in Mitch Trubisky and a deep corps of pass-catchers is a steep one, but that unit could certainly be helped by the play up front. Senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker leads an FSU team that ranks 10th in the country with 13 sacks and will have fellow starting end Josh Sweat back this week after being out with a knee injury.

Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi is banged up, but is expected to play Saturday. The good news is that younger players like sophomore defensive tackle Fred Jones and freshman end Brian Burns have begun to step up. If the Seminoles can get to Trubisky early, that would go a long way in helping out the secondary.

5. Special Teams
Florida State seems to have corrected the special teams issues it had against Louisville in allowing long punt returns with a good performance against South Florida, but North Carolina might be the best special teams unit the Seminoles face this season. Ryan Switzer is regarded as one of the best punt returners in the country with seven returns for a touchdown throughout his career and Logan has already returned a kickoff for a score. FSU has given up two punt returns of longer than 60 yards this season, including one that went for a score from Louisville’s Jaire Alexander.

On the other side, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield have also been stellar for FSU on punt and kickoff returns, respectively. Freshman Ricky Aguayo for Florida State and UNC’s Nick Weiler are both very accurate kickers. FSU punter Logan Tyler has one of the biggest legs in the country while North Carolina’s Tom Sheldon ranks second in the ACC in net punting. With a lot of different components to keep an eye on Saturday, special teams could make a big difference in this one.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply