FSU eyes measure of revenge against visiting NC State
Time: 3:30 p.m. on Saturday
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lost in the chatter about Florida State’s 6-0 start and Jameis Winston’s Heisman prospects is one impressive streak.
The Seminoles’ rout of Clemson last week made the program bowl-eligible for the 32nd straight season, extending the nation’s longest active streak.
“You don’t ever take those things for granted,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Very proud that we have gotten there. We have to keep knocking them off and keep climbing.”
College football is often cyclical, with major programs going through periods of success and failures. But even the elite programs like Florida, Miami, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan miss an occasional trip to the postseason. (The Gators’ streak is at 22 years.)
Florida State’s streak, which started under Bobby Bowden with the 1982 Gator Bowl, will continue into the 2013-14 bowl season. And perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Bowden will be at Doak Campbell Stadium for Saturday’s game against North Carolina State for the first time since he was forced to retire after the 2009 season.
It began when Bowden and the Seminoles upset No. 10 West Virginia, 31-12, on Dec. 30, 1982, kicking off an impressive stretch of 13-0-1 in bowl games until a 52-20 loss to Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 1996.
The Seminoles have another bowl streak going, winning their last five.
Five storylines to watch
— No ACC team has frustrated Florida State over the past decade like NC State. The Wolfpack stunned the Seminoles 17-16 in 2012, rallying in Raleigh from a 16-0 deficit. An unranked NC State team upset a ranked Florida State team in 2005, 2006 and 2010. The losses in 2006, 2010 and 2012 were all in Raleigh, a stadium that has a Clemson-esque intensity to it. But in Tallahassee, it’s been a different story of late. Florida State defeated the Wolfpack 27-10 in 2007, 45-42 in 2009 and 34-0 in 2011.
— Winston’s numbers just keep piling up, and it’s obvious through the halfway point of the regular season that he is constructing one of the best passing seasons in school history. Winston has 1,885 passing yards, 20 TDs and is completing passes at a 71.3 percentage clip. He’s on pace to shatter Chris Weinke’s record of 33 passing touchdowns from 2000. Weinke’s 4,167 yards in 2000 is a tough number to hit, but Winston has 6 to 8 games left. Charlie Ward’s record 69.5 completion percentage from 1993 also could fall. In both cases, Winston is pitted against seasons in which Weinke and Ward won the Heisman Trophy.
— How good is the Seminoles’ offense? Florida State is the first team in Atlantic Coast Conference history to score 48 or more points in five straight games. The Seminoles are third nationally in scoring offense with an average of 53.2.
— NC State has been struggling under new coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack’s wins have come against Richmond, Louisiana Tech and Central Michigan. NC State fans weren’t happy with Tom O’Brien, so a change was made to bring Doeren from Northern Illinois. But if NC State doesn’t get six wins and play in a bowl game, Doeren could be on the hot seat in 2014.
— The Wolfpack have been awful in ACC play, going 0-3. Their combined conference losses to Clemson, Wake Forest and Syracuse have yielded just 41 points. N.C. State is last in the ACC in touchdowns with just 16 (and only four have been through the air). Life won’t get much easier against Florida State, the ACC’s top defense (allowing just 12.3 points per game).
Cast of characters
— With junior running back James Wilder Jr. out with a concussion on Saturday, Florida State will utilize Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams more often. Freeman, a junior, has spent his career overshadowed by Wilder, but he is having a career season (469 yards, four TDs, 6.3 yards per carry). Williams has provided a spark in his move over from safety, leading the team with six touchdowns and becoming the go-to guy on the goal line.
— Lamarcus Joyner’s decision to return for his senior season was a smart one. He is second on the team with 33 tackles, leads the team with three sacks and had an interception against Clemson. He also forced two fumbles against the Tigers. Joyner’s move from safety to corner has helped the defense. Despite being just 5-foot-8, Joyner’s draft stock is rising.
— NC State has just one real playmaker on offense, wide receiver Bryan Underwood. He has 30 catches for 357 yards and a touchdown. Underwood is tied for 10th in NC State history with 13 touchdowns.
— One glaring weakness for Florida State has been the pass rush from the front four on the defensive line. The line has just five of the Seminoles’ 14 sacks. Joyner has three sacks, while defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has two sacks. A year after the Seminoles had star defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, the drop-off has been dramatic.
“Every time someone even says that it kind of makes my stomach turn a little bit, still to this day. Even the guys that got drafted and left, if you still say ‘NC State’ to them, they’ll kind of cringe up a little bit.”
— FSU safety Terrence Brooks said of the NC State loss
“I talked to (former Florida State QB) EJ (Manuel) earlier this week. EJ said, ‘Man don’t let that happen again.’ He’s like, ‘Get the boys straight. Let’s start building something right here.’ And I was like, ‘EJ, I got you.'”
— Winston on the NC State loss in 2012
“I’m at nickel, I’m at corner, I get to blitz, I get to play man-to-man. I get to do all those things I wanted to do coming back for my senior year. When he sold the defense to me, I just committed myself to it.”
— Joyner on his decision to return for 2013
“He’s got that thump. He’s short — he’s not little. There’s a difference. He’s not heavy, but he packs a big punch, now. His heart’s as big as the world.”
— Fisher on Joyner, who is 5-foot-8
“We’re pretty much unstoppable right now. We never feel like we’re going to turn the ball over or punt the ball.”
— Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary
Ten quick hitters
— FSU is averaging 489.3 yards of total offense in its 10-game winning streak against ACC teams. The Seminoles are giving up an average of just 282.5 yards.
— In its last 20 games, FSU has racked up 400 or more yards 15 times. The Seminoles have hit the 500-yard mark in 10 games.
— The Seminoles have given up just four turnovers in six games, best in the nation. Florida State has fumbled just once on 228 carries, while Winston has just three interceptions in 157 passing plays. Backup Jacob Coker has also thrown 19 passes and has not been intercepted.
— Winston’s 444 passing yards in the win over Clemson is the most by a Florida State quarterback in more than a decade. It’s the ninth-highest single-game output and the most since Weinke lit up Clemson for 521 yards in 2000.
— Since 2010, when Fisher took over, Florida State has allowed teams to score 20 or more points just 11 times in 47 games. Opponents are averaging just 11.5 points at Doak Campbell Stadium the past four seasons.
— Florida State scored on all six trips into the red zone against Clemson last week. The Seminoles lead the nation in red-zone efficiency, scoring at a 97.1 percent rate (34 of 35 opportunities).
— Winston may be at his best on third down. The Seminoles are converting on third down on 33 of 61 chances, a 54.1 percentage that ranks them sixth nationally.
— Greene has a catch in 21 straight games. Rodney Smith, who graduated after the 2012 season, set the school record at 29 games.
— Opponents have completed just 91 passes in six games against Florida State, which is impressive. Just seven of those completions have gone for 20 yards or more.
— Roberto Aguayo continues to be perfect to start his Florida State career (10 field goals and 41 extra points). He is the nation’s leading scorer among kickers and all freshmen in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
This is a revenge game, plain and simple. Florida State players have enjoyed their success the past few years, but the losses are more memorable.
The Seminoles won’t be able to get that taste out of their mouth until they knock off NC State on Saturday. Players will want to send a message that they have improved as a team since that 2012 loss to the Wolfpack. A blowout win won’t hurt in the eyes of voters and should factor into the computer rankings, too.
Florida State won’t necessarily run up the score for revenge or BCS reasons, of course. But it could get very ugly in the second half just because of the talent gap between the two teams.