No. 3 Florida State won't be taking NC State team lightly
RALEIGH, N.C. -- No. 3 Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) is coming off of a 51-14 win over Clemson on Saturday, and the Seminoles might well be flying high. As they should be.
But they've had their next game, against NC State (3-3, 0-3 ACC), circled too. That seems odd, naturally. But a lot of the Seminoles were on last year's team, which went in to Raleigh undefeated and came out a 17-16 loser, dreams of a perfect season dashed.
And head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn't want them to forget.
"Feel that pain. Pain is preparation," Fisher said. "You want that pain again? Don't prepare. You want to eliminate that pain? Prepare and take care of your business."
NC State would finish 7-6, going 3-4 after its win over the Seminoles. Florida State would lose just once in its final eight games.
But the damage had been done. The Seminoles, one of the best teams FSU had had in years, was relegated to playing in the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois.
Going into the game, NC State was 3-2 on the year and had been torched by the two legitimate offenses it had faced (Tennessee and Miami), to the tune of 79 points allowed in those two games.
To put it in perspective, NC State's defense allowed 30 or more points four times in ACC play and 40 or more three times.
But, weird things happen in road night games in Raleigh, as Florida State already knew far too well. The Seminoles have split the last 12 meetings with NC State. The Wolfpack has had some good teams in that span, and last year's team had plenty of talent.
That's been the story of this Florida State program under Fisher. The Seminoles often let lesser teams hang around longer than a team as talented as they were frankly should have. They seemed to lack a mental toughness that the best teams always have.
Like at NC State a year ago, the Seminoles led 16-0 at halftime and the defense was dominant. FSU had 221 yards of offense to 73 for NC State, but saw four out of six total drives stall on the NC State side of the field. (Of the other two drives, one ended in a touchdown, and the other -- the lone first-half drive that didn't end on NC State's side of the field -- stalled at the 50.)
A lot of things had to go right for NC State last year, and they did. The Wolfpack played very well. And first-year head coach Dave Doeren knows things are going to have to go that well again if his team is going to have a chance on Saturday. Or better, even.
When asked if it was a potential trap game for Florida State, Doeren laughed wryly. "Yeah, I mean, that'd be great, wouldn't it?" he said. "If they don’t play well, that’d be great. But I'm anticipating a great Florida State team. That's what we've seen for every game that we've got on tape is them dominating people.
"We know we've got to play well. The good thing is our players have played against them and played well against them. So we know if we do things right, we have a chance to win in this football game. I think the last 12 times they've played, it’s 6-6. Obviously not a lot of teams go down to their stadium and play well. That's the biggest thing is going on the road and doing it, but they’re excited about that challenge and that opportunity."
Oh, and there's one big difference on this year's Florida State team from last year -- dynamic redshirt freshman (and Heisman contending) quarterback Jameis Winston. EJ Manuel was a very good quarterback for the Seminoles last year, but there’s just something extra special about Winston.
Doeren was asked on Monday: If Winston wasn't fazed by the raucous Death Valley crowd in his first real road game last week, what WOULD faze him?
"I don't think you can look at your game plan and say, 'Hey, we're going to get in this guy's head.' I think the one thing -- we have to do a really good job of getting to him. I think our defensive line in the games where we've played well has gotten penetration and disruption," Doeren said.
"We talk about pressuring and harassing and disrupting and hitting the quarterback, all those things, it’s an 11-man show when you do that. You reroute receivers with your linebackers. You play good coverage with your secondary. And then you contain and collapse the pocket because he's so good at running around and throwing the football. He's a really, really good player. And so you've just got to do everything you can, all 11, for all four quarters, and hope that it's enough."
Even then, it might not be. But NC State does have one positive on its side, too -- a sputtering offense should be bolstered by the return of starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell. He'll be seeing his first action since Week 1 (he broke his foot in the first quarter). Mitchell wanted to play against Syracuse, but his foot didn't feel quite right.
Now, he's heading into Doak Campbell Stadium, in front of a loud crowd that will welcome back Bobby Bowden to plant the spear, to face an FSU defense that is playing as well as it has all season.
Mitchell isn't afraid, though. He knows he doesn't have many chances left to show what he can do this year.
And since he transferred in from Arkansas, he's somewhat familiar with the big stage that SEC games often provided.
"This has been the game that has been circled for me to get back, so I've been preparing for this moment since then," Mitchell said. "I think I'm ready for it and when the moment presents itself, I just have to seize it. I can't go out there and try to press and do too much, because then I go out and not be myself and do something that I'm not capable of doing or not doing something I am capable of doing.
"I just have to play within myself and just make plays when they present themselves. What this game is, it helps me playing against Alabama or those big-time SEC teams before at receiver for the first time. I don't think that this stage will be really too, too big for me. I just have to play within myself and trust my teammates to make plays."
He'll just have to hope his teammates feel the same way.