North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren told SI.com Wednesday that his team had to work harder than Florida State because “there’s a gap” between the two teams. That hard work almost paid off in a big way. The Wolfpack stormed out to a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and led 38-35 midway through the third before the No. 1 Noles imposed their will to avoid the upset, winning in Raleigh, 56-41.
A week after being suspended for the Clemson game after getting up on a table and parroting an explicit phrase out of an Internet meme, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston outdueled NC State’s Jacoby Brissett to keep the ‘Noles undefeated and move them to 2-0 in ACC play.
Here are three quick thoughts from Saturday afternoon in the Triangle:
1. Chill, Winston
It was hard not to think back to last week’s 23-17 win over the Tigers and wonder how backup quarterback Sean Maguire would have fared in the high-scoring affair against the Wolfpack. The Seminoles needed every bit of Winston’s 365 passing yards and four touchdowns (as well as a well-timed turnover that gave the ‘Noles the ball at the NC State six-yard line with 3:51 left in the third quarter) to escape.
Simply put, this Florida State team isn’t as dominant as it was last year. It’s not going to blow past teams in the first half and be able to rest starters the rest of the way. To stay in the College Football Playoff hunt, Winston needs to be as good as he was against the Wolfpack on a regular basis (and limit mistakes like the interception he threw in the fourth quarter). As the world saw last year, he is fully capable of doing so.
2. No shame for NC State's Brissett
NC State’s quarterback -- a Florida transfer -- left it all out on the field against the ‘Noles, completing 32 of 48 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Brissett used his strength to shed tacklers in the backfield and extended plays, and he looked sharp on his throws. No moment exemplified Brissett’s day better than his eight-yard touchdown throw to Johnathan Alston with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
NC State didn’t have plays like that very often last season. If the Wolfpack get a few more like it this year, they should make a bowl game, one of their big goals heading into the season.
3. Shadow of the Florida State defense
Part of what made the Seminoles so devastatingly dominant last season was their attacking and opportunistic defense under then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia). This season’s unit isn’t nearly as deep, and that showed against the Wolfpack.
With Mario Edwards Jr. out with a concussion and Nile Lawrence-Stample out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, NC State was able to get good protection for Brissett, and running back Shadrach Thornton (18 carries for 85 yards with two touchdowns) carved out some solid runs. The lack of consistent pressure also hurt the secondary, which was often scrambling and gave up some big plays.
The Wolfpack had 520 yards to go with their 41 points. If not for two critical Brissett fumbles forced by the Florida State defense, there could have been more.
The Seminoles didn’t allow more than 34 points in a game in 2013.