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Game Preview: Florida State at Wake Forest

The Seminoles need to come out with a sense of urgency against a well-prepared Wake Forest team.

Game Introduction:

Florida State is reeling after a 20-17 loss to FCS Jacksonville State last weekend in Doak Campbell Stadium. After an encouraging week one loss to Notre Dame, the Seminoles looked like a completely different team. Ultimately, it cost them, as they let the Gamecocks hang around until the very end. Head Coach Mike Norvell is now under immense pressure to get the program's first win of the 2021-22 season.

Wake Forest is 2-0 after blowout wins against Old Dominion and Norfolk State. Senior quarterback Sam Hartman (432 yards, four touchdowns) leads an offense that is averaging 41.5 points per game. Their defense is talented at all three levels, with playmakers such as safety Luke Masterson (13 tackles, eight solo), linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. (11 tackles, six solo), and defensive lineman Jasheen Davis (9 tackles, six solo, 1.5 sacks). In their last meeting in 2019, the Demon Deacons defeated the ‘Noles 22-20.

The game is set for Saturday, Sept. 18. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m on ESPN.

Seminole Headlines

FSU teetering on 0-3 start

A week ago, Seminole fans were predicting the team to enter Chapel Hill on Oct. 9 with one loss to their record. Fast forward to today, and many are struggling to grasp what went wrong last weekend. Wake Forest is plenty capable of turning the fanbase's nightmare into a reality. The Seminoles have not won in Winston-Salem since 2017, and haven’t shown much to make us think they can claim a road win Saturday.

With their season hanging in the balance, the leaders of the team must step up in this situation. Big performances could be in store for guys like defensive end Jermaine Johnson, quarterback McKenzie Milton and linebacker Amari Gainer. No matter how strong their performances might be, will it be enough to lead to a ‘Noles win? That question remains unanswered.

Play-calling on both sides under the microscope

The various formations of Wildcat, Jordan Travis lining up at wide receiver, and screen passes behind the line of scrimmage have made Seminoles fans question the legitimacy of this coaching staff. Norvell has a lot to prove as a play-caller after last week’s disastrous second half, where Florida State mustered up just 3 points. Before we see more exotic packages, look for Norvell to play it safe by establishing the run through running backs Jashaun Corbin and Treshuan Ward.

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On the defensive side of the ball, Fuller has just as much to prove. After running Cover 0 blitz on the last play of the game, many wondered what went into the defensive coordinator's decision on that 4th & 10. As a coach, Fuller can’t make tackles or cover receivers. However, he can do a better job of placing his players in a better position to succeed, whether that be through substitutions, scheme, etc. The secondary will arguably face its greatest challenge to this point going up against Hartman and the Demon Deacons wide receivers.

Burning Questions

Can the ‘Noles save their season (and recruiting class)?

Before the season, Florida State fans were hoping the program could get to six wins for a bowl appearance. If the ‘Noles can’t beat Wake Forest, the hopes of a bowl game are slim to none with opponents like Clemson, Florida, and North Carolina remaining. Once the losses pile up, the recruiting class could turn into dust. Of course, the big recruit to watch is Travis Hunter. The Suwanee, Georgia native is the top-ranked player in the 2022 class according to the SI99 rankings. This will be a pivotal matchup for Norvell and company to regain momentum before it's too late.

Will the secondary have an answer for the Demon Deacons passing attack?

As I touched on earlier, this Wake Forest passing attack could give the secondary serious issues. Hartman has tons of experience, and wide receivers Jaquarii Roberson (10 receptions, 143 yards, two touchdowns) and A.T Perry (six receptions, 100 yards, one touchdowns) serve as capable deep-threats.

Jarvis Brownlee and the rest of the defensive backfield should have a chip on their shoulder after Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns. In the 2019 matchup, Hartman went for 308 yards. Do not be surprised if he’s oozing confidence during the game if the ‘Noles cornerbacks allow Wake Forest to get into a rhythm early on.

Forecast

Many are completely out on the ‘Noles after an ugly loss to Jacksonville State. Wake Forest is not the most talented team, but they are well-coached and disciplined enough to make quick work of FSU. It will come down to if the Seminoles can avoid stalling on the offensive end, as well as the defenses’ discipline in pass coverage. 

With their backs against the wall, this is a make-or-break game for the Florida State program.

Florida State 28, Wake Forest 24