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Key Matchups of the Week: Florida State at North Carolina

Can Florida State's defense rise to the occasion against one of the top quarterbacks in the country?

Florida State earned its first win of the season with a win over Syracuse last Saturday. After a solid showing by the Seminoles, they will now face another tough test vs. North Carolina with Sam Howell and co. Florida State faced the fifth-ranked Tar Heels last season in Doak Campbell, and pulled off the upset, 31-28. This was head coach Mike Norvell's biggest win so far since his hire at FSU. Fast forward to now, both teams have been inconsistent, and some would say both units are underachieving so far this season. UNC (3-2) had a big win over its rival Duke last weekend and hope to keep things on the right track vs. Florida State (1-4). 

READ MORE: Starting defensive lineman will miss remainder of season

Here are three key matchups to watch for as the Seminoles take on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill at 3:30 pm EST.

Sam Howell vs FSU defense

North Carolina quarterback and former FSU commit is Sam Howell regarded as one of the top QB's in the nation and is a load to handle. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior is the fifth quarterback in ACC history to throw for 80 touchdowns. So far this season Howell has totaled 1,494 yards passing and 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Howell is also mobile and can make some plays using his legs. Last week he had a 300-yard, three-touchdown performance vs. Duke and, this will be the toughest test the FSU defense has faced all season. 

Expect Howell to target his favorite wide receiver sophomore Josh Downs often. Downs was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list with his amazing play totaling 40 catches, 620 receiving yards, and six touchdowns through five games. It's pivotal the 'Noles defensive line gets pressure on Howell early and often. UNC has had some issues on the offensive line, giving up 22 sacks this season, and I expect the Seminoles defensive line to have some success this weekend. If not, this game could get out of hand quickly in Chapel Hill.

READ MORE: Starting defensive lineman will miss remainder of the season

Seminoles rushing attack vs UNC defense

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One of the keys to neutralizing a great offense is keeping them off the field. Florida State rushing attack is led by sophomore Jashaun Corbin and freshman Treshaun Ward. Corbin (8.13) and Ward (7.7) are both first and second in the ACC in yards per carry. Nationally that qualifies for ninth and 12th in the nation. We also can't forget about dynamic sophomore QB Jordan Travis and his ability to make plays with his legs. 

Florida State averages over 200 yards per game on the ground. Expect them to continue their success this weekend. The Tar Heels rushing defense is adequate, giving up 144 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry on the ground. UNC knows FSU struggles to pass the ball so they will be keying in on the 'Noles rushing attack.

3rd/4th down efficiency

If you remember last year's game in Tallahassee, one of the biggest reasons the Seminoles pulled off the upset was due to how poorly the Tar Heels were on third and fourth down. UNC converted only 2 of 12 third downs and wasn't successful on any of their three fourth-down attempts. The 'Noles weren't that much better only converting 4 of 12 third downs with no fourth-down attempts. We have seen coach Norvell be aggressive on fourth downs with 11 attempts, only converting on three. UNC has attempted 7 fourth downs and converted four. 

FSU has converted on 36 percent of its third downs and the Tar Heels have a conversion rate of 49 percent. If the Seminoles want to win this weekend they have to have a higher third-down percentage than the Heels. Keeping drives alive and winning the time of possession will be critical. As I elaborated earlier, a key to offsetting a great offense is keeping them on the sideline. Keep an eye out on the conversion rates on third and fourth down Saturday.

North Carolina has won 10 of its last 11 games at home. Going into Chapel Hill will be a huge test for the 'Noles but leaving with a victory is attainable. Let's see if Florida State can keep this train moving upward with another win this weekend.

READ MORE: Florida State Seminoles release depth chart for North Carolina Tar Heels

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