FSU at N. C. State: Impressive Stats and Delusions of Competing

Joel Auerbach - Getty Images

You never know.

According to the Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, Florida State and North Carolina State were very similar offensively in 2011, but the Seminoles were superior defensively and vastly superior in special teams (see chart at the bottom of this article). Those advantages, coupled with the game being played in the friendly confines of the Doak, led to an easy 34-0 win for FSU. The blowout was a departure from what had been an even series over the previous 6 seasons. For N. C. State to strike back and get to 4-4 against FSU over the last 8 seasons, it will not only have to solve the typically stingy Seminole D, but also slow an offense that has gone from ordinary to explosive in 2012.

The Football Outsiders' "four factors" for 2012 will not be available for a couple of weeks; however, the overall rankings are out and paint a pretty picture for Florida State. The Seminoles rank 4th (behind Alabama, Texas, and Notre Dame), and FSU was #1 before its lackluster win over SOFLA last weekend. It's the FSU offense that has led it from a top 15 program to national championship contender. FSU ranks:

  • 6th in scoring offense (51.0)
  • 8th in rushing offense (261.4)
  • 6th in QB efficiency (177.2)
  • 9th in total offense (544.6)
  • 9th with 30 plays of 20+ yards
  • 13th with 14 plays of 30+ yards
  • 5th with 9 plays of 40+ yards

Florida State's ability to pick up big chunks of yardage is particularly troubling for the Wolfpack, as they are one of the worst teams in the FBS in terms of allowing massive gains. In fact, State is 124th-dead last-in surrendering plays from scrimmage of over 40 yards (14). Even after the West Virginia shootout, Baylor, the next to worst defense at stopping the big play, has allowed 3 fewer plays of 40+ yards than the Pack this season.

Even with the offensive improvement, Florida State's calling card remains its speedy defense. FSU ranks:

  • 7th in scoring defense (11.4)
  • 5th in rushing defense (72.4)
  • 4th in passing defense (128.4)
  • 3rd in total defense (200.8)
  • 1st in opponent 1st downs (10.8)
  • 4th in opponent plays of 20+ yards (9)

Jimbo Fisher has made good use of his team's abundance of speed to take advantage of the new kickoff rules. FSU does not take the easy touchback, but instead hits it high and inside the 10. So far the strategy is paying off, as FSU has allowed just 14.64 per return, the 5th best mark in the country. Meanwhile, when FSU gets a rare chance to field and return a kickoff, it averages 33 yards per attempt (2nd in the nation). And hold your breath when you punt it; Rashad Greene has already taken a pair of punts to the house this season.

Despite swamping the bed with an ocean of corn-encrusted diarrhea (crapping the bed just isn't strong enough to describe it) in both of its games against name opponents, N. C. State has done a lot of things surprisingly well. For example:

  • 66th in rushing offense, but much better lately with over 500 yards and 5.2 yards per carry over the last two games
  • 31st in passing offense (284.4) FSU is 32nd in yards per game but has a much higher passer rating
  • 28th with 26 plays of 20+ yards
  • 19th with 13 plays of 30+ yards
  • 20th with 7 plays of 40+ yards
  • 29th in rushing defense (112.2)
  • 12th in tackles for loss (8.0 per game)
  • 15th in interceptions (7)
  • 25th in opponent 1st downs (17.2) despite giving up 12 first downs on penalties-only 11 FBS teams have allowed more free sets of downs
  • 11th in opponent 3rd down conversions (27.5%)
  • 22nd in KOR yardage against (18.1)
  • 19th in time of possession (32:38)

The cynic might point out that N. C. State has allowed so few first downs because the opponent doesn't get a fresh set of downs after you watch disinterestedly as they score from 60 yards out, and that 3rd-down rate is impressive, but what about all of the first and second down conversions and one-play scoring drives? But, aside from the mind-numbing frequency of blown coverages that allowed huge gains, the Pack has been pretty solid defensively, especially against the run. If they can make Florida State sustain drives rather than get quick sixes, the Pack might hang around long enough to make bettors taking the Noles to cover the better than two-touchdown spread a little nervous.

It will help if N. C. State can continue to make big plays of its own. The formerly-plodding Pack are on pace to obliterate their total of 36 plays of 20+ yards from last year, a figure that ranked 108th in the country. There have been few pleasant surprises for the Wolfpack in 2012, but the development of Quintin Payton (recently named to the Biletnikoff watch list) and Bryan Underwood (6 TDs in 5 games) into big-play threats is chief among them.

Florida State routed Wake Forest, but that's a Wake team that lost at home to Duke and barely escaped upset bids from Liberty and Army. Florida State had to come from behind but eventually had its way with what was supposedly a top-10 Clemson squad, but N. C. State looked equally impressive in knocking off Clemson last fall, and this is a Tigers team that had 70 hung on them last year in the Orange Bowl. Also, Florida State struggled to get past a South Florida team that has one win over an FBS opponent-by one point-so far this season. It certainly appears that the Noles are back, but this paragraph is proof that delusional Pack fans can quickly forget the past Saturday and rationalize why their team might just surprise people the following Saturday. If the Pack makes FSU earn it rather than giving it away through penalties, turnovers, and blown coverages, Saturday could make for the Noles' toughest test yet. And who knows?

Florida State

Football Outsiders Metric

N. C. State

12

FEI

50

54

OFEI

58

10

DFEI

25

2

STE

92

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