BTP: Over the years, Florida State and the Wolfpack have played in some phenomenally entertaining games. What is it about this matchup, in your opinion, that always seems to lead to a wild game?
DK: FSU fans are never comfortable playing against NC State, and that's particularly true when the game is played in Raleigh. Carter-Finley is an underrated environment, and for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, the ‘Noles always seem to struggle mightily when they make the trip. The Wolfpack also have had some quality players, and it's certainly always a marquee game in their season when they take on the ‘Noles. However, the games have been less entertaining when the ‘Pack have traveled to Doak since 2009, which featured the worst FSU team in a very, very long time. But while there's reason for optimism there, we're also fully aware that NCSU is very capable of dealing the ‘Noles a second consecutive loss on Saturday. The ‘Pack are 9.5 point underdogs and have performed well this season by advanced metrics, and it could be another wild one in this series.
BTP: Jimbo sure is being coy about who's going to start this weekend at QB. Who do you think is the better option to start against the Wolfpack?
DK: Jimbo comes from the Belichick/Saban school of information control, which is evident in his treatment of depth charts and injuries (more on this later). Don't expect to find anything about who is playing anywhere until game time. That said, I do expect to see Sean Maguire under center for the ‘Noles against the ‘Pack. FSU took a flier on Golson as a grad transfer, believing his ceiling to be higher than Maguire's for this last season, giving the Seminoles a better chance to win this year. The experiment has ultimately disappointed, as Golson failed to pick up FSU's base offense. While he is capable of running a watered-down version, I think the unit as a whole is more effective with Maguire at the helm.
This isn't to say that one player is significantly better than another, though. Both are average college quarterbacks. If Golson had decided or been able to effectively use his mobility, he may have been the better option. The fact is, he hasn't, for whatever reason. I think the offense is better with Maguire and its full complement of passing concepts, including the vertical threat that Golson was unable to provide. Cook will always be the strength of the group, but FSU isn't beating good teams with an overly simple offense and a quarterback who fails to run in it. Add in questionable health for Cook for the foreseeable future, and I think Maguire is the best choice.
BTP: On the defensive side of the ball, Reggie Northrup has been a tackling machine, accounting for more the most tackles on the team by a wide margin, and is averaging over 7.5 tackles per game. Besides Northrup, who is someone else on the defense that should have State fans worried?
DK: This is a perfect case of a misleading statistic! Not to bag on Northrup too much, but he's the least of your worries on defense. He was a good college linebacker before tearing an ACL last season, but has lost a step and is not a particularly good player this year. He can play decently against the run vertically, but his lateral movement and coverage abilities are significantly limited. He's benefitted from excellent line play in front of him, so it does make some sense that he's been able to clean up running plays for big tackle numbers.
The strength of the FSU defense is its line. This group is probably among the five or so best in the nation. The tackle duo of Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Nnadi is quite formidable, and the ends DeMarcus Walker and freshman Josh Sweat have played well, too. There's good depth behind them, and they're able to be versatile and stay fresh because of it. The second-most effective group is the secondary. Jalen Ramsey is a terror at boundary corner, Marquez White has been very good on the opposite side, and the safety play has been solid. If I'm giving you one guy to watch, though, I'll go with the freshman safety, #3 Derwin James. He is a terrifyingly good athlete and he'll be all over the field on Saturday afternoon.
BTP: I read recently that Jimbo believes Dalvin Cook is the healthiest he's been in a while. How much more dynamic does Cook make Florida State's offense when he's able to run at 100%?
DK: This is another area in which I frankly do not believe Jimbo Fisher. Cook's level of health seems to have deteriorated each week since he injured the hamstring against Wake Forest. They sat him against Syracuse in order to give him the best chance to play effectively against Clemson (I don't really buy the ankle injury thing), but each game he's played subsequently after another, it seems that he's been less explosive. Now, even what we thought to be about 70% Dalvin went for 194 yards against the Clemson defense, so he's an asset any time he's still standing. But a 100% Dalvin Cook is the most explosive back in college football, and in my opinion, the best back Florida State has ever had. Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see that guy until the bowl game at the very earliest. I think he plays against the Wolfpack, but how healthy he is will determine a lot in terms of what the FSU offense is capable of.
BTP: Do the 'Noles have any other major injury concerns heading into Saturday?
DK: This has not been a good year for injury luck for FSU. Heading into last week's game, the ‘Noles were dealing with injury concerns for three offensive linemen, Cook, its nose tackle and middle linebacker, as well as a quarterback controversy. The NT and LB played and looked okay, and Cook will probably play, too. Offensive line is still a question, as I don't expect to see two of the three mentioned, particularly the one Jimbo announced was done for the season yesterday. So, I think the health has improved a bit from last week, but there are definite concerns in some areas. As mentioned, Jimbo is Belichick on injuries without the constraints of being fined for inaccurate injury reports like they are in the NFL. He's deliberately misled the media on many an occasion, so it's hard to say for sure.
BTP: For Pack fans traveling to Tallahassee this weekend, where are some good spots they should hit up before or after the game?
DK: SHAMELESS SPONSOR PLUG: The Nolecast (hosted by TN's Bud Elliott and Ingram Smith) is sponsored by Madison Social, an excellent Tallahassee bar in the shadow of Doak Campbell stadium. It features an excellent brunch, complete with cocktails, which would make for a nice tailgate option before a 12:30 kick. Other sites include the Moore Center for the museum-like experience, the Sod Cemetery, and the indoor practice facility, if you'd like to see these football-specific things. The Marching Chiefs' Skull Session takes place at the baseball stadium two hours prior to kickoff and comes highly recommended. Make sure to be inside the stadium early, as you won't want to miss Renegade, Osceola, and the planting of the spear.
BTP: Let's get a prediction on the game.
DK: FUN WITH MATH: Florida State's offense is averaging 37.25 (excluding a 59-point outing against Texas State) at home versus 16.75 points on the road. I guess that shouldn't be too surprising for a young team like this, but the disparity still jumps out at me. Anyway, FSU has twice before been in a noon game situation coming off of or looking ahead to a big game. They have yet to blink at these classic letdown situations. Now, NC State is the best team they'll have played in this spot yet, and the ‘Pack are a talented team that's certainly capable of beating the Seminoles, particularly if its defensive line is able to give a banged up FSU offensive line consistent problems. But at some point, you have to look at a season as a large enough sample to base a prediction off of, and I'll go with the ‘Noles to stay consistent and win 30-17 at home.
Many thanks again to Dylan for swinging by to talk about the game with us. Make sure to check out my responses to their questions over on Tomahawk Nation.