BTP: Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the country. What makes him such a special player?
DK: For me, it’s his explosiveness. When he puts his foot in the ground and goes, it’s something special to watch. Cook’s already the best running back in FSU history, and it’s his ability to bust the long runs that has cemented his legacy. He was still banged up and/or otherwise not running hard at the beginning of the season, but has found his familiar form over the last month or so. The lack of effort can still be seen at times in pass protection, though, particularly against, let’s say, Wake Forest. While he’s improved as a pass catcher this season, he still had a really bad drop last week against Clemson. However, it’s certainly nitpicking to find flaws in his phenomenal game.
BTP: Besides Cook, who is one player offensively that FSU needs to be successful in order to win Saturday? How about on the defense?
DK: It’s going to sound obvious, but it has to be Deondre Francois on offense. He’s played okay as a freshman in Jimbo Fisher’s offense, but remains maddeningly inconsistent and misses some really basic stuff at times. I fully expect the ‘Pack defense to commit numbers to Cook and try to make Francois and FSU’s passing offense beat them. The receivers have been nothing special, and the offensive line has been woeful in pass protection, for the most part. This puts a lot of pressure on #12 in this kind of game, and he’ll need to take the plays that are there to be made against numbers-heavy looks in the box.
On defense, I’ll go with FSU’s linebackers. Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins have not been particularly great, allowing opportunities for true freshman Dontavious Jackson. This group will be critical in stopping a good Wolfpack rushing attack. They have to be disciplined and clean up the plays that the improving defensive line creates. NC State will try to get them moving laterally out of their lanes, and I expect to see the throwback pass and other misdirection stuff to catch them flowing too quickly. Much like stopping FSU’s offense, the ‘Pack need to be stopped on the ground first and foremost.
BTP: Although the Pack have been struggling the last few weeks, they do have an interesting streak going: NC State has won 7 straight night games at Carter-Finley. The Seminoles and the Pack have had some epic matches in Raleigh, what in your mind makes Carter-Finley a tough place to play for opposing teams?
DK: While I have not been able to make a game in Raleigh, our Bud Elliott has remarked on several occasions that it’s a really underrated venue from a sound standpoint. NC State fans are obviously ready to give FSU their best shot, and I think the atmosphere for the game in Raleigh is consistently intense. There’s also the fact that FSU hasn’t started strong in the previous games in Carter-Finley, which gets the crowd into it even more. Don’t expect that to change on Saturday, by the way. The Seminoles have not scored a first quarter touchdown in any of their games against FBS opponents. This is a recipe for another nervous affair in a building that’s been a house of horrors for Florida State.
BTP: Any major injuries to report heading into the game?
DK: Florida State’s safety corps is very thin at the moment, as all-world Derwin James has been out along with senior Nate Andrews. Adding to that, safety Trey Marshall will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting against Clemson. There will be plays over the top to be made by the Wolfpack offense against this defensive backfield. Bobo Wilson was out last week, which made way for an excellent performance by Noonie Murray, which was interesting. There also may be an injury along the offensive line, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
BTP: Let's get a prediction - who wins?
DK: I think it all depends on whether Florida State shows up, to be honest. And I’m not at all convinced that they will. The season is over, from a goals standpoint. They suffered a heartbreaking loss last week that could have rejuvenated a team disappointed in having such a huge season dashed, expectations-wise. NC State is always ready for this one at home and I expect them to be again, even after a tough couple of losses. Florida State has started slow, as I mentioned, and I don’t expect that to change Saturday night in Raleigh. Those things being said, I do expect FSU to pop some explosive runs. It will come down to the defensive effort and discipline, as well as whether Francois can take what NC State will have to give him in looking to slow down Dalvin Cook. I thought the opening line was too much, and I think this is going to be close, though this team has proven me wrong on several occasions this year. I’ll go FSU 31-27.