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FSU comes to NC State looking better than it has in a while

The Seminoles have had an issue or seven to sort out these last four years.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not officially a resurrection in Tallahassee just yet, but after several years of stumbling, Florida State looks like it is finally sorting itself out in the post-Jimbo-Fisher era.

The Seminoles are off to a 4-1 (2-1) start in 2022, with a solid semi-road win over LSU to their credit. They cracked the AP Poll for the first time since 2018, and they are also likely to post their first winning season since 2017. Yeah, it’s been that long. Hard to fathom sometimes that this is the same program that won a national championship less than 10 years ago.

Turning around a tough patch often starts with finding stability at quarterback, and the Noles definitely have had that this season just by having Jordan Travis available for every game. Travis has been at FSU since 2018 and yet somehow NC State has never had to play against him; his career has been marred by injuries.

He’s been able to play and build off of his efforts each week this year, with impressive results: he’s completing 65.9% of his throws while averaging 9.7 yards per attempt. The latter number is tied for first among ACC quarterbacks. Travis has thrown only one interception this season.

Against FBS opponents, FSU is averaging 6.7 yards per play, which is up from 5.9 in 2021. The Seminoles have thrown for at least 260 yards in all four games against FBS teams.

Travis’ favorite target this season is Johnny Wilson, a 6’7 transfer from Arizona State who went from playing sparingly in the Pac-12 to playing like one of the best receivers in the ACC. He has 357 yards on 19 receptions, for an average of over 18 yards per catch, and has three touchdowns.

Ontaria Wilson and Mycah Pittman also have double-digit receptions on the year, and along with Johnny Wilson, account for seven of FSU’s 10 touchdown receptions.

On the ground, FSU is led by Treshaun Ward and Trey Benson, who account for about 21 carries per game. Both are also averaging over 6.0 yards per carry.

The Seminoles’ ground stats are skewed just a wee bit by the fact that they ran for 400 on Duquesne in the opener; they averaged 7.5 per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns. In the four games since, they have a little over 600 yards rushing in total, with six rushing scores. It’s been a solid ground game against FBS opposition, but not really a difference-maker.

A big difference in that rushing attack is in the absence of Travis, who led the team in rushing in 2020 and was second in 2021. After averaging over 13 carries per game last season, he’s down to around four in 2022 (which of course includes sacks as well). FSU has wisely decided that it’s just not worth the risk; whatever value he might add on the ground is far overshadowed by his value as a passer.

FSU’s defense has shown improvement this season as well, though the progress is far more modest. In league play last season, for example, the Seminoles allowed 5.4 yards per play and 394 yards per game; this year, it’s 5.0 and 378 through three games.

That’s still solid work for a unit that had to replace its top two pass-rushers from a year ago. And their pass defense has been excellent so far, limiting FBS foes to 6.3 yards per attempt and only around 207 yards per game.

The rushing defense has been fairly vulnerable, but that may not matter a whole lot if Devin Leary and the NC State passing game is once again bottled up. The Pack’s rushing attack has yet to prove it can pace this offense when the passing game isn’t there, and that isn’t likely to change this weekend.

That passing game is in dire need of a breakthrough if this Wolfpack team is going to reach its potential, and there’s no better time for that than this week, when such a breakthrough could well make the difference in the outcome. FSU should be a tough out regardless.