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Wake Forest Football Preview: Florida State Seminoles

In Week 5, Wake Forest travels to Sunshine State for its first road conference game of the season against the Florida State Seminoles. With the Noles coming off two straight seasons (including one in which they lost to FCS Jacksonville State), Year 3 is most likely a breakthrough year for head coach Mike Norvell. That sense of urgency could put extra stress on every game this season for the Seminoles, so the Deacs should expect them to pull out all the stops. After all, the last time the Seminoles lost three straight seasons was in 1976 in the first season of a coach named Bobby Bowden – you may have heard of him.

Instantaneous

  • Opponent: State of Florida
  • When: Saturday, October 1, 2022
  • Location: Doak Campbell Stadium | Tallahassee, Florida
  • Total Vegas Insider Earnings: 6.5
  • 2021 record: 5-7 (4-4)
  • Previous match: Wake 35—FSU 14 (2021)
  • all time against WakeForest: 30-8-1

With FSU down, Tallahassee is still a tough place to play for Wake Forest – the Deacs have only won 3 road games against Florida State (twice with Skinner and once in 1959). And really, Florida State wasn’t so bad last season. The Noles lost three games by 3 points, including an overtime loss to ND, a loss to Jacksonville State in the final game of the game, and a loss to Florida. They also beat Clemson in the 4th quarter and had the ball with a chance to win the game with a minute left (Tigers returned a fumble for a TD on the last play of the game). You could say that about a lot of teams every year, but with a few favorable rebounds here and there, the Noles could realistically have finished last season with 8 wins, and the whole narrative around the program would be completely different.

With his seat getting a little hot, Mike Norvell will have to prove he’s the man for the job at Florida State this season. It’s going to start with offense where he handles all play-calling responsibilities. Florida State’s offense is nowhere near the kind of firepower Norvell was known for in Memphis, where his attacks consistently racked up 40 points per game. Of course, installing a new offense in a new school is no easy task and certainly takes time. With two years of experience now, I expect Norvell and the FSU offense to be the beneficiaries of the proverbial “third-year bump” this season, where everything starts to click. If that happens, FSU could take a big step forward this season.

Looking at last year’s offense, Norvell is using the shotgun spread system with a lot of zone play and RPO style play. This system is especially dangerous with a dual-threat QB, and Jordan Travis definitely fills that role — he’s probably the second most athletic quarterback in the ACC behind Louisville’s Malik Cunningham. The Noles really slowed things down last season, using more of a running-based attack and ball control. Norvell kept the ball on the ground about 57% of the time and played just 65 plays per game, the slowest pace of his 6-year head coaching career. The only team that ran fewer plays than Florida State against the Deacs last season was Boston College, which had just 9 first downs and 180 total yards.

The Noles lost their first rusher Jashaun Corbin to the NFL, but as Wake fans probably know by now, FSU still has plenty of speed waiting in the wings. Between Jordan Travis, Treshaun Ward and Lawrence Toafili, Florida State still has 1,208 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns from last season. They also added Oregon transfer Trey Benson to the mix in the offseason. Benson was a 4-star rookie who rushed for 3,616 yards and 48 touchdowns in high school but struggled to find playing time with the Ducks last season after missing all of 2020 due to a wound.

In the passing game, the Noles really didn’t have a standout receiver last season. In fact, FSU didn’t even have a single player on the roster who caught more than 25 passes and their number 1 target was starting to run Jashaun Corbin. It could just be a result of the scheme, but FSU’s top receiver, Ontario Wilson, received just 382 yards last season. By comparison, Wake Forest had 5 receivers caught on 25 passes and 2 receivers with over 1,000 yards. The Noles picked up a few transfers to Johnny Wilson (12 rec, 154 yards last season at ASU) and Winston Wright (63 rec, 688 yards last season at WVU) so maybe they’ll give the Noles some extra weapons at the passing game this season.

On defense, Florida State has been pretty solid. They gave up 26.5 points and 379 yards per game, good for 68th and 65th in the nation respectively. You might think those numbers were helped by their slower pace, but based on average per game, FSU was actually one of the best defenses in the nation (27th to be exact), giving up only 5.2 yards per play. They also forced 20 turnovers last season, which was one of the best rates in FBS. According to Carter Karels, Florida State’s defense is returning 8 starters, 19 or their 22 leading tackles and 75% of their total tackles from last season. They are also firing 15 players who have played in at least 20 college games. That means they’re a very veteran group that’s probably ready for a big season. The bad news for FSU is that they lost defensive ends Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas to the NFL – the combined duo for 18 sacks and 29.5 tackles for the loss last season.

Prediction

This is where predictions start to get tougher as the skill levels of both teams even out. There are big question marks for Wake Forest heading into the season over how much better the defense is going to be and when Sam Hartman is going to play. Without knowing any of these things yet, it’s incredibly difficult to predict these heads or tails games. Outside of the 30-0 win in 2006, Wake Forest is still struggling in Tallahassee. With an offense that now has experience in what Norvell is trying to do and a veteran defense, I expect this to be the year that Florida State puts everything together and starts to be a contender again of the ACC. I’m losing in this one, but I’d feel a lot better if Hartman was back on the court.