The NC State Wolfpack have been a thorn in Florida State's side for some time now, and 2012 was no exception. In fact, the last four times an AP Top-25 Seminole team played the unranked 'Pack, they've been upset. However, if it's familiarity that breeds contempt, there isn't very much of that in the way of figureheads for the Wolfpack.
The head coach these days is Dave Doeren, and you remember Dave. He sat in the stands watching his former team, Northern Illinois, play the 'Noles in the Orange Bowl in January. It was Doeren's offense and principles that Florida State faced and ultimately defeated for its first BCS win in a long time.
But what pieces does Doeren have right now to run his offense in Raleigh? That's the tough answer. The other figurehead of 2012, quarterback Mike Glennon, made his way to the NFL. That leaves Doeren to play Brandon Mitchell, a quarterback-turned-receiver at Arkansas who graduated and transferred to NC State for a return to taking snaps.
Mitchell is a big body, listed at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds on the school's official roster. He has attempted just three passes all season and just 43 for his career and is a dual threat quarterback. That's exactly what Doeren wants in a quarterback, a threat in both phases of the game. Consider that UNI's Jordan Lynch rushed an average of 21 times and passed for an average of 28 times last season.
But because of the limited on-field time before a broken foot put him on the sidelines, Mitchell is something of an enigma.
Top offensive weapons
The Seminoles are familiar with NC State's number one receiver Bryan Underwood. Underwood was the recipient of the dagger touchdown in Raleigh last season, hauling in a pass from Glennon with 16 seconds left on the game clock. Underwood is undersized at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, but is far and away the leading receiver on the team with 30 catches and 357 yards receiving. Underwood is NC State's big-play threat in the running game as well. He's rushed nine times for 112 yards this season.
It is also worth noting, however, that the Wolfpack receiving corps has only amassed four touchdowns to this point in the season.
The running game has certainly been multiple in terms of divvying out carries. Five players have over 31 attempts this season and three players are north of 43. However the most rushing attempts on the team belong to Pete Thomas, the quarterback who will sit in favor of Mitchell (again, this shows how much Doeren likes to run his quarterback).
Starter Shadrach Thornton, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound sophomore combines with combines with 5-foot-9, 213-pound freshman Matt Dayes for most of the carries. The Wolfpack will use pistol, the diamond-pistol variation and shotgun to set up space or numbers for their running backs. Whereas not too long ago the Seminoles did not see any spread offense, now they're seeing it in bunches.
Here below is a rare Mitchell sighting at quarterback. This passing play went for 56 yards on the slant route to set up the second Wolfpack touchdown of the day against Louisiana Tech. Notice the spread tenets on display: Play action with the zone read, a bubble screen look at the top (which they undoubtedly go to in run-pass options) and a quick slant to clear out space in the event of a called run. Look familiar?
NC State's defensive front
The Wolfpack will look to the depth on their defensive line this weekend to disrupt Jameis Winston. NC State's defensive line has multiple guys who can get after the quarterback in addition to a couple of true nose tackles that can draw double teams. Having depth along the defensive line will keep them fresher throughout the game, making it a tough test for a Florida State offensive line trying to stay healthy.
NC State has combined for 11 sacks and 48 tackles for loss on the season, led by junior defensive end Art Norman, who has three sacks and six tackles for loss. While these are not numbers that jump off the page, NC State has at least five defensive lineman with at least four tackles for loss through six games.
Winston has been pretty close to perfect this season, especially when facing the blitz. Winston threw for more yards when facing a blitz last week in Clemson than any quarterback from a BCS automatic qualifier has in three years (293 of Winston's 444 yards passing came against the blitz).
If there is a silver lining in that statistic for NC State, it is that the Wolfpack do not rely on the blitz in order to get pressure on the quarterback. The key for Florida State against this group will be to avoid obvious passing situations to limit the versatility of the defensive linemen. If not, the Seminoles could wind up in a closer game than the 32-point spread would indicate.
Taking a look at this play below against Clemson, NC State will not blitz on a third and long obvious pass situation and instead will rush four. Notice Norman (yellow) circled near the top of the screen along with the 3 technique T.Y. McGill (blue).
Norman and McGill are going to use a simple stunt action to freeing up Norman to sack Tajh Boyd.
Now let's take a look at when NC State switches up its formation and blitzes. The Wolfpack switch from their traditional four-down front to a two-down front with nose tackle Thomas Teal and McGill (blue circles). The defensive ends Norman and Darryl Cato-Bishop are going to line up on the inside of the tackles (yellow circles), along with the mike linebacker Robert Caldwell.
Norman will stunt again, only this time he draws two offensive lineman, freeing up Cato-Bishop to rush free through B gap, and giving McGill a one-on-one matchup with the right tackle. Notice the cornerback (white circle) blitz draws the attention of the left tackle, freeing up the 303-pound Teal on the left guard.
Cato-Bishop gets through with ease and McGill beats his matchup as both get pressure on Boyd forcing him to throw the ball away.
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