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Wake Forest vs. Florida State Preview

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5-1 Wake Forest heads to Tallahassee to try to become bowl eligible

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the lines that I did not expect to write this year is as follows: The 5-1 Wake Forest Demon Deacons head down to Tallahassee to make their first attempt at becoming bowl eligible. Obviously the season has gone about as well as any Demon Deacon fan could have expected to up to this point, but the schedule becomes markedly harder from here on out.

Wake Forest will square off against the 4-2 Florida State Seminoles tomorrow at 3:30 at Doak Campbell Stadium on ESPN. The Noles are coming off of a 20-19 thrilling victory over rival Miami, their first ACC win of the season.

While the season goals for Florida State are effectively already over through 6 games after losses at Louisville, and a shocking home loss to North Carolina on the heels of a 54 yard field goal as time expired, the Seminoles are still a very dangerous team. They are not quite as good as they have been under head coach Jimbo Fisher, but that is still more than good enough to open as a 25 point favorite over the upstart Demon Deacons.

Make no mistake, and don’t let the 4-2 record fool you, the ‘Noles are ranked 9th in the S&P+ Rankings, and boast the 4th best offense in the country.

Offense

Taking a birds-eye view of the Florida State offense will paint a picture of a team that stays on schedule, picking up the necessary yards for consistent first downs, but an average team making the big play. The ‘Noles rank 8th in the country in Success Rate (50% of yardage on 1st, 70% of yardage on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd and 4th). Basically they move the chains methodically. They rank an average 60th in the country in “explosiveness”, and are also average at finishing drives (points per trip inside opponent’s 40 yard line).

They have also benefited tremendously from “turnover luck”, where they stand with a +7 margin, but would have expected to be minus 2.5 approximately. Part of this is the fact that they have fumbled the ball 8 times, but lost just 2 of them.

Most of the country has heard of the outstanding running back Dalvin Cook by now, but freshman QB Deandre Francois has also made a lot of noise in his first year as the starting quarterback. In fact, the passing game is right on par with the running game as far as staying on schedule and overall success goes.

Francois has thrown for 9 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. He also has thrown for over 1,500 yards and taken 16 sacks (8% sack rate). Also notable is his 7.2 yards per attempt on the season.

He is really effective in Passing Down situations, where the Noles have the 2nd best S&P+ ranking, and the 3rd best Success Rate in the nation.

The aforementioned Dalvin Cook is a serious threat against the strong Demon Deacons front seven, and will be a fun one to watch. It’s safe to say that if the ‘Noles can run the ball against the stout front line of the Deacs, that the game will be sung to the tune of another FSU rout. Cook has accumulated 785 yards on 134 touches behind a really good offensive line. He has also scored 4 times on the ground. His 21 catches on 28 targets also makes him a serious threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.

At the WR position, Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson have been the biggest beneficiaries of the freshman Francois, being targeting approximately 43% of the time on the season. Wilson has 29 catches for 388 yards, while Rudolph has 19 catches for 259 yards.

Defense

If there is a place where the ‘Noles are weak in a sector, it would certainly be the defense. Fisher’s squad ranks 51st in the S&P+ Rankings on defense (for comparison, Wake ranks 43rd defensively). Their Four Factors are also not overly impressive, ranking 105th in giving up Explosive Plays, 103rd at allowing opponents to stay on schedule, 44th in Field Position, and 109th in allowing teams to score inside their 40.

A lot of that is scheduling, as the Seminoles have already played: Ole Miss, @Louisville, @South Florida, UNC, and @Miami. That’s a hellacious schedule, and UNC/Louisville especially took it to the ‘Noles D.

As a Wake fan, the biggest thing that I see is that the Seminoles defense is really bad at allowing opponents to stay on schedule on the ground, ranking 110th in the nation at 47.3%. I have no doubt that Dave Clawson will want to shorten the game, and handing the ball off to Cade Carney and Matt Colburn will be a big part of that gameplan. If the Deacs can establish some semblance of running game early and stay on schedule, their odds of winning the game (or at least keeping it close) go up tremendously.

A closer look at the FSU defense shows that the DL is a strength, ranking 25th nationally in “Havoc” plays, but the LB and DB “Havoc Rates” are 101st and 99th nationally.

That line is anchored by senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who has accused 6.5 sacks on the season and 7 TFL overall. He has also forced 3 fumbles on the season. How tackles Justin Herron and Ryan Anderson matchup with him on the exterior could go a long way in helping out the run game. It will be especially interesting to see if Wake continues to employ tight ends to bump the DE on pass plays to provide a split second longer for John Wolford in the pocket.

Junior linebacker Matthew Thomas accounts for 10.4% of all tackles on the team with 28.5 tackles, including 3 TFL, and has been a bright spot on the linebacking corps.

In the secondary, sophomore Tarvarus McFadden has 4 interceptions already on the season and an additional 2 passes broken up.

Special Teams

Taking a look at special teams shows YET MORE AGUAYO. This time it’s freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo, who has converted on 13/17 field goals on the season and all 26 of his extra point attempts.

The ‘Noles also have a freshman punter in Logan Tyler, who has booted the ball 22 times for a 43.5 punt average. He has a 36.4% FC/I-20 ratio as well.

Jesus Wilson is a dynamic punt returner who has already taken one to the house this season. He also has a 17.2 average on the 9 punts that he has chosen to return, as he has 10 fair catches as well.

The Seminoles rank 13th in S&P+ special teams, and are especially successful at kickoffs, ranking 2nd in the nation in success rate.

Overall Thoughts

Anytime Wake Forest plays Florida State it is usually a tall task for the Deacs to come out victorious. The Seminoles are two years removed from a national championship, and consistently recruit at a much higher level than the Demon Deacons. They open as 25 point favorites for a reason, and are by far the best team that Dave Clawson and Co. have faced this season.

While Florida State’s record may not reflect it at 4-2, they are still a very good football team, and should really be 5-1 were it not for an absurd last second field goal kick.

There is a chance that the running game could experience some success intermittently against the ‘Noles front seven, but if the Deacs want to have any chance at all tomorrow they will need John Wolford to have the game of his career.

Wake Forest has gotten off to a very impressive 5-1 start, but tomorrow will be the first test they have to prove to the country they are a seriously good team instead of another middling 6-8 win team. While I do not expect the Deacs to win the game, I do want to see what the team can do against one of the better teams in the country and where we stack up.

I think Wake will keep it close for a good portion of the first half behind a steady dosage of running, but am extremely fearful of Francois going up against our secondary that has been overmatched for much of the year against quarterbacks. If they can prevent the big play and keep everything in front of them then that will help out tremendously.

I will take Florida State 35-10, as Wake Forest will score its first touchdown in Tallahassee since the 2006 30-0 victory. More specifically, Cook runs for 150 yards and Francois has 3 touchdowns (2 on long plays).

As always with this prediction I hope I am off by a lot, but with the talent across the sideline in Tallahassee, it’s hard to see Wake Forest keeping this one close into the second half.