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Wake Forest Football Preview: Florida State Seminoles

The first ACC road game of the season sends the Deacs to Tallahassee

NCAA Football: Florida State at Wake Forest Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In week 5, Wake Forest will travel to the Sunshine State for their first conference road game of the season against the Florida State Seminoles. With the Noles coming off back-to-back losing seasons (including one in which they lost to FCS Jacksonville State), year 3 is most likely a make-or-break year for head coach Mike Norvell. That sense of urgency could put some extra emphasis on every game this season for the Seminoles, so the Deacs should be expecting them to pull out all the stops. After all, the last time the Seminoles had three losing seasons in a row was 1976 in the first season of a coach named Bobby Bowden—you may have heard of him.

Snapshot

  • Opponent: Florida State
  • Date: Saturday, October 1st, 2022
  • Location: Doak Campbell Stadium | Tallahassee, Florida
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 6.5
  • 2021 Record: 5-7 (4-4)
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 35—FSU 14 (2021)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 30-8-1

While FSU has been down, Tallahassee is always a tough place for Wake Forest to play—the Deacs have won just 3 games ever on the road against Florida State (twice with Skinner and once in 1959). And really, Florida State was not that bad last season. The Noles lost three games by 3 points, including an overtime loss to ND, a loss to Jacksonville State on the final play of the game, and a loss to Florida. They were also beating Clemson going into the 4th quarter and had the ball with a chance to win the game with a minute left (the Tigers returned a fumble for a TD on the final play of the game). You could say this about a lot of teams every year, but with a just a few favorable bounces here and there, the Noles realistically could have finished last season with 8 wins, and the entire narrative around the program would completely different.

With his seat getting a little warm, Mike Norvell is going to need to prove that he is the man for the job at Florida State this season. That is going to start with the offense where he handles all of the play calling responsibilities. The Florida State offense has not gotten anywhere near the kind of firepower Norvell was known for at Memphis, where his offenses were consistently putting up 40 points per game. Of course, installing a new offense at a new school is not an easy task and definitely takes some time. With two years of experience now, I am fully expecting Norvell and the FSU offense to be beneficiaries of the proverbial “third year bump” this season, where everything starts to click. If that happens, FSU could take a massive step forward this season.

Looking at the offense from last year, Norvell uses the shotgun spread system with a large number of zone-read and RPO style plays. That system is particularly dangerous with a dual threat QB, and Jordan Travis definitely fills that role—he is 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 run based, ball control offense. Norvell kept the ball on the ground around 57% of the time and ran just 65 plays per game, the slowest pace in his 6-year head coaching career. The only team that ran fewer plays than Florida State against the Deacs last season was Boston College, who had just 9 first downs and 180 total yards.

The Noles lost their leading rusher Jashaun Corbin to the NFL, but as Wake fans are probably well aware by now, FSU always has plenty of speed waiting in the wings. Between Jordan Travis, Treshaun Ward, and Lawrence Toafili, Florida State is still getting back 1,208 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns from last season. They also added Oregon transfer Trey Benson to the mix in the offseason. Benson was a 4-star recruit 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 with an injury.

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 running back Jashaun Corbin. That could just be a consequence of the scheme, but FSU’s best receiver Ontaria Wilson had just 382 yards receiving last season. For comparison, Wake Forest had 5 receivers catch over 25 passes and 2 receivers with over 1,000 yards. The Noles did pick up a couple of transfers in Johnny Wilson (12 rec, 154 yards last season at ASU) and Winston Wright (63 rec, 688 yards last season at WVU) so maybe they will give the Noles some additional weapons in the passing game this season.

On defense, Florida State was pretty solid. They gave up 26.5 points and 379 yards per game, good for 68th and 65th in the nation respectively. You might be thinking that those numbers were helped by their slower pace, but based on per play average, FSU was actually one of the better defenses in the nation (27th to be exact), giving up just 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 tacklers, and 75% of their total tackles from last season. They also return 15 players who have played in at least 20 college games. That means that this is a very veteran group that is probably poised for a big season. The bad news for FSU is they lost defensive ends Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas to the NFL—the duo combined for 18 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss last season.

Prediction

This is where the predictions start to get harder as the talent level of both teams evens out. There are some pretty big question marks for Wake Forest heading into the season, namely how much better the defense is going to be and when Sam Hartman is going to play. Without knowing either of those things yet, it is incredibly difficult to predict these tossup games. Outside of the 30-0 win in 2006, Wake Forest always struggles in Tallahassee. With an offense that now has experience in what Norvell is trying to do and a veteran defense, I am expecting this to be the year Florida State puts everything together and starts to become a contender in the ACC again. I am leaning loss in this one, but I would feel a whole lot better about it if Hartman is back on the field.