TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Not even a month ago, the North Carolina State football team appeared on the verge of a breakthrough in coach Dave Doeren’s fourth season.
The Wolfpack was 4-1, had won three straight and was a 33-yard field goal from knocking off No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley.
Had the kick succeeded, it would have made for Doeren’s first signature win and put the Wolfpack in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race.
Instead, the attempt went wide right, Clemson won in overtime and NC State hasn’t been the same since.
The Wolfpack is on a three-game losing streak heading into this week’s matchup with Florida State (7 p.m., ESPNU), including a 54-13 pasting at Louisville and a loss to Boston College that marked BC’s first ACC win in 13 tries.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, though, cautioned against judging NC State on its recent woes. The Clemson game – in which the Wolfpack forced five turnovers – is an indicator of the Wolfpack’s full capability.
And if NC State is ever going to find that form again, a home game against the Seminoles would seem to be the likeliest time.
“It will be a heck of a game up there,” Fisher said. “It always is.”
He’s right about that.
Since joining the ACC in 1992, FSU is 7-5 when playing in Raleigh, a mark that includes a pair of dramatic defeats in 2010 and 2012.
And FSU’s win there in 2014 hardly came easily – the Seminoles turned the ball over four times and fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter before rallying for a 56-41 victory.
Then again, as Fisher noted, those games might have had as much to do with NC State’s roster as they did with the setting: The Wolfpack has had a future NFL quarterback under center in each of FSU’s last four visits. (Russell Wilson in 2008 and 2010, Mike Glennon in 2012 and Jacoby Brissett in 2014)
“They always have a good quarterback,” Fisher said. “They’ve got another one this year.”
That would be sophomore Ryan Finley, a first-year starter who has thrown for 1,817 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 61.7 percent of his passes.
Finley ranks in the ACC’s top 10 in 14 different categories, including total offense.
And, despite those three straight losses, the Wolfpack boasts one of the country’s better defenses. NCSU allows just 354.1 yards per game (29th in the nation) and 23.4 points per game (37th).
“Again, Fisher said, I think this game will be very competitive.”
The Seminoles, meanwhile, are looking to rebound from their own late loss to Clemson.
FSU played one of its best games of the season and held a fourth-quarter lead against the Tigers before they escaped with a 37-34 win.
For Florida State, this week’s contest is the first of a four-week stretch that they feel is crucial to this season. Four straight wins – and then a victory in a bowl game – is the Seminoles’ expressed goal for the rest of the year.
“It starts with the leaders,” senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “Coach Fisher came in with a positive attitude. … Everyone was locked in during practice.
“These next four games are crucial to finishing strong.”