WATCH: Dontavious Jackson, Oct. 31
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When asked to reflect on his defense’s performance against Clemson last week, Harlon Barnett answered in plain, obvious terms:
“We’re not happy with that performance at all,” he said. “We started out well … Starting well doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish like you should finish.”
That was true for FSU against Clemson, and, in broader terms, it holds true for the Seminoles as they enter the final month of the regular season.
Despite their 4-4 record, the Seminoles still intend to finish strong.
They’ll certainly have opportunities to do so. FSU will meet four teams ranked in the initial College Football Playoff Top 25, starting Saturday at No. 21 North Carolina State.
“A lot of people have a chip on their shoulder,” linebacker Dontavious Jackson said. “A lot of people feel like they didn’t perform or put their best on the field. So this week is all about the get-back.”
Jackson and his teammates will look to get back against an NC State team that looks solid by the numbers but that has struggled in recent weeks.
Thanks in part to a hurricane-altered schedule that forced them to cancel a game with No. 12 West Virginia, the Wolfpack got out to a 5-0 start and climbed to as high as 16th in the AP Top 25.
But as fast as NC State rose to prominence, Clemson made sure it fell back down just as quickly. The Tigers routed NC State, 41-7, two weeks ago, and the Wolfpack followed that up with a 51-41 loss at Syracuse a week later.
Against Clemson, the Tigers managed 297 yards and turned the ball over three times. Against Syracuse, the Wolfpack offense got back on track, but its defense surrendered more than 560 yards.
Syracuse led 24-7 after one quarter.
“We know they’re going to be hungry,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “And they’re at home and hungry to get back in the winning column. I know our guys are hungry and want to work to get back in the winning column after what happened last week.”
To help their cause, the Seminoles might have to do something that other NC State opponents have rarely done this season: sack quarterback Ryan Finley.
The Wolfpack senior has thrown for 2,250 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing nearly 67 percent of his passes. And thanks to NC State’s quick-passing offense, he’s been sacked just four times.
It’s probably not a coincidence that three of those four sacks have come in the last two weeks.
“Really good player, understands coverages, understands where to go with the ball and he has some talented receivers to throw the ball to,” Barnett said. “So it’s always challenging (to defend) a veteran quarterback.”
Taggart said that pressuring Finley would likely come down to FSU’s defensive front winning one-on-one matchups against NC State’s offensive line.
Barnett, however, wouldn’t elaborate on his plan. Instead, he played coy and with a small smile said, “I can’t give that away.”
Maybe Barnett is on to something. A week ago, he said something similar when asked how he might slow down Clemson’s rushing attack.
And for all that didn’t go right for the Seminoles last week, they held Clemson star Travis Etienne to just 45 yards on 10 carries.