RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Third-ranked Florida State is going on the road for the first time in the Atlantic Coast Conference with the chance to tighten an already firm grip on its division.
It could also be North Carolina State’s last chance to stay in the Atlantic Division race.
The Seminoles (5-0, 2-0) have already beaten Clemson at home, and a win against N.C. State on Saturday night would give the preseason ACC favorite victories against the two teams projected to be their biggest challengers for the division crown.
They’ll arrive here to find a rowdy crowd in a stadium where the ranked Seminoles lost to the Wolfpack (3-2, 0-1) in their last visit here two years ago.
“We’ll have our hands full,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’ll have to bring our A-game. We’ll have to be really focused and play a great game. I like the way our kids are working. I like the development we’re making. We’re beginning to make little strides each week.”
The Seminoles practiced with speakers turned up and having quarterback EJ Manuel whisper in the huddle to force the offensive players to focus and prepare for crowd noise.
“It gets loud,” Manuel said. “They have great fans just like we do. Their fans are right up on you as far as being on the visitor’s sideline. The fans are right on your back. I enjoy those kind of things. They can say what they want about us but we’re still going to play football games.”
Florida State has been dominant in just about every game and ranks among the nation’s statistical leaders in most major offensive and defensive categories. The Seminoles rank sixth nationally in scoring offense (51 points), ninth in total offense (544 yards), seventh in scoring defense (11 points) and third in total defense (201 yards).
The Seminoles have won every game by at least 12 points, including last week’s 30-17 win against South Florida in their first road game.
“It’s a different breed of cat than we’ve been playing,” Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said.
N.C. State entered the year with hopes of contending for the ACC title thanks to the return of quarterback Mike Glennon and All-American cornerback David Amerson. But Glennon and the offense keep making mistakes, while Amerson has been shaky in the secondary.
Those problems were evident in the Wolfpack’s two biggest games so far.
In the opener against Tennessee in Atlanta, Glennon threw four interceptions while Amerson was beaten on a pair of long touchdowns in a 35-21 loss in a performance that drained some of the buzz that had built through the preseason around Raleigh.
Then, after three straight wins, the Wolfpack turned in a mistake-filled performance in last weekend’s 44-37 loss at Miami.
N.C. State committed six turnovers and committed 14 penalties—its highest total under O’Brien—for 100 yards. In addition, Amerson was beaten on four of Stephen Morris’ five touchdown passes, including a 76-yarder when he thought the play was dead on an offside call and the receiver sprinted right by him for the catch.
“I go back to the fact that we have nobody to blame but ourselves in losing those two games,” O’Brien said. “We feel that we lost them. I don’t think anybody in this building feels we’ve been beaten by anybody other than ourselves and that’s what’s frustrating to this point. … That’s the challenge and the great part of coaching and being around kids and making sure they get focused. And sometimes here we lose our focus, but I think we’ll be focused on Saturday night against this football team coming in.”
The team’s effort to regroup included a players-only meeting earlier in the week. Safety Earl Wolff said the message was simple.
“Basically we said, `If you’re not all-in,”’ Wolff said, “‘you can get out right now.”’
While the turnovers, penalties and shaky play from Amerson are a concern, N.C. State will also have to worry about a reshuffled offensive line against the ACC’s top pass rush with 15 sacks.
Saturday night’s game marks the first time a top-five opponent has visited Carter-Finley Stadium since 1998. That year, the Wolfpack upset the No. 2 Seminoles 24-7.
N.C. State’s players can look to more recent history for motivation. Last season, the Wolfpack upset No. 7 Clemson 37-13 in the program’s first win against a top-10 team under O’Brien.
“I feel like everybody’s up to the competition,” Wolff said. “We’re playing at home with a great crowd. I wouldn’t ask to be anywhere else.”
Associated Press writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.