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UNC - Florida State game preview

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UNC looks to find a signature win at Doak Campbell Stadium against Florida State

Florida State v North Carolina Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

This Saturday UNC will take on Florida State at 3:30 in Doak Campbell Stadium. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since UNC went to Doak Campbell Stadium and pulled out a win in 2010.

I’ve heard different takes on Florida State and the consensus seems to be that people don’t really seem to believe that FSU is the juggernaut it was expected to be. Fans are more optimistic for this game than they first were when looking at UNC’s schedule.

Fans seem to think that FSU isn’t as good as everyone thought due largely to their 63-20 beat down loss to Louisville. Two things may be true here: either this is true, and FSU isn’t as good as everyone thinks, or Louisville is that scary good. It most likely is a combination of the two. Lamar Jackson is a human video game, and FSU didn’t deserve their preseason top 5 ranking.

Regardless, UNC will have their hands full on the road against a top 15 team, led by one of the better quarterback-running back tandems in the country. I personally am worried for this game. Why? Because it’s Florida State! It’s also on the road in a tough environment, against a team that is looking to beat up on someone to prove that they are still a dominant brand name in college football.

This is a statement game for UNC. This is a second chance to prove themselves nationally. Carolina started off last year on the wrong foot, gained ground and disappointed in the season opener again this year against Georgia. They keep saying how everyone is sleeping on them. Beat Florida State in Doak Campbell, and no one will be sleeping on you anymore. This is their moment to shine.

UNC offense

UNC and Mitch Trubisky look like they are finally getting the offense clicking. After a slow start against Georgia, it seems as though UNC is producing the type of offense we have come accustomed to seeing.

The last piece of the puzzle (big plays down the field) has finally been found. Which UNC can/needs to take advantage of as this looks to be an Achilles heel for FSU. Just last weekend FSU gave up the longest play for the program in the last 12 seasons, a pass for an 84 yard touchdown. UNC has 12 plays this year of over 30 yards, so if any team can capitalize on this, it is UNC and their big play wide receivers.

How will the UNC offense fare against Florida State? Glad you asked.

UNC honestly shouldn’t have a whole lot of trouble scoring on Florida State **knocks on wood** because no one has really. UNC brings in a potent offense ranking 6th nationally with 7.4 yards per play. FSU brings an incredibly porous defense ranking 121st nationally, giving up 6.8 yards per play.

Florida State is clearly fielding one of the worst defensive teams in their program’s history. Most people already know that the 63 points dropped by Louisville was the most given up by any FSU team ever. What people may not know is that FSU has given up roughly 35 points per game and through the first three games of the season they gave up 105 points which tied for the most in the school’s history through three games.

To give that some context, UNC gave up 84 points through three games, and teams were averaging 28 points per game against the Heels. Granted, FSU has gone up against the likes of Ole Miss and Louisville, but regardless, the team’s defense is struggling mightily.

Just take this past weekend against USF for example. FSU gave up 450 yards of total offense on 8.1 yards per play. USF’s quarterback, Quinton Flowers, had 18 carries for 159 yards. With both teams struggling to stop the run, or most things teams throw at them, we should see a whole lot of offense on Saturday. First one to 50 wins?

How have teams had success against FSU? Two words, one hyphen, dual-threat quarterbacks. Florida State’s last five losses have come against teams led by superior dual-threat quarterbacks. This list includes Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech), Deshaun Watson (Clemson), Greg Ward Jr. (Houston), and now Lamar Jackson (Louisville). In these five losses, teams are averaging nearly 500 yards of offense and 41 points per game.

Could this be Mitch Trubisky’s true coming out game? We know what he can do, but he still isn’t a household name in America. This could very well be his official coming out party against a historic college football program in Florida State. Trubisky possesses all of the traits of the other quarterbacks listed. Larry Fedora and the UNC staff just need to use him in a way to exploit the Seminoles’ defense. I’m talking read options, run pass options (RPOs), designed runs, essentially anything to promote and utilize Trubisky’s ability to be dynamic on the field.

Trubisky doesn’t necessarily have to run for 100 yards, he just needs to be involved in the run game, like he was against Illinois. Against Illinois, Trubisky ran the ball nine times for 42 yards. This was arguably one of his most efficient games and his highest QBR aside from the JMU game.

The Heels may also benefit most from running the ball more than usual. There are two reasons for this thought. The first is that FSU has 13 sacks this year, ranking them 13th nationally. Protecting Trubisky from this pass rush will be important. If the Heels have trouble protecting him, they are going to need to run the ball more to keep the defense honest.

Aside from this, teams that have had success against Florida State ran the ball a lot. In those five most recent losses, teams have ran the ball an average of 47 times. The quarterbacks on those teams ran the ball an average of 15 times per game.

On top of this, FSU has the 103rd ranked rushing defense in the country, giving up 5.5 ypc and 205.8 yards on the ground per game. If UNC decides to run the ball more, especially with Trubisky, the Heels should find success against FSU come Saturday.

UNC defense

First and foremost, UNC needs to stop the run. Stop me if you have heard this before. Nonetheless, this aspect of the game will be huge Saturday. UNC comes in ranked 120th nationally in run defense against a team that ranks 15th in rushing, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

This is something that should have Tar Heel fans worried, and I haven’t even mentioned Dalvin Cook yet. Cook ranks 8th nationally in total rushing yards and boasts 6.3 yards per attempt, and people think he is having an “off year.”

Aside from a struggling run defense, UNC, like FSU, has struggled against running quarterbacks in the past. This list includes guys like Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett, and Everett Golson. Deondre Francois isn’t necessarily a running quarterback, he’s only ran the ball 37 times for 97 yards, but the kid is mobile and can run with the best of them when he needs to.

The stat above is somewhat misleading as he accumulated -3 and -34 yards in games 2 and 3. However, in the season opener against Ole Miss, he ran the ball nine times for 59 yards and last week he ran the ball 10 times for 75 yards. I think it is safe to say that my previous statement still stands, the kid can run when necessary. UNC has not seen a running quarterback this year, and that is not comforting.

Half the reason Francois is ever running the ball is because FSU’s offensive line has been downright terrible this year. The Heels have had their struggles staying healthy on the defensive line but getting players back like Nazair Jones will help them tremendously as it was obvious how significant his role is to the d-line after his absence against JMU. UNC may also see the return of Dajaun Drennon from a broken foot he suffered last spring, but we have been hearing that now for a few weeks so let’s not bank on that happening quite yet.

One way Louisville had so much success against Francois was by giving him disguised looks and bringing pressure from different areas throughout the game. Francois is good, and he’s probably going to be real good, but right now he is a freshman and he reads the game at a freshman level. UNC needs to disguise things on defense and bring pressure from different areas in order to confuse the young quarterback.

If Francois can’t get going, look for FSU to run the ball a lot. It isn’t new information to anyone that UNC has struggled mightily against the run. I, like probably everyone else who has ever seen the Tar Heels play, expect the Seminoles to run the ball against Carolina. FSU already averages around 46 rushes per game. I expect them to meet or exceed this number Saturday.

UNC knows it’s coming, and they need to stop it. They need to stop Dalvin Cook before he even gets started. A freshman quarterback’s best friend is a good running back, and Francois will lean on Cook when he struggles. Teams have honed in on Cook all season and have kept him relatively in check, aside from the USF game this past weekend. This has been key to stopping Florida State. Stopping the run and forcing a freshman quarterback to beat you seems to be the recipe for success against the ‘Noles so far this season.

Before last Saturday I thought about writing about how it has to be a matter of time before Cook shakes the rust off and blows the doors off some team. Well, it happened. Thank goodness that team was USF and not UNC. Last week Cook ran for 267 yards on 28 carries. It looks like he is fully back to form and that’s not good for the Tar Heels.

One important thing UNC must do in order to contain Cook is make the initial first tackle. Cook thrives off of running through contact, as just last week he had 175 yards after contact. UNC needs to gang tackle, wrap up, and bring him down. They can’t afford to let him bully his way to more yards.

UNC has seen more running option schemes more this year. FSU is more of a downhill, old-school running team. The good news is that UNC has been relatively effective in stopping this kind of scheme. The only other team that ran this type of offense so far against UNC was Georgia. Aside from Chubb’s 55 yard touchdown run, UNC kept him in somewhat in check.

Conclusion

UNC wins if they

-Run the ball, and stop the run. This will be a “UNC wins if…” scenario every single week

-Use Mitch Trubisky as a true dual-threat quarterback, giving him more carries than usual

-Force freshman quarterback Deondre Francois to beat them, and work to confuse him with pre-snap defensive scheme

-Keep Dalvin Cook in check, and limit his yards after contact

Florida State wins if they

-Limit Trubisky’s effectiveness

-Protect Deondre Francois and open up running lanes for Dalvin Cook

-Allow Deondre Francois to read the defense and make plays with his arm and legs

-Get Dalvin Cook going