Wolfpack Ready, Waiting for FSU
By BJ Bennett
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NC State is finishing their preparations for one of their top home games in years. With an 8pm start and an ESPN2 audience, the Wolfpack will look to rewrite their wrongs on a grand stage.
With Florida State's return to the top of the national polls comes expectations, pressure and the weekly spotlight of being a championship contender. With that stature also comes the consistent best effort of each and every opponent on the schedule. While a road trip to North Carolina State may simply be the next game on the Seminoles' schedule, it's a primetime opportunity for Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack. A team that has swung and missed in its two biggest games of the year thus far has a chance to hit a home run Saturday night in Raleigh.
NC State has actually won four of the last seven games played at Carter-Finley Stadium in this series. For many in the Wolfpack family, a home tussle with a highly-ranked team in garnet and gold will prompt memories of one of the most famous games in ACC history. Nearly a decade-and-a-half ago, Torry Holt and NC State stunned Florida State 24-7 in a game where eventual Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke was intercepted six times.
"I still get chills thinking about it. True freshman, just out of high school, and I'm in the biggest game ever. All of those interceptions...the defensive backs called themselves the 'rough riders' at the time and those guys were unbelievable.We had great leadership with Torry Holt, Lloyd Harrison, all of those guys. It was an unbelievable time," former NCSU All-American linebacker Levar Fisher (1998-2001) recalled. "It's like we had Florida State's number. Even at the time when they were at their peak, we had their number. When Chuck Amato came in, we just took it to another level. I was able to get them there again when Chuck came in."
Saturday night's meeting has a throwback feel in the sense that the Seminoles come in ranked in the national top three. Florida State is sixth in the nation in scoring offense at 51 points per game and seventh in the naton in scoring defense at just over eleven points per game allowed. Undefeated FSU is favored by over two touchdowns. As heavy underdogs, NC State enters this weekend with all of the pressure on their opponent.
"We had nothing to lose," remembered Fisher, who went 2-2 against the Seminoles during his career. "I think a lot of teams took that approach, but we had great athletes. I think NC State always has great athletes. To take you back to where I was, back then my whole mindset was we had nothing to lose. 'These guys think they are big time, we are going to make them earn it today'. That was our mindset."
Florida State senior quarterback E.J. Manuel begins week six as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. He leads the ACC in passer rating, having completed 73% of his throws with nine touchdowns and just one interception. NC State's Mike Glennon, however, is currently tied with Clemson's Tajh Boyd for the division lead in passing yards with 1,422. This will be a showcase of sorts for the lanky pocket-passer. Glennon is looking for redemption after throwing for just 130 yards and two interceptions in a shutout loss to the 'Noles a season ago.
"This right here, you can show the world what kind of guy you are right now. If you're Mike Glennon, you can prove to the world that you are one of the best quarterbacks in college. He's a big guy, big frame, big arm. I love the guy to death. It's time for him to show why Coach O'Brien didn't keep Russell Wilson in for another year," Fisher detailed.
Though NC State stands at just 3-2, both of their losses have come away from home. The season-opening struggle against Tennessee took place in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Last weekend's heart-breaker against Miami was down on South Beach. Dating back to last year, the Wolfpack have won their last seven games at Carter-Finley Stadium. For a team in need of an extra boost, the comfort of their friendly confines may prove to be invaluable. As Fisher explains, the psychology of a big game like this can oftentimes be the deciding factor.
"It's 100% mental. Yes, you have to have some athletes. You have executive," he stated. "Thank God they are coming to us. I remember going to Florida. You see that horse and they throw the dagger in the ground, the crowd goes crazy. Those guys are jumping around. You can become very intimated. But, you know, they are on our turf."
While the loss to the Hurricanes still stings, extra motivation could be one of the silver linings stemming from that late-game disappointment.
"After losing to Miami, those guys have to make somebody pay. I think Florida State is a good team, but they just caught NC State on a bad week. Those guys are going to be ready, they are going to have that 'nothing to lose' attitude. I think it's going to be an upset," Fisher predicted.
NC State is finishing their final preparations for one of their biggest home games in years. With an 8pm start time and an ESPN2 national audience, the Wolfpack will look to rewrite some early season wrongs on a grand stage. A win would have the 'Pack right in the middle of the ACC Atlantic Division race and would offer incredible momentum for the rest of the year. A loss might force an expectation adjustment as State would be riding a two-game conference losing streak heading into their bye week. It's a pivotal point in the season, and maybe even a key time in recent program history.
"Whether those guys understand it or not, even I didn't understand it when I was there, they have so many fans out there. Those guys have so many different fans, so many different alumni that are rooting, throwing parties, doing everything they can to support them. I hope they understand that and I think they do. I think Coach O'Brien, he's getting them on the right track. He has their mindset right," Fisher added. "But the other thing about it, and it's frustrating. And I know when I was there, I was frustrating other alums as well. When you think they are supposed to win, they don't. When you think they don't have a shot, they go in and upset somebody. That has been the story for NC State for many, many years."
As the chains are stretched Saturday night when the Wolfpack and Seminoles meet, markers won't just grade first downs. Against one of the nation's best teams and a foe they know all too well, NC State football will be constantly measuring itself.