Week 3 brings Jimbo Fisher and FSU its first real challenge of the young season with a visit from Atlantic Division rival Wake Forest.
Even though the third week of the college football season is approaching, the Florida State Seminoles will unofficially begin their season this weekend when Atlantic Division foe Wake Forest visits Doak Campbell Stadium.
After winning their first two games against FCS opponents by a combined score of 124-3, the Seminoles' version of preseason is over.
The Demon Deacons have beaten FSU in four of the last six meetings, including last season’s 35-30 upset in Winston-Salem.
However, Jimbo Fisher and the No. 5 Seminoles enter this matchup as a heavy favorite.
How can the ‘Noles avoid another upset at the hands of the Demon Deacons?
Here are five keys to FSU’s game against Wake Forest.
Grobe and the Demon Deacons have taken four of the last six from FSU.
Wake Forest brings a 2-0 record into this game, but from a talent and firepower standpoint, Jim Grobe’s squad is clearly outmanned.
But in their last four wins over FSU, Wake was able to get on the scoreboard first.
If Florida State can jump out to an early lead and force Wake to play catchup against their stingy and veteran defense, it could be a long day for the Demon Deacons and quarterback Tanner Price.
Christian Jones and the FSU LBs will have to maintain their gaps against Wake's misdirection attack.
Wake Forest has consistently gashed the Seminoles defense with misdirection plays in their wins over FSU—including last season’s win when Wake running back Josh Harris carried the ball 13 times for 136 yards (the only rusher to top 100 yards against FSU last year).
The Seminoles' defense—which finished second nationally in rush defense in 2011 and has maintained that spot through two weeks this season—must do a better job at staying disciplined in its gaps.
Also, the ‘Noles have to avoid the costly penalties that have doomed them in games like these—as evidenced in last year’s loss when Fisher’s club was penalized 13 times for 109 yards.
The good news for Seminoles fans is that FSU has only been flagged five times in their opening two wins—a trend that Fisher hopes to see continue this weekend and throughout the course of the season. (h/t Coley Harvey, Orlando Sentinel)
EJ Manuel and the 'Noles could make this game a lot easier if they don't turn the ball over.
FSU’s five-point loss last season to Wake was remarkable in some aspects considering the amount of penalty yards, and also because the Seminoles turned the ball over five times.
If quarterback E.J. Manuel and the 'Noles offense can avoid those types of miscues, this game could turn into the blowout victory most observers around the nation expect to see.
It would also help if the ‘Noles could turn the table on their division rivals and force them into mistakes.
In their last two wins over Wake Forest, FSU forced the Demon Deacons into four turnovers and only committed three in return.
Thompson should find more room to run against Wake Forest this weekend.
With the status of preseason All-ACC defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock in doubt due to an ankle injury suffered in Wake’s 28-27 win over North Carolina last week, the Seminoles revamped offensive line should be licking its chops to attack an undersized Demon Deacons defensive line. (h/t, Coley Harvey, Orlando Sentinel)
Even if Whitlock plays, the Seminoles offense will enjoy a size advantage of nearly 65 pounds per man in the trenches—which should bring smiles to FSU running backs Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman.
If Florida State can successfully pound the ball on the ground between the tackles, it should help Fisher and his offensive seize control of the tempo and the game.
Rashad Greene and the 'Noles must take care of Wake before thinking about next weekend's showdown with Clemson.
Taking into account that the Seminoles are favored by nearly four touchdowns, and the fact that their hyped prime-time showdown with No. 12 Clemson looms next weekend, FSU cannot afford to take this game lightly.
With this weekend’s game slated to kickoff at noon (EST), it’s imperative that the ‘Noles remain focused on getting off to a good start in conference play.
With Wake representing a significantly greater challenge compared to what FSU has faced thus far, Fisher must get his team keyed in on stepping up to the challenge and playing like a team that is ranked No. 5 in the country.