College Football: Florida State visits N.C. State tonight
By Aaron Beard
RALEIGH ó Last season, North Carolina State had the look of a team going nowhere until its off week. The Wolfpack emerged from that break with a surge that got the team within a victory of bowl eligibility.
N.C. State is hoping for a repeat performance, starting tonight against Florida State in a game that both teams need to keep up in their ACC division race.
The Wolfpack (2-4, 0-2) has lost two straight games and is the only winless team in the Atlantic Division, while the Seminoles (4-1, 1-1) suffered their only loss to division leader Wake Forest and trail by essentially two games when factoring in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The game also marks the return for former Wolfpack coach and Seminoles assistant Chuck Amato to Carter-Finley Stadium, where he spent seven seasons leading N.C. State’s program.
The Wolfpack, plagued by injuries and inconsistent play, at least has cause for optimism considering last year’s late-season push. N.C. State lost five of six games to open Tom O’Brien’s tenure heading into its week off, but used that break to work on fundamentals and correct recurring problems. His team then won four straight games to even its record before losing to Wake Forest and Maryland to close the year.
The Wolfpack’s past two games were a lopsided loss to ranked South Florida and a 38-31 home loss to Boston College in which N.C. State gave up 578 total yards and the winning touchdown in the final seconds.
“We went back and certainly we didn’t have as much time as a year ago, but you go back and through every snap you’ve taken and you look at every player that’s taken that snap,” O’Brien said of this year’s off week. “The key is trying to figure out if you’re doing the best for the football team you have, that you’re asking them to do things they’re capable of doing. You take that from there and build on it.”
Amato’s return also adds spice to a series that has seen the Wolfpack take four of seven meetings. He compiled a 49-37 record with five bowl appearances before being fired at the end of the 2006 season, leading to O’Brien’s hiring from Boston College.
Amato said last week that he has no grudges and that he expected it would be a tough and emotional visit, particularly when he sees all the improvements at Carter-Finley that began during his time in Raleigh. At least some of his former players figure to have an emotional response to seeing him on the opposite sideline, though it’s not quite the same as last year when they met as opponents in Tallahassee for the first time.
“We haven’t talked about it and we’re not making it a big deal,” sophomore receiver Jarvis Williams said. “I’m sure our fans are going to be enthused with it being Coach Amato, someone who recruited half the team that’s still here. We just know we have to come with it because he’s going to come with it on his side of the ball.”