TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NWN) — North Carolina State isn’t in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic Division, but the Wolfpacks know they control their own destiny and the road ahead includes matchups that will put them in a position to claim their first football division . Heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It will begin with Saturday night’s matchup against Florida State.
“It certainly feels good to be in the hunt,” said Ikem Ekwonu. “I know coach (Dave) Doreen has said something a while ago that NC State has been in this position. It definitely means a lot and it is definitely good to be on the way to end the season. We have a lot of control.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for me. It’s not really dependent on any other people. We don’t have to depend on another team to win or anything like that.”
NC State (6-2, 3-1 ACC) lost in Miami on October 23 and dropped out of the top 25, but the Wolfpack made a comeback with last week’s home win against Louisville. The state of North Carolina has never represented the Atlantic Division in a championship game since the ACC introduced a two-division format in 2005.
But the Wolfpack can’t afford to get ahead of themselves and look at the state of Florida (3-5, 2-3).
The Seminoles are coming off a 30-20 loss at Clemson last week and live up to their slim hopes of reaching a bowl after missing out on the 2020 season. It’s been a wild ride for Florida State – winning three straight from September 0-4 before falling to Clemson.
“It was a challenging first month but we got up,” said Florida State coach Mike Norwell. “We responded. We carried on. There were four weeks of positive momentum, a lot of things we’re developing and building on. On Saturday we fell again.
“The only sin is if you stay on that ground. We’ll jump up and move on.”
Some other things to look for when NC State travels to Florida State:
Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary has flown under the radar at large numbers at other state events, along with Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.
Leary is 17th in the Bowl subdivision rank (270.1 yards per game), just behind Howell (274.0). And he is in 10th place, just behind TD Throw (21), Hartmann (22) and ahead of Howell (19).
Leary has also thrown just two interceptions this year.
“Defending football is the best way to win,” said Wolfpack coach Dave Doren. “When your quarterback is doing what’s ours from that point of view, he’s giving us the best chance to win, not just his hand or his accuracy – because he doesn’t help the other team.”
Redshirt freshman Chubba Purdy announced Wednesday that he intends to transfer, down three scholarship quarterbacks, to Florida State. Among the Seminoles are Jordan Travis and Mackenzie Milton, who both debuted this fall as well as redshirt freshman Tate Roadmaker’s games.
The game marks a homecoming of sorts for Wolfpack defensive tackle Corey Durden, a graduate transfer who played the last three seasons at Florida State and started 15 games.
“With the mindset of this team that we have, I can’t get too caught up in the emotional baggage,” Durden said. “I just have to play disciplined football and be the best (teammate) so that we can win. Ultimately this is the goal. It’s well ahead of Corey v. State of Florida.”
The NC State defense has lost four starts this year to season-ending injuries, including all-ACC linebacker Peyton Wilson and fellow linebacker Isaiah Moore. But the Wolfpack put Louisville on 13 points last week, 11 less than the Cardinals’ last season’s low.
“We never really worry about the conditions because we know that when we go to practice, we trust our coaches 100%,” said safety Tanner Ingle. “We know that whatever they give us, whatever their plans, we believe in them.”
Defensive end Jermaine Johnson, a transfer graduate from Georgia, has brought production and energy into the Seminoles’ front four. Johnson leads the ACC with eight sacks and 11 tackles for losses, the most for a Florida State player since Brian Burns had 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses in 2018.
NWN sports writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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