Tallahassee, FL – Opening their ACC schedule with their third straight home game, the fifth-ranked Florida State Seminoles play host to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday afternoon.
Wake Forest escaped with a home win over Liberty in its opener, 20-17. The Demon Deacons then found themselves down six in the fourth quarter in their ACC lidlifter at home against North Carolina, but then mounted a fourth- quarter comeback, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Tanner Price, to win, 28-27.
"I think we were probably trying to have Tanner sit in the pocket too long, and I think when we got away from that and started getting off some quicker throws I think that helped him," head coach Jim Grobe said of Wake Forest's second win of the season. "We just had a bunch of guys step up and make plays in that drive. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Although their first two wins came against inferior competition, it's hard to ask Florida State to start a season in more dominating fashion. After crushing Murray State in the opener, 63-3, the Seminoles blanked Savannah State last week, 55-0, in a weather-shortened game. They have won back-to-back ACC home openers under head coach Jimbo Fisher and if they can win on Saturday, they'll likely remain ranked in the top-10 for the fourth straight week, something they have not accomplished since 2005.
"We are looking forward to a great challenge," Fisher said of the Wake Forest matchup. "It's our ACC opener and it's an intradivisional game so it's a double whammy, so we need to be dotting I's and crossing T's and making sure we are ready to play."
Florida State has a firm handle on the all-time series with Wake Forest, going 23-6-1, with 16 of those wins coming at home. The Seminoles shut out the Deacons the last time the teams met in Tallahassee, 31-0, in 2010.
Although the Wake Forest offense has been average at best this year (24 ppg, 359.5 ypg), it has come up big when it needed to most.
Following a career-high 327 passing yards in the win over North Carolina, Price now has 522 yards on the season on 43-of-66 passing. He has just one passing touchdown paired with two interceptions, but he also has two rushing scores.
Price has been locked in on Michael Campanaro, who after recording career-best catch numbers in consecutive weeks (10, 13) has an FBS-best 23 receptions on the year. His 260 yards receiving is more than double that of the next highest Deacon (Brandon Terry, five catches for 125 yards).
The Wake running game has been stuffed so far this year, gaining only 162 yards on 72 attempts (2.2 ypc). Deandre Martin (87 yards, two TDs) has been the most effective back.
Much like the offense, the defense has come up big in the clutch for Wake Forest, holding UNC to just a pair of field goals late in the game when it looked as though it was going to put the game away.
Riley Hayes (17 tackles, sack, INT) and Justin Jackson (16 tackles, two sacks) have been the most active members of the defense. A.J. Marshall returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown in the win over Liberty.
Although its numbers are bit skewed having faced two low-level FCS squads, Florida State's offensive production has been off the charts (62 points and 509.5 yards per game).
E.J. Manuel hasn't been asked to do much in the early going, but he has played very well regardless, completing 27-of-35 passes for 349 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. In the blowout wins, backups Clint Trickett (13-of-17, 183 yards) and Jacob Coker (2-of-4, 35 yards, TD) have also seen time under center.
A whopping 15 players have already caught a pass for the Seminoles. Kenny Shaw (seven catches, 112 yards, TD), Kelvin Benjamin (six catches, 96 yards, two TDs) and Rodney Smith (five catches, 81 yards, TDs) appear to be the team's go-to guys.
Behind a massive offensive line, the Florida State running game has gained 452 yards and 11 touchdowns in the early going. Devonta Freeman (133 yards, TD) and James Wilder, Jr. (126 yards, four TDs) garner the most touches and each averages more than 7.8 yards per carry.
The Florida State defense has been impenetrable so far, with just three points allowed on a lowly 92 yards per game.
The unit has made 15 stops in the backfield and posted seven sacks, led by Bjoern Werner with five sacks. Werner has stepped up as the primary pass rusher in the absence of Brandon Jenkins, who was lost for the year with a foot injury. Xavier Rhodes has made the lone interception and he also has two pass breakups and three passes defended.