Inside the Top 25

Originally Published: November 10, 2004
Scouts Inc.
Most of the Top 25 is in action this week. In fact, 23 of the 25 teams will hit the field, including the highly anticipated No. 5 Georgia at No. 3 Auburn contest. In other top games, No. 17 Miami travels to No. 11 Virginia and No. 25 Texas Tech visits No. 23 Texas A&M.

Thursday, Nov. 11
Raleigh, N.C.
7:30 p.m. ET - ESPN
When Florida State has the ball: The Wolfpack defense seems to be wearing down. After carrying the team (15.3 points allowed) in the first six games, the tired unit has surrendered an average of 31.7 in the last three losses. If it has anything, though, Thursday night's visit from the Seminoles should bring it out. FSU RB Lorenzo Booker has terrific quickness and is a versatile weapon, but the team misses the consistency and power of Leon Washington. N.C. State continues to smother opposing running attacks and has enough defensive speed to keep Booker in check. The Wolfpack defense has enough athletes and an aggressive enough scheme under coordinator Reggie Herring to exploit the Seminoles' mess at quarterback. Wyatt Sexton's best games have come against teams like Virginia, which backed off the pressure and played a lot of soft coverages. The Wolfpack, though, will turn pass rushers like DE Manny Lawson (six sacks) and LBs Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay (four sacks) and Pat Thomas four sacks) loose and force Sexton to make quick decisions. If the secondary can capitalize on Sexton's mistakes, it could be the difference in this game.
When N.C. State has the ball: The Wolfpack offense ranks 88th in the nation in scoring. RB T.A. McLendon has uncharacteristically remained healthy despite shouldering a massive load, but he can only do so much. With QB Jay Davis continuing to struggle – 14 interceptions to just nine touchdowns – FSU's already aggressive and athletic defense can turn up the heat even more. The Seminoles have had some meltdowns as a team, but their defense's worst performance was the 20 points it allowed to Maryland. With DTs Travis Johnson (14.5 tackles for loss) and Charles Howard (four sacks) generating pressure up the middle and DE Eric Moore (2.5 sacks) and LB Ernie Sims (4.5 sacks) getting involved on the perimeter, Davis should be under constant duress. No matter how successful McLendon is on the ground, if Davis throws the ball up for grabs against a secondary that boasts playmakers such as FS Pat Watkins and DC Antonio Cromartie, who have a combined eight interceptions, the N.C. State offense will continue to let the team down.
Bottom line: N.C. State is slumping, having lost three consecutive games. Its offense continues to falter and its defense is wearing down. But that could change when the Seminoles visit. The Wolfpack needs to win its final two games to be bowl-eligible for the fifth-consecutive year under coach Chuck Amato, and outside of Miami's Larry Coker, there isn't a coach out there that has Bobby Bowden's number like Amato does. An assistant under Bowden for 18 years, Amato has used his knowledge of the Seminoles' system to win three of the last four from Florida State, including the 2001 historic 34-28 win in 2001 in Tallahassee, the Seminoles' first-ever ACC loss at home. If N.C. State can pressure Sexton into some mistakes, and if McLendon & Co. can capitalize on some short-field opportunities, the team will snap its losing streak in grand fashion.
Prediction: N.C. State 20, Florida State 19