Will defenses show up in Tallahassee?

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
2:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

NC State coach Tom O’Brien isn’t na´ve -- he knows his pass defense looks like an easy target right now, especially to a Florida State quarterback who is leading the ACC in passing average per game.

“You look at our secondary and as decimated that we are and the young kids we’re playing,” O’Brien said, “I think [Christian] Ponder's probably down there salivating about the opportunity to throw against us.”

The same thing can probably be said, though, for NC State quarterback Russell Wilson -- and he might actually have an easier night than Ponder.

Statistically, Florida State’s defense is worse than the Wolfpack’s. When Florida State hosts NC State on Saturday, it will be a matchup between two pass-happy offenses and two of the league’s most inviting defenses. The two things the Seminoles have in this game that NC State does not are home field advantage and momentum from last Thursday night’s win over North Carolina. So far, though, home field advantage has amounted to little more than a September win over Jacksonville State. The stakes will be much higher this weekend, though, as FSU is still playing for bowl eligibility and the slim chance of sneaking into the ACC championship game.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said he keeps waiting for his defense to “break out.”

“There’s no doubt the key is going to be, is our defense going to get better?” Bowden said. “Stopping people right now has been our biggest problem. … I’ve never liked to approach a season where the only way we’re going to win is by outscoring people. I’ve always felt like you win with defense, you win with kicking, and don’t give it away on offense. This year it’s been more of a shootout year.”

That trend looks to continue this weekend.

“Now if one of the defenses decides to rise up and play the best they can without errors, that could change the whole deal,” Bowden said. “But looking at it on paper, it looks like a shootout.”

Ponder is ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency and leads the ACC with 310.9 yards per game, but most of his standout performances have been nullified by the defense’s inability to make a stop, lending to the Seminoles’ 3-4 record. FSU is ranked last in the ACC in total defense, last in rushing defense, and last in pass defense efficiency. Wilson, last year’s first-team ACC quarterback, has faced similar struggles, as NC State’s defense is No. 10 in the conference in pass defense efficiency and is allowing 215.4 passing yards per game. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis looked like an all-star against the Pack with almost 500 passing yards and five touchdowns, and BC running back Montel Harris got the nation’s attention when he ran for 264 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-20 romp of the Pack on Oct. 17.

It hasn’t helped that NC State has lost a total of 10 players with season-ending injuries this year, and half have been from the defense, including freshman cornerback Rashard Smith and safety Javon Walker. O’Brien said the Pack will be starting its seventh different secondary in eight games, and that they spent the bye week working to limit the big plays and yards after catch.

“You look at the way they’re playing on offense and it seems to indicate we’re going to have to score some points to be in the football game,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to have to work hard to put pressure on (Ponder), and try to disrupt some things and limit the big plays they have, and the scores, but if it comes down to that, then we have to outscore them if we’re going to win the football game.”

Sounds like a shootout.

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