Three key matchups to watch for Florida State against North Carolina

After a solid showing against fourth-ranked Notre Dame, Florida State returns to Tallahassee to welcome another top five team. The Seminoles will host the fifth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday night, at 7:30 p.m on ABC.  The last time these two met, in 2016, the Tar Heels converted a game-winning field goal to walk away with a 37-35 upset. Fast forward to the 2020 season, and both programs have undergone drastic changes, both for better and worse. 

Here are three matchups that FSU must make the most of if they hope to gain their second mark in the win column.  

1. Sam Howell vs FSU Defense 

Seminole fans should be all too familiar with Howell. The 6’1, 215lb sophomore gunslinger was once the prized recruit of the 2019 FSU recruiting class. After the departure of former offensive coordinator Walt Bell, Howell flipped to North Carolina after a push from Mack Brown. As a freshman, Howell set the FBS true freshman record with 38 touchdown passes, while also winning the 2019 ACC Offensive and Overall Rookie of the Year. In their last win, over Virginia Tech, Howell had his most efficient performance of the season. He finished 18-for-23, with 257 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The defensive line has been a disappointment, so it is unrealistic to expect much of a pass rush. Howell has the ability to move out of the pocket, so the FSU secondary must be able to cover for long periods of time and stay disciplined on a speedy receiving core. If not, Howell and the Tar Heel air attack will carve up the FSU defense and put up points in a hurry.

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2. UNC Rush Offense vs FSU Rush Defense 

Howell is not the only ingredient to the high-powered Tar Heels offense, which averages a staggering 506.7 yards per game. The backfield tandem of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter can make a case for best in the country. In their win over Virginia Tech, the two put on a rushing clinic. They each eclipsed the 160-yard mark, and finished by combining for 383 yards and four touchdowns. Through four games, the FSU defense has not been particularly impressive against the run. We saw it on display last weekend in South Bend. The defensive line was unable to get any push up front, and the linebackers struggled to fill gaps and make tackles. Amari Gainer, who leads the team in tackles (32), has been making plays all over the field. Hopefully, younger guys like Brendan Gant and Stephen Dix Jr., who each have improved with increased playing time, continue to help in the run department. If not, be careful, Carter and Williams could have a field day in Doak Campbell Stadium. 

3. FSU Pass Offense vs UNC Pass Defense 

Against Notre Dame, Jordan Travis and the Seminoles passing game looked drastically improved. Travis looked comfortable staying in the pocket, rolling out on play-action, and using his feet to create better passing angles. Tamorrion Terry looked like the star we are all used to,  torching the Irish secondary for 9 catches for 146 yards, and one touchdown. How will the offense respond with Terry now sidelined for at least a couple of weeks with a knee injury? Many are predicting a high scoring affair, so anticipate the passing attack to be utilized often if the game picks up speed. Chazz Surratt, a former quarterback turned linebacker, will be sitting in the middle of the field anchoring the Tar Heel defense. In this matchup, keep an eye on the possibility of Surratt lining up in the slot to cover, or acting as a spy on Travis.

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