Fast start helps Wolfpack add to Florida State’s woes

NC State bounced back from two straight ACC losses with a convincing 38-22 win against its ACC Atlantic Division rival

Thayer Thomas high-steps into the end zone for the second of his two touchdowns against Florida State on Saturday (ACC pool photo)

Florida State was once the gold standard of ACC football, with 12 conference championships in its first 14 seasons in the league from 1992-2005.

But that’s not the case anymore.

The Seminoles have fallen on hard times in recent years and Saturday night, NC State added to their woes with a convincing 38-22 victory at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Quarterback Bailey Hockman, who started his college career at FSU, threw for a personal-best 265 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score while Thayer Thomas caught 11 passes and scored twice to help the Wolfpack (5-3, 5-3 ACC) break a two-game losing streak.

Coach Dave Doeren’s team got off to a strong start by scoring on its opening drive and put the game away by dominating on both sides of the ball through the first three periods to beat the Seminoles (2-6, 1-6 ACC) and surpass its win total from all last season.

Three thoughts

1. A lot of people had given up on Hockman after State’s beatdown at North Carolina two games ago, but the former Florida State transfer has responded with the two best games of his Wolfpack career.

He was especially good against his former team Saturday, getting off to a quick start by completing his first eight passes on the game’s opening drive on his way to a tone-setting touchdown. He finished the night 24 of 34 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for another score. His only mistake was an interception long after the issue was settled on a play in which FSU’s Jarvis Brownlee caught the ball with his legs as he was falling down.

Over the past two weeks, Hockman is completing 69% of his passes for 513 yards, five touchdowns while leading the Wolfpack to 79 points.

2. The Seminoles, with nothing much to lose, went for it on fourth down seven times during the game. They converted five of them, including one that went for a 28-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.

The only one of those fourth down tries that really mattered, though, was the first one.

With State leading 7-0 on the final play of the opening quarter, Payton Wilson and Val Martin combined to stop running back Jashaun Corbin for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from the FSU 30-yard line. It turned out to be a pivotal stop as the Wolfpack needed only three plays to take advantage of the short field and get into the end zone.

3. Granted, the Seminoles’ offense is a patchwork unit that started four freshmen on the offensive line and used two true freshmen at quarterback. But a Wolfpack defense that had been burned for 40 or more points four times in its first seven games — including 48 and 41 in its last two — didn’t let FSU get anything going until long after the issue had been settled.

The Seminoles were only able to muster 97 rushing yards and 93 passing yards through three quarters. The final numbers, 347 yards and 22 points, were skewed by a blown coverage in the secondary and a couple of long quarterback scrambles that led to 13 fourth quarter points. Linebackers Isaiah Moore and Wilson led the way with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Nickel Tyler-Baker Williams intercepted his first career pass late in the first half.

Number to Know

10 — The number of wins State has against Florida State since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. That’s the second-most of any conference member behind only Clemson’s 11. The Wolfpack has now won three of the past four matchups with its Atlantic Division rival and has outscored FSU 75-17 in the first quarters of the past six meetings.

They Said It

“Last week (Thomas) had one catch for nine yards and I told him after practice this week, ‘I’m coming to you. I got you, bro.’ And he told me, ‘Let’s just keep working. We’re going to get it.’ And it just happened. Sometimes that’s how it goes. I’m proud of him. He did a great job.”

— Quarterback Bailey Hockman on his connection with receiver Thayer Thomas

Player of the Game

Thayer Thomas, NC State wide receiver — The junior, who came into the game with only 16 catches all season, set the tone by catching six on the game’s opening drive. And that was only the beginning. Hockman kept looking for him, especially on third down, and Thomas kept catching it. He finished with career-high totals of 11 receptions, 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Critical thinking

The Wolfpack came into the game as a double-digit favorite against a struggling team that lost four key players this week to dismissals, transfer and injuries. But that’s what made this game a dangerous one given State’s history of underperforming in games it is expected to win.

This time, though, the Wolfpack did what it had to do by getting off to a fast start, playing with the lead, not letting the Seminoles’ young quarterbacks gain confidence and taking advantage of its opportunities.

Offensively, Hockman showed that he can put two solid performances together while Zonovan Knight provided balance by rushing for 94 yards and a score.

Although the defense gave up a pair of window dressing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, its performance was also an encouraging sign for a final three-game stretch of winnable games against Liberty, Syracuse and Georgia Tech.