Our game week preview series continues today as Dylan Kidd of the outrageously popular Tomahawk Nation stops by to drop some knowledge on the Noles and what we might expect to see tomorrow night.
CC: All season long, this has felt like a showcase game for Louisville. But now with FSU falling in the rankings, all the off-the-field stuff and so many national experts putting them on upset alert, it almost feels like this has become a showcase or statement game for the Seminoles. Do you get that sense?
TN: To an extent, yeah. I think the mantra is still "just win," because an undefeated FSU will not be left out of the playoff, and even a one-loss FSU has a chance. But it sure would be nice to put a full game together and beat a good Louisville team on the road with the whole country watching.
Unfortunately, though, I'm not sure how much credit a solid win would garner FSU in the national media's eyes, because I don't think most appreciate how good Louisville is. We know they're an excellent defensive team with an offense that's getting healthy and improving in Petrino's first season, and that he's got extra prep time for FSU in his home stadium on a Thursday night. I still think most of the country would shrug their shoulders at something like a 31-10 FSU win, which we would consider an excellent performance. Even a hard-fought, close win would probably only further the notion of FSU as non-dominant team.
So while I'd really love to see a high-quality performance in what we know will be a tough game, I don't know that I'd call it a statement game for FSU, because the key is just to win, since the ‘Noles likely won't get much credit for how they do it either way.
CC: Last year's Florida State team was one of the most dominant college football squads in recent memory, but now there's this perception that the 2014 Noles have sort of "limped" to their 7-0 record. Why do you think that is?
TN: I think that it's in large part due to a comparison of this team with that 2013 team. It's taken a while, but I think we've finally gotten to the point where most of the FSU fanbase realizes that's just not a wise thing to do. That team was the pinnacle, probably the best that Florida State has ever fielded. Though the ‘Noles returned a significant amount of talent this season, they also lost a bunch as well, and this team just isn't 2013 quality. So in that sense, the perception is earned.
FSU also hasn't fared nearly as well with injury luck, which was absurdly good last season. Another thing we were and are concerned about is the replacement of senior leadership and football IQ, particularly on defense. Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, and Timmy Jernigan have proven extremely tough to replace, particularly in those two areas.
I think another part of it is that FSU has faced a tougher slate of teams to date, particularly at the quarterback position. 2013 FSU didn't face a group of quarterbacks like J.W. Walsh, Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett, and Everett Golson all season, while 2014 FSU nearly did it in the first half of the season.
These factors, along with general inconsistency, have led to the ‘Noles playing in much closer games in 2014. I think you hit the nail on the head with the perception of "limping to 7-0." Nobody in the media would be of that perception had the 2013 ‘Noles not been such world beaters and gone like 9-3, but if that's one negative effect of having such a dominant team a year prior, I think all FSU fans will take it.
CC: Where's the one area where Florida State has a clear advantage over Louisville?
TN: I'll go with FSU's pass rushers against Louisville's offensive line. But it's also worth noting that the Seminoles are pretty banged up in the front seven, and possibly even more than we know.
The one position FSU couldn't afford to lose a player to injury was nose tackle, and sure enough Nile Lawrence-Stample went down for the season in week three. His backup, Derrick Mitchell, has also been injured and clearly wasn't 100% against Notre Dame. Neither was defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., of whom the FSU defense is asking herculean amounts both inside and outside. Linebackers Eligwe, Pugh, and Levenberry will not play against Louisville, and we just don't know how much Mitchell and Edwards will have recovered, though thankfully they got a few extra days.
Even still, FSU has some excellent athletes that can get after the passer. Jalen Ramsey does so frequently from his star (nickel corner/safety/LB hybrid) position. Edge guys Chris Casher, Demarcus Walker, and sometimes Matthew Thomas will pin their ears back against a far less mobile quarterback than they've played this season. One guy to watch will be freshman Lorenzo Featherston. He's 6'7" 230 (on a good day), and definitely someone we considered a redshirt candidate. He's also freakishly quick, and a valuable weapon off the edge when he doesn't fly out of his containment lane. I think he's a guy who could have a big game against a Louisville OL that has had its struggles so far.
CC: If Louisville is able to pull off the upset Thursday, how do you see it happening?
TN: The keys to me will be Louisville's secondary play, particularly against FSU's third and fourth wideouts, and the Cardinals' ability to pop a couple of big plays on offense.
I'm not optimistic that FSU will be able to run much on the UL defense, and frankly I don't think they'll make more than a cursory effort to do so, save for short yardage situations (in which FSU has been extremely good so far, somewhat counter-intuitively). I think you'll see the ‘Noles in a lot of 10 and 11 personnel trying to spread Louisville out on defense, with throws on early downs to get ahead of the chains and open up better running chances, notably for Jameis Winston himself at times. UL's defenders will have to a good job against a mix of slot receivers in particular, including Bobo Wilson, Kermit Whitfield, and Travis Rudolph. This in addition to defending the mainstays, Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary, the latter of whom I'm interested to see against the large Louisville linebackers in coverage. If the Cardinals can defend the FSU passing game on early downs and get the ‘Noles into poor leverage situations in down and distance, it'll be a tough night for the garnet and gold.
On offense, I think Coach Petrino will need the Cardinals to hit some big plays. I think this is entirely possible, and depends in significant part on the health of several FSU players. Coming into the season we expected returning corners Ronald Darby and PJ Williams to continue to play like two of the best corners in the entire country. They have not, for the most part, and we believe this can be traced to injury. Williams has missed more time than Darby, but both have looked less than 100% for most of the year and have missed significant practice time. They'll need to play very well to contain DeVante Parker. Also, as mentioned, Mario Edwards Jr. and Derrick Mitchell are of supreme importance to this defense, particularly in the run game. If those two aren't healthier, the Cardinals could find some serious running room against the Seminole defense.
Parker and Dyer are certainly capable of hitting some big plays against the ‘Noles, but one encouraging stat for the FSU defense is that they're holding opponents to a 43.3% red zone touchdown percentage, good for 13th nationally. So if the Seminoles can force the Cardinals to consistently drive the length of the field with their shaky-at-times offensive line, their chances of success increase dramatically.
CC: The 2002 win over Florida State is still one of the fondest memories that most Louisville football fans have. What are your memories of that last meeting between the Cards and Seminoles?
I vaguely remember this game but full disclosure, I was 11 at the time. So I asked our writers email thread for their memories. These are the responses I received.
Alan Mundy: "Chris Rix with an undisclosed injury to his throwing hand. Played in a tropical storm. Bobby openly questioning why we were playing a game at Louisville in the first place. Knowing as soon as it went to overtime that we were done."
FSUed: "It rained. Chris Rix. We ended up losing 5 games. That game seemed a lot bigger of a loss when it happened than it turned out to be by the end of the year."
OneBarrelRum: "I was attending FSU at the time and I think my level of analysis was simply, ‘Fire Jeff Bowden, now please.'"
TimScribble: "I was at the game and it was miserable. It was so cold and rained so hard. Fans on both sides were soaked and grumpy, which made the crowd testy. Rix INT, Boldin choking a CB for spitting in his face and a drunk guy in an IU poncho taunting me the entire game."
Andrew Wright: "There were a ton of fouls from Louisville. Pretty sure personal foul late hits on our QB. Researching if I can get a count. ("The Cardinals trailed 13-6 at halftime, finishing the first half with more penalties (eight) than first downs (six) -- and more penalty yards (100) than total yards (77)." - NY Times). If I remember correctly it was a rain game."
In hindsight, I'm glad this game didn't really register with 11 year old me.
CC: Game prediction?
TN: This is going to be a battle. The Seminoles are going on the road to take on one of the best defenses in the country so far, a Petrino offense getting healthy with extra time to prepare, and a raucous environment.
One guy I haven't talked about, and feel like a heretic for waiting this long to do so, is Roberto Aguayo. The 2013 Groza winner missed one kick last season and has yet to miss this season. He's my favorite player and I don't think he's entirely mortal.
Louisville presents a tremendous challenge for the ‘Noles in this game, and I don't think the line that has continued to shrink to 3.5 is far off of what it should be. There is every chance UL pulls the win off. But our refrain this season has continued to be that while FSU is not a dominant team right now, there really aren't any who are currently in college football. And when you have the best quarterback and kicker in the country you're such a tough out, to say nothing of all the talent and potential all over the rest of the field. Jameis and Aguayo have yet to lose a college game, and I'm going to have to ride with them until they do.
Jameis does just enough, Ramsey makes some defensive plays, and Aguayo hits a late kick to deliver a fittingly cardiac event of a victory in the Pizza Bowl. 24-23 Seminoles.