Florida State was has long been one of the premier football programs in the country and they are on an upswing at the moment. They will come to Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium as the defending national champion and they will be led by arguably the best quarterback in the country. Jimbo Fisher has been able to build an offense at FSU that typically slices through defenses with with what seems like minimal effort. The offense has struggled a bit this year in some areas and they will face a defense that, at least on paper, is better than any they've faced this year.
The Heisman Trophy was handed over to Jameis Winston last year without too much competition from the guys that finished behind him. Winston is pretty close to being the prototype for an nfl quarterback. He has a huge frame. He has a monster arm. He's mobile enough to get a first down with his legs. He also has the ability to avoid pressure both before the snap and when the play goes live. His presnap reads are what really sets him apart from most QBs. Winston does an outstanding job of making the defense show what they are going to do then adjusting to what he sees. One particular play stood out last week when he got Notre Dame's extremely talented linebacker Jaylon Smith to show that he was blitzing off the edge. Winston used a dummy count, changed the play, then connected with Rashad Greene on an easy slant route for a touchdown. Louisville as a defense loves to bring blitzes from all angles. There hasn't been many instances where the pressure hasn't gotten a sack or a hurry so it will be something to watch for if Winston can snuff out the pressure an beat it.
Winston is far from being a dual-threat quarterback but he is more than mobile enough to extend plays with his legs or get a few yards on a scramble. Louisville's strength on defense is overall speed so it will be interesting to see if Jameis misjudges that speed when trying to make a play. He made multiple throws last week off of his back foot as he trusts his great arm strength. Notre Dame doesn't have a player like Gerod Holliman or James Sample roaming in the middle of the field like the Cardinals do. Winston has thrown 16 interceptions in his short time as a starter with some of them being mistakes you expect from a guy that is pretty inexperienced. I think we all forget that he is such a young player because of how well he has played. Louisville a defense has to capitalize in the moments wen Jameis plays like a redshirt sophomore.
The major issue with FSU's offense has been their inability to consistently run the ball. Karlos Williams had a very good year as a backup last season and most expected him to pick up where Devonta Freeman left off, but that hasn't really been the case. Williams is a converted safety/linebacker and he doesn't always make the correct read off of his blockers. He also hasn't shown a great deal of lateral quickness or ability to run through tackles. His overall burst and speed haven't been enough to really take over a game and that is a good sign for Louisville. Williams has been great in short yardage but for some reason the determination and power he shows in those spots hasn't been there on normal runs. If that changes, Louisville could be in for a long night. Williams is a physical specimen and can really blow by people in the open field.
The combination of Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook is one of the better combos in the country. Pender has been banged up for a good part of the season and is reportedly still dealing with some lingering issues right now. But, when healthy, Pender is absolutely electric. He's a small back that has some of the quickest feet in college. Cook does a little bit of everything extremely well. He doesn't carry a ton of weight but he does a great job of running behind his pads. He also has great speed in the open field and can make guys miss. I haven't seen it much, but I can't help but wonder if FSU will try to get these two involved in the screen game more often. Williams is the starter but the other two guys that they can throw at you might just be more talented.
If there is an area where Louisville has to be worried it is with the recently improving group of FSU receivers. Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary are the guys that we've all heard of but the younger guys are really stepping up at the perfect time for them. Travis Rudolph was a highly touted recruit this past year and he is finally starting to make the plays that were expected from a fringe 5-star recruit. He has exploded the last few weeks as he's quickly gained Winston's trust across the middle. Jesus "Bobo" Wilson has been a consistent presence throughout the season in a spot that had some concerned with the loss of Kelvin Benjamin. Wilson isn't a jumbo receiver like Benjamin, but he does enough to take the pressure off of Greene. The Seminole offense was so great last year because you couldn't key on one or two guys. They're starting to get that ability back which could really be a key factor in this game.
Greene and O'Leary are the type of players that give opposing fans fits. They're both extremely talented and everyone on the field knows it, but they're always open. It's like defensive coordinators don't know how to stop them or defenders just don't get that they need to key on them. Of course, that's not at all the case but it always makes you feel that way. Greene and O'Leary are both uncanny route runners. They do a great job of maintaining the offensive edge. Offensive players have the advantage of knowing where they are going and O'leary is especially good at using that advantage to gain separation from defenders. Every route looks the same until he makes his break. Greene is about as complete a receiver as there is in the country. He can run any route on the route tree. He isn't a prototype guy when it comes to "combine" metrics but he does everything extremely well. Louisville hasn't faced guys on this level so far this year so it will be key for Gerod Holliman and James Sample to take away the middle of the field to limit Greene and O'Leary.
The Seminole offensive line came into this season as a unit that was regarded as possibly the best in the nation. That is not the case anymore. The line has had a few issues with injuries but if we're being truthful they struggled early in the year when they were full strength. Tre Jackson and Cameron Erving were lauded as preseason All-Americans by many publications but for whatever reason the line as a whole has had problems creating running lanes as well as protecting Jameis. The Noles had to replace a very good center in Bryan Stork and the issues have been glaring. Rushers have been in Winston's face much more often than they were last year and the running game has absolutely failed when challenged by a good defense. FSU has totaled 63 total rushing yards against the two teams they've played that are ranked at this time. Offensive line play is always important in any football game but FSU has had their closest games when the line couldn't create running lanes for the running backs. Louisville's top ranked run defense will have to make sure they keep that trend going.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Jameis Winston, WR Rashad Greene, TE Nick O'Leary, RG Tre Jackson, LT Cameron Erving
- Jameis Winston will be the first Heisman Trophy winner to play in PJCS.
- Karlos Williams was the top ranked safety in the class of 2011. A few spots ahead of Gerod Holliman.
- The Florida State offensive line returned four starters. Everyone but their center.
- Jimbo Fisher has yet to finish a season as a head coach without being ranked.