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Opponent Breakdown: FSU Defense

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The suffocating and lightning quick defense from a year ago is no more. Can the improving Louisville offense find a way to move the ball against a defense that hasn't lived up to expectations?

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Jimbo Fisher has gotten accustomed to his assistants leaving for better opportunities over the years. His staff now only has three members remaining from his original group in 2010. The loss of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia wasn't viewed as a major loss at the time but it looks to have taken some sort of toll on the defense. New coordinator Charles Kelly coached the linebackers and special teams last year, but one has to wonder if his inexperience as a play caller has played a role in the regression on defense.

The FSU defense is full of stud athletes that will likely be playing in the NFL one day but none could cause more havoc than Eddie Goldman. Goldman had a monster game against Clemson earlier this year and he will be lined up as a 3-technique against Louisville. John Miller has been a pretty steady performer for Louisville this year but Jake Smith has had a handful of uncharacteristic missed assignments and Goldman will take advantage of any mistake made against him. Goldman is similar to Grady Jarrett at Clemson. They don't have the same style of play necessarily, but they are both extremely disruptive and they can take over games at the point of attack. Louisville will undoubtedly try to run the ball to control the clock and keep the ball out of Jameis Winston's hands. If Goldman has a game like he had against Clemson that will end that plan quickly.

Nose tackle has been a revolving door of sorts for FSU. Original starter Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost to injury and his replacement, Derek Mitchell, has missed time as well. As well as they have recruited since Jimbo has taken over they are lacking depth this year at a pretty crucial spot on the defense. Teams have taken notice as FSU have faced an average of 40 rushes a game. FSU is seeing a lot of teams try to run the ball on early downs in hopes to get manageable third downs and keep the ball out of the offense's hands. Louisville will need Tobijah Hughley to play the game of his life and handle Mitchell without much help. Smith and Miller have to be able to get to the second level on run plays or FSU's linebackers will shoot through the running lanes all day.

Mario Edwards was a major recruiting coup when he was snatched from Texas from under Mack Brown's nose and he hasn't disappointed much. Edwards is a freak athlete that can play defensive tackle, defensive end, or outside linebacker at nearly 300 pounds. He's not a great pass rusher  as a defensive end but he does do a great job against the run. He can also drop back into zone coverage and allow Kelly to deploy some exotic blitzes. Edwards is a the type of stud athlete that you think about when the subject of the uptick in competition is mentioned. He does things at 300 pounds that humans shouldn't be able to do.

The Noles will have to get a pass rush from Lorenzo Featherson from the opposite side. He has come on as of late and provided a much needed speed threat off the edge. This isn't a defense that likes to blitz and Featherson is the type of guy that they need to be able to play their base defense and allow their speed in the back seven to sit back and bait quarterbacks. Featherson and Demarcus Walker will mostly face off with Aaron Epps on the right side which is potentially the weak spot for Louisville's offensive line. As well as he played last week, the FSU defensive line is a completely different level than NC State. It should also be noted that Featherson is 6-7 and could be used as a spy like UVA did with Max Valles. Batted passes completely killed any offensive rhythm in that game and Kelly could try to do the same.

The Seminoles will be in a 4-2-5 for the majority of the game and Terrance Smith will be everywhere. He leads the team with 10 tackles per game and he can flat out run. Smith looks undersized on the field due to his long frame but he's solid and doesn't shy away from contact at all. The most impressive part of Smith's game is his closing speed. He sees his target and he gets there in a hurry. Very similar to James Burgess and Keith Kelsey. Smith's speed and instincts have been big for this defense that hasn't gotten the production out of the defensive line that it did last season.

Reggie Northrup is an extremely violent football player. That's the best way I can describe him. He has terrible intentions everywhere he goes on a football field. The second leading tackler for the defense is a big hitter that also plays big for his size. He's doesn't have the open field speed that Smith does but he has really good close quarters speed and explosion. One thing that neither of these guys do very well is shed blockers. Louisville's offensive line should have success if they can engage the second level. Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff should also have success if they can hit the hole hard and not give these guys time to get off blocks.

FSU has a "star" position that is pretty much their nickelback spot. Jalen Ramsey has done just about everything possible from the hybrid position. He blitzes off the edge. He matches up in man coverage with tight ends and slot receivers. He will also play in a over the top zone coverage as a safety. The thing that sets him apart from everyone else is how well he does all of these things. Ramsey is a very animated guy and he's super intense on the field. I won't call him a trash talker like Charles Gaines because I haven't seen that from him but he definitely plays with that type of edge. He's confident in his abilities and he should be. Ramsey was a freshman All-American last year and he's backed up that billing this season. Will Gardner hasn't done a great job of reading blitzes and Ramsey will take full advantage of that if given the opportunity. He roams the field presnap from time to time and could confuse Will with dummy blitzes and delayed pressure.

The best cornerback duo in the ACC belongs to the Seminoles with Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. They haven't played nearly as well as they did last year but I think a big part of that is the lack of a pass rush from the front four. The defense gave up a total of 14 touchdown passes all of last year and they're already at 11 this year. A few weeks ago I watched Ronald Darby get beat deep and my jaw dropped. Darby is one of the fastest players in the nation and they threw right at him. P.J. Williams is coming off a defensive MVP in the national title game but no one has shied away from him this year. It's completely unexpected but corners can only be expected to hang with receivers for so long and FSU has allowed quarterbacks to be more comfortable in the pocket this year. When you watched FSU last year QBs were always under duress and Lamarcus Joyner and company were always there to make a play when they made a mistake. That just doesn't seem to be the case this year.

The cornerbacks as well as safeties Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews will have to account for DeVante Parker. Parker didn't skip a beat when he finally returned from his broken foot last year and ended up with 9 catches. He will undoubtedly be a focal point of the offensive gameplan and his ability to run after the catch is surely something that Kelly has highlighted on film this week. Parker can take a slant pass and turn it into a touchdown pretty quickly. If there's an area of his game that has improved more than anything it's his ability to make guys miss and shed arm tackles. The Noles are steady in the back end but Parker is much bigger than the guys they have back there and could break free from a guy if they don't gang tackle. Another thing to keep an eye on is jump ball situations. It was very apparent that Parker and Gardner hadn't been able to develop that chemistry needed to complete passes into the end zone. With some time off it they could have improved in that area and FSU doesn't have a lot of size or length to deal with Parker's abilities.

Will FSU double Parker as NC State did as the game went on? If so, it will put even more pressure on the pass rush to get to Gardner. James Quick and Eli Rogers are both guys that can easily keep the offense moving if Parker has a safety over top of him. That forces the corner on the opposite side to play on an island and Quick has the ability to run by guys as well as making a guy miss on a short catch. Rogers is a quick route runner and does a good job of beating man coverage. His issue has been the lack of separation, which he didn't really need with the accuracy of Teddy Bridgewater. Gardener doesn't fit the ball into the small windows that Teddy did and it has led to some incompletions. I think Bobby Petrino will try to get FSU into man coverage situations as much as possible and if the defense keys on Parker, Rogers and Quick will have to make plays. Rogers is a security blanket for Gardner and Quick is the second option that can make a big play. FSU's secondary has not made the big plays you would expect. Louisville has to flip that around and make the big plays against them. They can't allow this to be the game where this defense starts to gain it's footing.

KEY PLAYERS: DT Eddie Goldman, DE Mario Edwards, WLB Terrance Smith, CB P.J. Williams, FS Nate Andrews, S Jalen Ramsey

Notes

  • Charles Kelly had only been a defensive coordinator at the FBS level for a partial season at Georgia Tech before this year.
  • FSU has 11 sacks on the season which is what Lorenzo Mauldin and Sheldon Rankins have totaled between the two of them.
  • The Nole defense is only 19 points away from the total number of points given up last season.