LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (6-2, 4-2) VS. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (7-0, 4-0)
Game Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Rece Davis (play-by-play), Jesse Palmer (analyst), David Pollack (analyst) and Samantha Ponder (sidelines)
Favorite: Florida State by 3.5
All-Time Series: Florida State leads 12-2
Last Meeting: Louisville won 26-20 in overtime on Sept. 26, 2002 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Schedule of Events:
About Florida State:
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 orJames 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
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 andP.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 Joynerand 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 thinkBobby 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
Excitement Level: 9.6
I mean...I don't think I need to offer up an explanation here.
Pregame Meal: Jimmy John's, chips, queso, beer
Little bit of a disorganized tailgate due to the weeknight and some people's work commitments, but there will be food and alcohol consumed.
Game Attire: Red Louisville football shirt under white long sleeve Louisville Cardinals shirt under big game red fleece, jeans, red Cardinal bird shoes, red and white Cardinal bird hat.
First game for both the big game fleece and the Cardinal bird hat. I think it's justified.
Bold Prediction: Will Gardner completes more than 25 passes
I hope Michael Dyer goes off or the defense/special teams come up with a score or a couple of scores their own, but I really think this needs to happen if Louisville wins tonight.
Predicted Star of the Game: DeVante Parker
He adds to his legacy by giving the performance we wind up remembering him best for.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Thistle (Unlikely)
Motivational Opposing Player Tweets:
Like Clemson, Florida State has a Twitter ban and all Seminole players have been off social media since August. If you're really looking to get fired up, though, it's not difficult. FSU Twitter is full of...shall we say, characters.
--Under the direction of Bobby Petrino, Louisville has won 22 consecutive home games. Petrino is 26-1 at home as coach of the Cardinals, with that lone loss coming to Memphis during his first season at U of L (2003).
--The defending national champions, Florida State comes to Louisville in the midst of a 23-game winning streak, the longest such streak in the country.
--The U of L defense enters tonight ranking first in the country in total defense and rushing defense, second in pass-efficiency defense and third-down defense, and fourth in scoring defense. Louisville is allowing an average of just 14.6 points per game.
--Florida State has not lost or scored less than 30 points in a game Jameis Winston has started at quarterback.
--Florida State is 9-5 all-time in Thursday night games. The Seminoles have played on the road in each of their last eight Thursday night appearances.
--Louisville ranks first in the ACC in total offensive plays run, but 13th in the conference in both total offense and yards per play.
--The Seminoles are 33 of 34 (97 percent) in the red zone this season, and haven't missed a red-zone opportunity since the season opener against Oklahoma State. Louisville, meanwhile, allows opponents to convert on just 70 percent of their red zone chances.
--Louisville is 14-4 in the month of October with Bobby Petrino as the head coach.
--Louisville is 19-1 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The lone loss came earlier this month at Clemson.
--Jameis Winston has thrown for over 300 yards in the five of the six ACC road games he's played in. He has a career stat line of 1,971 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in conference games on the road.
--Louisville has allowed the lowest total quarterback rating in the nation at just 14.7.
--Reigning Lou Groza Award winner Robert Aguayo is widely considered to be the best kicker in college football. He has missed just one field goal attempts in his college career and none this season.
--The first Thursday night game Florida State ever played was against Louisville in 1983. The Seminoles won, 51-7.
--U of L safety Gerod Holliman leads the FBS with eight interceptions.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 181 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind Virginia Tech (252) and Georgia Tech (219).
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 147-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--"They all understand what the stakes are, but what I really want them to do is enjoy it. Enjoy the experience of having the No. 2 team in the country coming in here. How you go through preparing for it. How you get ready. When we go to the hotel. Just enjoy the whole experience." --Bobby Petrino
--"I think Louisville for the history and what they've done in their past (could be a rival). They have great history, great tradition, great players. They had three first-round draft picks last year - you forget that. They have a bunch of really good players now. They are a definite force in our league. They are a great addition." --FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher
--"Their defense and secondary, I have to give props where it's due. They're a bunch of ball hawks. They're a great defense overall and that's what I like to play against. I like to play against the best and it brings the best out in me." --FSU receiver Rashad Greene
--"We're not changing anything. We're not trying to do anything extra. We just go through our preparation and get ready for kickoff. I think that's the number one thing we've got to do, is calm down and understand that we need to be ready when we kick the ball off." --Bobby Petrino
--"It's definitely good to go against somebody you don't have to worry about chasing around all the time and you get to pin your ears back and rush the passer." --FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
--"Defense wins championships, and this is going to be like a championship game." --James Burgess
--"I feel like we have one of the best offenses in the nation. I feel like this game is going to be a game where we come out and play fast and show a lot of people what we've become. And identify ourselves." --FSU WR Rashad Greene
--"They have a very, very good football team. They've had two losses by less than a touchdown. They'll be ready to play, and hopefully we'll be ready to play. That'll be another great matchup for the ACC." --FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher
--"These are the games we want to play in and compete in. We'd like to be in the top rankings and have the No. 1 team come in here and play us. That's where we're aspiring to go. So we'll look at our program and get one step closer to where we want to get to." --Bobby Petrino
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 29, Florida State 27
Don't ask me how it's going to happen, just know that it's going to happen.