Florida State built a reputation of unbelievably talented defenses under Bobby Bowden. Bringing in an offensive-minded coach has seemingly caused that reputation to take a slight hit over the last few years. FSU still recruits at an elite level, but they tend to see a handful of really talented guys on their defenses as opposed to the defenses that featured NFL talent at all three levels back in the day. That's not to say that FSU isn't a good defense or that they don't have talent. But it says what level they're on when a team that is holding FBS rushers to 3.49 yards per carry doesn't impress as much as they used to.
Where I think the Seminole's have been lacking in the last few years is up front on the defensive line. Charles Kelly took over as defensive coordinator last year and in 19 games the Seminole defense has only averaged 1.42 sacks per game. In general, the defense doesn't make a lot of impact plays behind the line of scrimmage. David Hale of ESPN has always pointed out that the FSU defense does a great job of pressuring the quarterback even though it doesn't always get a sack. That's all well and good but creating negative plays has such a big impact on an offense. It shrinks the play call sheet for a coordinator as well as just simply making it harder to pick up a first down. FSU typically had at least one very good pass rusher on the defensive line up until about two seasons ago. They're still looking for that player 19 games into Kelly's tenure.
With all that being said, FSU does have two pass rushers that have shown promise this year. DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat have shown flashes this year and Walker has actually had some productive numbers. Walker is a bigger guy at 281 pounds but his motor and strength have been more than enough to get around tackles on the outside. On the other side, Sweat as well as Jacob Pugh have done a solid job of using their speed and length to disrupt plays in the backfield. Sweat is five-star freshman who battled back from a major knee injury to somehow get on the field early in his career. Sweat is the type of player that Louisville has struggled with this year. Carl Lawson and Shaq Lawson are much more experienced and just flat out better players than Sweat but Sweat is in a similar mold. He's physically gifted and he can use his speed to blow by blockers. With Geron Christian struggling with speed rushers and Kenny Thomas being very inexperienced, the ends are an area to keep an eye on.
The interior linemen for the Seminoles has made a handful of nice plays this season, but they haven't been as disruptive as one would like. Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Nnadi start in the middle and both have the size and motor to really cause issues for an interior offensive line for Louisville that has struggled to run block as well as pick up blitzers. Lawrence-Stample lines up at defensive tackle so he will be lined up over either guard in most situations. One of the keys to the game will be how Tobijah Hughley handles Nnadi. Nnadi is a 300-pounder but he's also 6-1 so he plays with nice pad level. Hughley has to be able to get some kind of push on run plays or it will lead to long passing situations for the offense. With FSU's speed, the running game will have to be able to run between the tackles with some success. That can't happen if the interior of the line struggles against these two players.
FSU runs a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5 depending on where Sweat and Pugh line up. Who will man the two linebacker spots Saturday is still up in the air. Stud linebacker, Terrance Smith missed the Miami game with an ankle injury and he missed some practice this week. Reggie Northrup is the team's leading tackler, but Ro'Derrick Hoskins is right behind him. All three players are somewhat similar in size and playing ability. Smith has been slowed by injuries but he can flat out run. He could be a big factor in the game with Louisville relying so heavily on option runs. Northrup and Hoskins have both made a fair amount of ice plays shooting gaps on run plays. Northrup is a big hitter who plays with a lot of emotion. Hoskins is the youngest player of the three but he has stepped in well and leads the team in tackles for loss. One thing I noticed when watching FSU games this year is that Smith seems to be the vocal leader for the defense. He is constantly moving players around before the snap and calling out instructions ad gesturing to other players. Louisville doesn't audible much, but with all of the motion that Bobby Petrino likes to do, it could be a big help to FSU to have Smith out there directing traffic.
The secondary for Florida State is a mixture of young talent and experienced veterans. Jalen Ramsey is one of the best players in the entire country let alone the best cornerback. Ramsey has played safety and star as well as his normal corner spot and at every spot he has made plays. This year he is third in the ACC with 6 PBUs. Last season he finished the season with 9.5 tackles for loss. He can honestly do it all. What's surprising is that teams haven't avoided him this season. Honestly, Miami and Wake Forest all but targeted him in their last two games. At field corner Marquez White has had a very quiet year. I was impressed by White's technique in the small sample of press coverage I got to see in their games. Both, Ramsey is the type of player that can change a game in an instant. I can't say the same for White, but a four star talent that also plays on the FSU basketball team is an impressive profile that garners a lot of respect.
For the second straight week, Louisville could see some success against the opposing safeties. FSU has had some injury issues at the position with Nate Andrews missing time with a knee injury as well as playing with one of those hilarious looking club wraps on his hand. Trey Marshall was ejected for targeting against Miami, which moved Tyler Hunter back into game action. Hunter was a liability in coverage as he has been for the most part this season. Lamarcus Brutus has an outstanding name, but he also had issues in coverage over the last few weeks. Brutus and Hunter didn't get beat deep or anything like that but they were consistently beaten across their faces. Louisville killed Josh Jones with quick passes in the first half last week and I can see similar success this week if FSU doesn't adjust. However, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a personnel adjustment. Darwin James is a freshmen with outstanding potential. I could see Kelly starting James at strong safety with Marshall at the star position. I don't think Nate Andrews will be able to play and James is the best option in my opinion.
KEY PLAYERS: DE DeMarcus Walker, MLB Terrance Smith, OLB Reggie Northrup, OLB Ro'Derrick Hoskins, CB Jalen Ramsey