Florida State will have to attempt to stop the mutant offensive robot that is Lamar Jackson without their best defensive player, Derwin James. Lamar Jackson is Louisville's offense so far this season and James is a guy that allows the Seminoles to be scheme-versatile as he can play just about every position on the field. Without their best player, Florida State will have to find a way to contain Jackson, like they did last year.
An extremely important part of this game will be the Florida State pass rush as well as the ability of their interior linemen to get into Lamar Jackson's face on passing plays. Florida State doesn't blitz a lot and they really don't have to with the pass rushers that they have up front. DeMarcus Walker was an outstanding performer last year for the Seminole defense and I'm sure Charles Kelly was doing backfilips when Walker decided to come back to school for another season. Walker is great off the edge as he is a motor player that has really nice burst around the corner. What's somewhat unfair to everyone on offense is that Kelly slides Walker down to defensive tackle on third downs and other passing situations which puts him up against offensive guards who are typically not outstanding pass protectors. Walker leads the nation in sacks and he has gotten them at the end and tackle spots, respectively. I think that Louisville will see Walker at tackle more, especially if the traditional running game struggles.
The rest of the defensive line hasn't produced like Walker, but they are a very talented and well respected group. Josh Sweat is a former five star prospect who is due to have a breakout game. Sweat has gotten to the quarterback a few times this year but he hasn't been able to register a sack. Speed rushers have had success against the Louisville tackles but FSU did a good job last year of not getting too far upfield on their rushes. If Sweat drives too far up field, Jackson will have a lane to escape and he could end up with some very big plays. Derrick Nnadi and Dearcus Christmas get a little more love than I think they deserve. Both are good players and Nnadi will likely be an NFL guy in the next two years, but neither are guys that make impact plays. The job of defensive tackles is to keep their linebackers clean and both do a very good job of that, but you'd just expect more tackles for loss or sacks from guys that are getting as much attention as they do. However, if these tackles can hold up blockers and create some havoc it could be a big deal because FSU has linebackers that can run and get downhill quickly.
Speaking of the linebackers, FSU has upgraded this unit compared to last year. Ro'Derrick Hoskins mans the middle and plays very well within the hashes. He gets downhill very well even though he is a pretty big linebacker and he gets to the ball with force. Flanking Hoskins are Matthew Thomas and Jacob Pugh. Pugh and Thomas are both long, fast, and rangy guys and Thomas has shown to be an outstanding tackler in space and in the hole. Pugh is utilized as a defensive end when DeMarcus Walker slides to tackle which shows how versatile and athletic he is. These two guys could play a huge role in this game as they are the guys that will have to contain Lamar Jackson if FSU deploys a similar defensive gameplan as last year's. FSU used their front four to pressure Jackson and played a "catch" contain with their second level players. Instead of guys flying to the ball and setting themselves up to be put on a poster, the second level guys stood their ground and allowed Jackson to come to them where they would have help bringing him down.
The secondary took a massive hit when Derwin James landed awkwardly last weekend and tore cartilage in his knee. James is a freak of an athlete who's is built like a linebacker, runs like a corner, and hits like a safety. James was a key factor in FSU's ability to contain Lamar last year as he closes in space so well and he is a very sure tackler. He's also a very good blitzer and forced a fumble on a sack last year. No one seems to be sure how the Seminoles will adjust their personnel groupings but they do have plenty of talented players in their back end.
Trey Marshall is James' battery mate at safety and I think that there is a chance that moves into the free safety spot as he was beaten a couple of times in coverage against Ole Miss. Marshall has the speed and physicality to play closer to the line and close down angles in contain. Marcus Lewis could move from their "star" spot back to strong safety with true freshman Levonta Taylor taking over the star spot. Taylor was the 7th ranked player in the country last year and he has already gotten enough reps this year that he should be comfortable playing in a big game.
The cornerback position is pretty solid for FSU. Marquez White is a returning starter and he played extremely well as opposite Jalen Ramsey last season. North didn't allow quarterbacks to pick on him even though he was obviously going to be thrown at much more than Ramsey. Tarvarus McFadden is now being targeted as the inexperienced corner this year but he's done pretty well to hold his own. He is a taller corner who has really good ball skills and he showed that in both games this year. McFadden was beat early in the Ole Miss game for a touchdown on a fade route that he should have intercepted. Later in the game he turned into the receiver and high pointed an easy interception. Against Charleston Southern last week he actually played a deep ball like a receiver and attempted to pick off a pass with a basket catch instead of knocking the ball away. These corners won't be tested nearly as much as the safeties will but both have had some glaring miscues early this year.
KEY PLAYERS: DE DeMarcus Walker, OLB Matthew Thomas, CB Marquez White, SS Trey Marshall