How Does FSU Replace Derwin James?
I'm going to start this off with a disclaimer: I think that Derwin James is the best defensive player in the country. Now with that being said, I think that losing him is comparable to Louisville losing Lamar Jackson. Derwin James is a freak athlete that can play any position on the field minus defensive tackle (maybe) and he impacts the game at a very high level. However, what really makes him comparable to Jackson is how much the defense changes with him being out. If Lamar Jackson couldn't go for Louisville, the dynamic read option plays are just taken out as an part of the offense. With James out, FSU doesn't have a dynamic blitzer from the secondary (Like we saw on his sack/forced fumble last season). James is also an outstanding open field tackler which anyone facing Lamar Jackson needs. That changes the scheme of the defense because you can't just plug another guy in to do what he does. Having a linebacker sized safety who covers ground like a cornerback and tackles like a middle linebacker is pretty helpful when you're trying to stop a guy that routinely runs for 200+ yards in a game.
So how does Charles Kelly replace such a valuable player? The same way that Louisville would replace Lamar Jackson: You don't. James won't be replaced this weekend, but FSU has plenty of talent to decrease the impact of his absence. No one seems to know exactly what FSU will do, but if I were Kelly, I'm putting Trey Marshall at free safety to try and get a physical player in that role to help my defense stay as versatile as possible. Florida State all but shut down Lamar Jackson last year as a runner. Their scheme worked, but it's highly doubtful that Bobby Petrino hasn't adjusted to it.
Louisville Should Keep Lamar Jackson Moving In The Pocket
The offensive line for Louisville has been a sore spot for the past handful of years but so far in 2016 the line has done a pretty good job of protecting Lamar Jackson. I think it's important to factor in not only the competition, but also the abilities of Lamar Jackson when avoiding the rush when you grade the offensive line. The line has really excelled on deep play action drops as well as half-boots and waggles. In my opinion, that needs to be the plan going forward. At least 50-75% of the passes this weekend should have Lamar moving in some way. Whether it be via play action bootlegs or just simple sliding pockets, getting away from the rush and taking away basic rush angles is important for the Louisville offense. Florida State is second in the country in sacks and they boast a defensive front that can feature three outstanding pass rushers. What is also a big issue is the fact that one of those rushers will be DeMarcus Walker as a defensive tackle. The key to trying to contain Lamar Jackson is getting pressure in his face and making him escape a small space. When you pressure him from the edge, you naturally give him a lane to run through. That pressure up the middle doesn't allow for that and it also gets him running towards multiple people in the middle of the field, which worked well for FSU last season.
Uh, FSU Should Keep Deondre Francois Moving In The Pocket
At times, Florida State's offensive line has looked horrendous. Ole Miss dominated the Seminole offensive line throughout the first half and Francois paid the price by taking a bunch of big hits as he released the ball. Louisville will blitz Deondre Francois from all kinds of angles and there haven't been a lot of offensive line groups that have been able to stop those blitzes from getting to their destination. The line has shown improvement and they should be completely healthy for the first time this year, but until someone stymies the Louisville pass rush, I will always assume it will create pressure. Keeping Francois on the move will extend his time in the pocket and it will also allow him to attack a still questionable deep pass defense. Louisville has been beaten deep a handful of times this season and Florida State's wide receivers can separate pretty well. Where FSU could really generate big plays is with play action passes. Everyone keys on Dalvin Cook because, well, he's Dalvin Cook. So a good way to exploit that is to run some play action boots with deep crossing routes or post routes. FSU has had success with those plays in the past and Francois has the big arm needed to make the defense pay.
Louisville Has To Involve The Running Backs In The Running Game
Lamar Jackson "ran" the ball 19 times last year for 32 yards. While he has obviously improved as a runner and as a read option runner, more specifically, Florida State will do what any sane defense would do and key on Lamar on designed runs. Jackson only scrambled one time last week. He had over 200 yards rushing on designed runs and only handed the ball off a few times on option plays. As the obvious big play threat of the offense, it only makes sense for FSU to key on him and try to force him to hand the ball off to Brandon Radcliff and others. Lamar Jackson has to make sure the read option plays he's been keeping the ball on are actually "option" runs. FSU won't likely crash the mesh point or give up the edge like Syracuse did.
UofL must also involve the running backs by running traditional run plays. Play action passes worked well against Syracuse and I think they can help in two ways this weekend. The obvious way that they help is by freezing the safeties and hopefully helping to get a receiver behind the defense. The other way they could help is by moving Lamar out of the pocket and depth to his drop. To put it simply, it makes it harder to sack the quarterback if he's further away from you and has more room to maneuver. The issue, of course, is that play action tends to lose it's effectiveness when the defense knows you're not going to hand it off. Louisville hasn't run many traditional running plays with their first team so far but they have seen a few really nice chunk runs and big plays with them. If the running game can move the chains with traditional run plays it could set up some big plays for Lamar Jackson and James Quick down the field.