NO. 10 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-0) vs. NO. 2 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (2-0)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) and Sam Ponder (reporter)
Favorite: Florida State by 1
All-Time Series: Florida State leads, 14-2
Last Meeting: Florida State won 41-21 last season in Tallahassee
Louisville Depth Chart:
About Florida State:
Louisville has given up 84 points to Jimbo Fisher and his Seminole offense since joining the ACC two years ago. FSU has been led by veteran players like Rashad Greene, Jameis Winston, and Karlos Williams and they've also been led by young guys like Dalvin Cook, Travis Rudolph, and others. This season the Seminoles bring a mix of veteran players at wide receiver and running back with inexperienced players at quarterback and at spots on the offensive line. The quarterback position is always the biggest focal point of any offense, but the experienced skill players and offensive linemen have played in a lot of big games over the last few years.
Jameis WInston and Everett Golson were both experienced and proven commodities when they faced off against the Cards over the last two years, but Deondre Francois will be playing in just his third college game this Saturday. Francois started off this season playing very up-and-down in the first half against a rebuilt Ole Miss defense but he turned it on in the second half leading the Seminoles to a comeback win. Francois was a pretty big time recruit two years ago, but questions about his accuracy followed him into his first game due to his low completion percentage in high school as well as no one being sure how good he really was. This kid has a huge arm and what has been impressive is that he has been on the money, completing 69% of his passes. When he's missed, he's mostly been trying to squeeze the ball in areas where he shouldn't. While that's not a good thing, it highlights that he's been very accurate when throwing in rhythm. Ole Miss blitzed Francois plenty, but they showed their blitzes most of the time. One must wonder if Todd Grantham chooses to disguise his blitzes with guys coming from the secondary. Getting Francois out of rhythm could lead to a turnover or two.
The best running back in the country debate is pretty much impossible to win. What is not debatable, in my opinion, is which running back is the biggest big play threat in their offense.Dalvin Cook is a true gamebreaker and even though he plays in a pro-style offense, he can break big plays in many different ways. Cook can run power runs and "iso" between the tackles as well as power sweeps, shotgun sweeps and counters on the outside. He's been used in the screen game as well as swing routes and throwbacks. What's most important to me is that he does all of this on plays that are in the scope and scheme of the offense. There are not gimmicks or specialty plays that take other players outside of their abilities to execute. They're all pretty normal plays that, even though you know they're coming, you can't stop them. Cook hasn't started off this season on fire like most expected, but that's much more because of the issues along the offensive line than it is about Cook making bad reads or not being explosive. When given the opportunity, Cook has made a handful of nice chunk runs. Louisville will need to stop Cook from getting the big runs he has killed them with over the last two years. Missing a guy likeDee Smith for the first half will make that more difficult.
The FSU receivers are probably the most consistent group of pass catchers in the country.Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson, and Kermit Whitfield have been starters or rotation guys at FSU for the past three years and each year, one or more of them have made significant plays against Louisville. Bobo Wilson is due to kill on Saturday, FYI. Rudolph is the top receiver of the group as he is used in many different ways and is the most reliable in crucial spots. Rudolph is the most likely player to run deep post routes or deep drags. Bobo Wilson is the quickest of the group and he's been very good this season with nearly identical numbers to Rudolph. Wilson is an outside receiver even though he is a smaller guy but he is a guy that could have a big day because he is a very good route runner and FSU will likely look to nickel-and-dime the ball down the field with short routes to Wilson being a focus. Whitfield is no stranger to Louisville fans after he went off for 172 yards last year. Whitfield is the guy that gets into the open field and just takes off. He's not going to shake a bunch of guys and make people look silly, but he will make everyone else on the field look extremely slow. Louisville will have to close down on him and be solid in their tackling.
Louisville fans know how big of an impact poor offensive line play can have on the offense so we can all understand how frustrating it has to be for FSU fans to watch their line struggle to block for their talented skill players. FSU's offensive line was downright horrible in the first half against Ole Miss with Rick Leonard being mocked all over Twitter and Roderick Johnsonbeing questioned as the top offensive linemen in the ACC. The line was also penalized multiple times for false starts which killed drives before they could even get started. Johnson will be matched up with Devonte Fields pretty often this weekend so FSU has to hope that he has his head on straight or it could cause havoc with their timing in the passing game.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Deondre Francois, RB Dalvin Cook, WR Travis Rudolph, WR Bobo Wilson, LT Rod Johnson
Florida State will have to attempt to stop the mutant offensive robot that is Lamar Jacksonwithout 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 andNnadi 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 Hoskinsare 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.
Excitement Level: 9.7
They don't get much bigger in September ... or ever.
Game Attire: Khaki shorts, white and red Cardinal polo, dark grey U of L hat.
Full disclosure from last week: Spencer Kietzman was wearing the same shirt as me when I got to the radio station, so I immediately changed when I got home and watched in an old red Louisville football t-shirt. It was the only move. Now, we go back to the week one home wardrobe and hope for similar results (or at least another win).
Pregame Meal: Beer, breakfast casserole, country ham and biscuits, fruit dip, muffins, min-donuts, sausage roll
It's a big game, and so we got organized for the first time in like three years.
Bold Prediction: Louisville successfully fakes a punt
We finally hit on one last week (would win by at least two touchdowns but lose the turnover battle), so let's up the boldness and go for two in a row.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Wild Watermelon (decent, but let's worry more about catching the ball)
The alert level has had a rough week and is hungry for some redemption.
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
If it's not, I'd say there's a good chance that we're going to be disappointed by the final score.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Florida State has a Twitter ban for its players, so here's this guy:
--ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Louisville for the first time for Saturday's game.
--When ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, Louisville is 19-0 in home games under Bobby Petrino.
--This will be Florida State's 25th all-time appearance on "College GameDay," putting them behind only Ohio State (27), Florida (26), and Notre Dame (26).
--Florida State is 13-11 overall when playing a regular season game attended by "College GameDay," with an average score of 27.26-26.77.
--The Seminoles are 6-7 in road games attended by "College GameDay."
--Louisville is 2-0 under Bobby Petrino in games where both teams are ranked in the top 10.
--Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State is 18-2 in ACC road games when forcing two or more turnovers. They are 0-4 when forcing fewer than two.
--Louisville leads the FBS in plays of 10 or more yards (54), plays of 20 or more yards (25), plays of 30 or more yards (12), and plays of 70 or more yards (2).
--Louisville is 31-2 over the last four seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only two losses came in 2014 at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Louisville is 32-3 under Petrino when winning the turnover battle.
--Florida State is 17-2 in "College GameDay" games under Jimbo Fisher.
--Florida State will be without the services of All-American safety Derwin James, who injured his knee last week against Charleston Southern.
--Louisville safety Dee Smith will have to sit out the first half of Saturday's game after being ejected for targeting during the second half of the Cardinals' win over Syracuse last Friday.
--Louisville has won 14 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, and has lost eight of its last 14 when receiving the opening kickoff.
--Louisville has several planned tributes to Derby City native Muhammad Ali planned for Saturday's game.
--Florida State has scored on 63% of its drives, the fourth-best total in the FBS.
--Louisville has scored on 59% of its drives, the ninth-best total in the FBS.
--In his first two games of 2016, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has accounted for 1,015 yards of total offense with 13 touchdowns. Those two totals would place Jackson in the nation's top 10 in each category if he were a team by himself.
--Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State is 18-1 when ranked either No. 1 or No. 2.
--Louisville's roster features 19 players from the state of Florida.
--Louisville leads the FBS in yards per play at 9.99.
--Florida State's DeMarcus Walker leads the nation in sacks with 4.5.
--Under Bobby Petrino, Louisville has won seven of its last eight games in which the point spread has been three points or fewer.
--Jimbo Fisher's winning percentage (70-14, 83.3%) is the best in ACC history.
--Florida State is 7-1 all-time in games featuring two ACC teams ranked in the top 10.
--Florida State is 5-1 against the Cardinals in games played in Louisville.
--Bobby Petrino is 32-4 all-time in games played at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
--A victory will hive Louisville a 2-0 start in ACC play for the first time. The Cardinal lost their second conference game in 2014 (Virginia), and their conference opener a season ago (Clemson).
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 201 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 171-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-101 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"We knew that if we were going to make a run in this conference or get to the goal that we want, we had to find a way to beat them. We are looking forward to the matchup. We want to win the national championship. If we want to win the national championship, we have to beat Florida State." --Bobby Petrino
--"You're everybody's Super Bowl. You're ranked up there high. That's what you do at Florida State. You get used to going into those environments. Hopefully, it's like going to work every day. That's what it is. You respect it and you do it. You put your work in and don't get caught up in the clutter and the hype." --Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher
--"The Ali Family has been tremendous supporters of our program. Muhammad Ali's presence and generosity to our department will never be forgotten, and the support Lonnie and her family have given in all aspects have meant a lot to me during the course of my career at the University of Louisville. They are treasured in our community, and we wanted to properly thank them for everything they've meant to the city and the university." --Tom Jurich
--"I don't need to warn them about anything. I love our defense. They're gonna warn him." --Florida State running back Dalvin Cook on Lamar Jackson
--"It wasn't Cardinal football. They're a very good team, but that's not the way we play." --Keith Kelsey on last year's game
--"We loved Deondre from the get-go, the first time he threw the football, the way he moved, the dynamics, watching him practice. We knew both (he and Lamar Jackson) had a chance to be outstanding. We were fortunate to get one of them and Louisville was fortunate to get one of them. We're happy with the guy we got." --Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher
--"Our pride was hurt a little bit after the Florida State game last year on defense. We didn't play the way we usually play." --Bobby Petrino
--"We want to wear you out as much as we can and we're having fun doing it. It's not arrogance, it's just something we like doing." --Jamari Staples
--"It looks like it's going to be the same kind of matchup again this weekend. We don't want to get down 21, I promise you that." --Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher
--"Lamar is smart with the ball and he's faster than (Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly). When there are times he has to make a play he is going to carry it. Chasing him down is more like a running back. Last year he was more in the pocket." --said Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi
--"When you get your chance you can't miss it. And that's not only with (Lamar Jackson), that's with every quarterback. Something Coach Lawing says: 'You can't miss your layups.' Whenever you get a chance at a quarterback, you've got to take him down." --FSU defensive end DeMarcus Walker
--"We always start off good in the first half and then kind of slip up in the second half and don't do what we normally do. We're not going to let that happen this year." --Keith Kelsey
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 41, Florida State 38
Much drinking and celebrating ensues.