Louisville isn’t the only team in the ACC that is having issues on the offensive side of the ball. Jimbo Fisher has struggled this year to get his offense to move the football and take advantage of red zone trips. While Louisville’s issues are more about mistakes and lack of consistency, FSU just flat out hasn’t been able to utilize their talent at the skill positions. Jimbo hasn’t gotten a ton of heat from fans with Deondre Francois being out for the season, but after a while I think that free pass will burn up.
Florida State didn’t plan on playing a true freshman at quarterback this year but that’s the position they’re in and I’d imagine they’re pretty happy with how it is going, all things considered. All 169 pounds of James Blackman was thrown into the fire and he’s improved in every game this year. While he has thrown all four of his interceptions in his last two games, he also completed 86% of his passes last week against Duke. That followed up a performance against Miami that should’ve won the game. Blackman has also been utilized a little bit more in the run game over the last two games which has loosened up the defense.
Blackman can cause Louisville some big problems if FSU can give him some protection. He’s a really good thrower. I know that sounds weird but the ball just comes out of his hand so well. He puts some serious pace on the ball on crossing routes and post routes. He can add some touch on corner routes. He hasn’t learned to look guys off and some of those things but if he sees an opening he can get the ball to his guy in a flash. FSU hasn’t thrown the ball down the sidelines much but his deep ball looks pretty good when they do. FSU will have to find a way to mix in some quick hitters to take advantage of UofL’s soft coverage. They haven’t utilized them much this year but they were in their scheme last year.
Cam Akers was the top rated running back in the country coming out of high school this year and he’s shown why so far this year. Akers started to get a starter’s amount of carries against Miami and he’s now had two straight 100-yard games. Akers sealed the win for FSU with a big 46-yard run last week and I would be surprised if Jimbo doesn’t make him the number one back this week. Akers is a balanced type of back that has great burst and good speed but he’s built like a power back. He’s 215 pounds with powerful legs and a power running style. I could see him doing some real damage against a run defense that couldn’t stop much last week.
The starter so far this year for FSU has been Jacques Patrick. I’ve never been a big fan of his game but he has really shown me something this year. Patrick had a 41 yard run in last year’s game but he never seemed to run like a 230+ pound running back to me. That’s changed this year as he has mixed his solid speed with the willingness to run over people. Patrick has also been really good in FSU’s screen game. No one utilizes screens like the Noles and Patrick has been really good catching the ball and getting good yards after turning up field. This should be a game where UofL’s pass rush pins their ears back. Patrick could hurt them on those screens.
I was always very impressed with FSU’s receivers over the last few years. They were all pretty similar but they were veteran guys that knew how to get open and made the intermediate types of plays. They just haven’t gotten that type of production out of their receivers this year. Jimbo is very similar to Bobby Petrino in that he likes to hit those pass plays that are 15-25 yards down the field. He hunts chunk plays and he utilizes all kinds of routes to do so. I think that some of Blackman’s playbook limitations are hurting them. You see some of the same plays being called and not a lot of creativity in the passing game over the entire game. That takes away some of the things you might do to get your receivers open.
The Noles have talent at the receiver position. They’re stocked with four and five star recruits but they haven’t found that guy that can consistently make big plays for them. Auden Tate has been their best option for those big plays and he is exactly the type of player that is built to beat UofL. Tate is 6-5 and 225 pounds and he can run well. More importantly, he knows how to use his body to shield defenders. Louisville has small corners and Tate can go up for the ball to make a play or he can just “big body” them. He’s been banged up a bit but he has 5 of FSU’s 6 touchdown catches and he’s averaging over 16 yards per catch.
Nyqwan Murray and Keith Gavin are the other top targets for Blackman. “Noonie” Murray had a breakout second half of the season last year and really showed what he could do against Michigan in their bowl game. I expected him to be the key guy this year but it just hasn’t happened so far. He is best on those short quick throws that they haven’t used as much this year. Gavin is a freak of nature at 6-3 and 221 pounds. He runs like a much smaller guy and he’s actually used as a kick returner. Gavin hasn’t been able to break any big plays on offense yet but Louisville has had plenty of trouble stopping opposing receivers.
Also, keep an eye out for D.J. Matthews. George Campbell has been the fourth option but Matthews could steal it away. He was a big get for them in this past recruiting class and he’s another one of those smaller guys that can make a play after the catch.
This is not hyperbole. FSU’s offensive line is arguably worse than Louisville’s line last season. They are that bad and it jumps out at you when you watch them. Guys pass blocking on run plays. Guards pulling and lunging at guys with their heads down. Tackles being beaten by simple stunts or twists. Running backs being blown up in the backfield before they can even get going. Blitzers running freely without being touched. It’s all there and the numbers are actually worse because they don’t have Lamar to escape.
FSU has one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the country but the last two years have been very rough for him. FSU hasn’t recruited on the line like they have at other spots and they’ve had some injuries that have just killed them, also. This year they have had to shuffle guys around as Landon Dickerson is down with an injury. Left tackle Derrick Kelly had to move down to guard and they’re now starting a freshman outside in Josh Ball. Cole Minshew is the guy to keep an eye on at right guard. He is the guy with a big arrow pointing at him when you watch the line. He just makes a lot of mistakes and plays with bad technique. Louisville has to take advantage of the hugely obvious weakness on this team. That’s how they will slow down this offense and get the upset.