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Key Matchups: Florida State

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There are a lot of questions for coaches in this week’s Key Matchups.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Florida State Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

PETER SIRMON VS. FSU’S OFFENSIVE LINE

Florida State’s offensive line has had a lot of trouble protecting James Blackman this season. They’ve also had plenty of issues when run blocking as well. Guys have used poor technique and teams have been very aggressive in shooting gaps to get into the backfield. FSU has played a handful of strong defenses that utilize their front seven to disrupt as well as make plays in the backfield and they haven’t handled them all too well.

Peter Sirmon should take a page out of the book of those schools this weekend. Sirmon’s defense has really underperformed when it comes to making plays behind the line of scrimmage. That can’t happen against the team that gives up more negative plays than anyone else in the country. At some point he needs to call some run blitzes on early downs and get his linebackers into those gaps to make plays. He also needs to get after Blackman and make him uncomfortable. The opportunity is there. Will Sirmon take advantage of it?

DERWIN JAMES VS. LAMAR JACKSON

In my opinion, Derwin James and Lamar Jackson are the most talented players in the country. Maybe not the “best”, but most talented for sure. Jackson makes at least one highlight play a week that showcases abilities that no one else can match. Most of the time it’s on a long run or a goal line play where he shakes two or three guys. James will provide the perfect test to see if anyone can actually outduel the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

James has the unique ability to play at all three levels of the defense. His size is great for a safety but he’s strong enough to play inside at linebacker. His short area speed is great as a run defender playing downhill, also. I am mostly impressed by his skills as an edge rusher. James isn’t big enough to fend off offensive tackles but he has very long arms and he knows how to use them to keep space between himself and much bigger linemen. I think Charles Kelly will use James as a pass rusher often in this game in hopes that he can get to Jackson before he breaks into the open field. I can also see him utilizing him as a spy in an attempt to take away running lanes for Jackson.

AUDEN TATE VS. JAIRE ALEXANDER

Jaire Alexander came into this season with a lot of praise for his coverage skills. His injury has really derailed the opportunity to showcase his abilities against high level players from Clemson and NC State. Auden Tate will finally give him a shot at showing what he can do against a future NFL guy. Jaire should be as close to 100% as he’s been all year. He’s one of the few defenders that is still playing with a lot of energy and confidence and he’ll need it this week.

Tate is a huge receiver at 6-5 and 225 pounds. He has battled a shoulder injury all year but Jimbo Fisher feels that he’s fully healthy now. Tate does an excellent job of using his body to shield off defensive backs from the football and he does well to gain that position with his route running. Blackman seems to have found his go-to guy in Tate and they really like to use him in the middle of the field. Jaire could make some plays on some of those plays. He made some really good plays last season on slant routes and other plays inside the hash marks.

LOUISVILLE’S RUNNING BACKS VS. BOBBY PETRINO

We’re halfway through the season and we are all still waiting for Louisville to become a balanced offense. Bobby Petrino has always been a run first play caller with his most successful passing plays coming off of play action plays. That just hasn’t happened this year for whatever reason. Louisville has been extremely successful running the football on first down year but they rarely take advantage of that success. Louisville running backs have been very good over the last two seasons but they have all struggled to even combine for more than 10-12 carries a game.

This is not a talent or scheme issue. It’s not due to the injuries we’ve seen this year. It’s also not a blocking issue. It’s a Bobby Petrino issue and it has to change at some point. Louisville throws the ball more than multiple “Air Raid” offenses at this point in the season. That includes Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, West Virginia, and SMU. How does that happen? You could also question just how little they’re running Lamar at this point. Petrino has to rely on his running backs at some point, even if it’s just to help the passing game that he seems to have fallen in love with.

JAMES BLACKMAN VS. LOUISVILLE’S LINEBACKERS AND SAFETIES

Boston College exploited a somewhat unknown weakness last week. Louisville's linebackers and safeties have a hard time covering bootleg throws. They have worked really well all year but they were mostly utilized on short yardage plays. BC started using them over and over again once their running game got going in the second half and they killed with them. What really stood out is that they did all of this “naked”. BC didn’t even respect the defense enough to make sure that the quarterback had someone to protect him on the boot action.

James Blackman will be without his third and fourth receiver again this week. I think that means that he will rely on tight end Ryan Izzo more than he did early in the season. Over the last two weeks, Izzo has 5 catches and a touchdown. He only had two catches on the year when Keith Gavin and George Campbell were healthy. Some of that added production is due to Blackman becoming more comfortable, also. Throw in the fact that Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick have been running the ball much better and I think that Blackman could have a big game. Now he just needs Jimbo Fisher to make the calls that worked so well for BC. When he does I think that Blackman will have some success targeting those short routes against Louisville’s second level players.