LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (4-3, 1-2) At FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (2-3, 2-2)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Doak S. Campbell Stadium: Tallahassee, Fla.
Announcers: Mark Jones (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (color), Quint Kessenich (sideline)
Favorite: Florida State by 6.5
All-Time Series: Florida State leads 14-3
Last Meeting: Louisville won 63-20 last season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
About Florida State
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.
The last two weeks have been really interesting to me because no fan base has been very happy with at least one coach on all three staffs. Steve Addazio has more than worn out his welcome at Boston College while Peter Sirmon has drawn the ire of Cards fans. Charles Kelly is in the same boat for Nole fans. Kelly only had a six game interim stint as a defensive coordinator at a FBS school before Jimbo Fisher promoted him. Fans were very underwhelmed with the hire and that’s continued for 4 years. He’s had a lot of talent at his disposal and hasn’t really done too great with it over his tenure.
One of the areas that has really struggled under Kelly is the defensive line. 2016 was a great year for the group with DeMarcus Walker racking up awards and accolades. Brian Burns and Josh Sweat also had very good years rushing the passer. Throw in Derrick Nnadi’s strong play at defensive tackle and most expected the line to absorb the loss of Walker and still be a strong points. That hasn’t happened at all. FSU has almost no pass rush halfway through the season.
Burns and Sweat combined for 16.5 sacks last year so everyone assumed that the two former five stars would put up big numbers this year. It just hasn’t happened. Burns has had some success getting around the edge, but he seems to always be a step late. Sweat has always been an up and down player and he looks to have regressed back to some issues he had in his first year. He just kind of disappears at times. Sweat doesn’t bend around the edge like most guys and he’s also not a guy that can overpower a tackle like others. These two guys are what you dream for if you’re a coach but they just haven’t delivered as expected so far.
Tackle has been a bright spot for the Noles. Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas are veteran guys that know how to eat up blocks and make plays. Half of their tackles this year have been credited as “stuffs” (Run plays stopped for zero or negative yards). These guys are hard to move and they get off blocks pretty well on interior runs. Nnadi is also very good at making those impact plays behind the line. Those plays get offenses off schedule and put the defense at an advantage. This will be another test for Robbie Bell and the guards for Louisville. They had some rough patches against BC so it’ll be something to keep an eye on.
Florida State is playing solid defense this year. I’d imagine plenty of fans of middle of the pack teams would kill for this level of play but those teams don’t have the talent that FSU has. When you’re three starting linebackers have combined for 5 total negative plays it actually makes you wonder how they’re playing solid football. You just expect more and it’s hard to tell if it’s more on the scheme or if guys just aren’t getting it done.
Ro’Derrick Hoskins is a veteran in the middle for the Noles and he’s bracketed by two very fast and athletic guys in Matthew Thomas and Jacob Pugh. Thomas runs like a safety and can really chase down plays from the weak side. Hoskins is a big guy and a solid player. He doesn’t really do anything that wows you but I think that leadership is important at that spot. Pugh is the most interesting player to me. Last year they would move DeMarcus Walker down to tackle in passing situations and bring in Burns at end. I think they could look to do that with Sweat and Pugh, respectively this year. Pugh has played as a rush end and Sweat is big enough to play inside. Throw in the fact that UofL throws the ball so much and it makes sense to get your best pass rushers on the field.
The secondary has been somewhat of a letdown this season. The defense as a whole has not made early enough big plays but the other units are at least stopping the run well. FSU’s pass defense has left a lot to be desired but a good amount of their issues have to do with the scheme. There are times where they are playing with a lot of cushion on third and medium. They press at times but they don’t bring enough pressure and the quarterback has time to make an accurate throw. Sound familiar? FSU hasn’t been beaten on deep throws as much as Louisville but they’ve had some similar issues.
Tarvarus McFadden and Levonta Taylor are listed as the starters at corner but they will also play true freshmen Stanford Samuels opposite McFadden. McFadden led the country in interceptions last year but he hasn’t had the same success this year. Teams went to the other side some early this year with Samuels being so green but as the year has progressed, McFadden has been thrown at more and more. He’s also been beaten a few times. Taylor is a former five star that waited his time to get on the field. I personally like the way he plays but he seems to be the third option at times.
FSU is big in the secondary with Taylor being the only corner under 6-2 and the only player at all under 6-0. Kyle Meyers mans the Star position for the Noles and he’s been super impressive. Meyers is a high energy guy that always seems to be around the ball. He can tackle and he’s solid in coverage. UofL loves the middle of the field so he will be key in taking away those crossing routes they run. Trey Marshall is back at strong safety. He’s the enforcer of the group. He’s the most likely guy to make a huge hit and force a fumble or make a huge hit and get kicked out of the game.
The best defensive player in the country will line up at free safety in Derwin James. James is a freakishly athletic player that blends size, quickness, and short area speed to be somewhat of a “defensive weapon”. Think Jaylen Samuels from NC State just on defense. Charles Kelly will line him up as a deep safety. He will cover the slot. He will line up at middle linebacker. He’ll rush off the edge. He will even be returning kicks. He does it all.
I think Kelly will utilize James to do exactly what FSU couldn’t do last year. Containing Lamar Jackson. James can spy Lamar or he can be used as a rush end on the left side of the defense. That would allow him to keep Lamar from running or at least running for long runs as a spy. It would also put him rushing into Lamar’s right side in hopes that he would have to bail left which is harder to do. FSU has the luxury of having Ermon Lane and AJ Westbrook at safety also. Both of those guys have a ton of game experience which allows James to truly move down to linebacker and there be a much smaller drop off than most teams would have.
Louisville can’t rely on their defense like they could in last year’s game. They dominated in all three phases and Lamar had a monster game. The offense is too pass heavy this year and that allows a team like FSU to play in their nickel or dime sets more. That means they have way more speed on the field. Kelly should look to bring pressure to get Lamar uncomfortable and utilize the speed he has to contain him. Louisville looked like a completely different team in the FSU game last year. The energy level was through the roof. They haven’t been able to replicate that since. They’ll need to figure out how to get that back if they plan on hitting 63 points again.
Excitement Level: 6.0
Not what we thought it was going to be. This has also been a very long week.
Game Attire: Red leaping Lamar shirt, gym shorts
I’m going with the casual home game watch attire that I should have adopted for the NC State game.
Pregame Meal: Leftover Momma’s BBQ
Yo, Momma’s is really good. You should know that.
Bold Prediction: Louisville fakes a punt
Zykiesis Cannon Interception Alert Level: Eggplant (losing hope)
Predicted Star of the Game: James Hearns
Doesn’t seem like the right time to go with a defensive guy, but it’s now or never.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Florida State players don’t tweet in-season, and the fans are pretty much all just ripping on the team.
—The 63 points Louisville scored against Florida State last season were the most ever surrendered by a Seminole team.
—After last week’s performance against Boston College, Lamar Jackson is now Louisville’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
—Saturday’s game features two of the six active head coaches who have coached a Heisman Trophy winner and is the last of three scheduled games that will match active Heisman Trophy-winning head coaches in 2017.
—U of L’s Jonathan Greenard leads the ACC and is second in the nation in both tackles for loss yardage (81 yards) and sack yardage (58 yards).
—Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s winning percentage of 80% is the best all-time among ACC coaches, ahead of Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (.766) and former Seminole legend Bobby Bowden (173-53-1, .764 with FSU in the ACC).
—Fisher leads all active coaches in wins per season (11.1).
—Louisville is 205-182-2 (.578) all-time in games played during the month of October, but just 66-109-3 on the road.
—The Florida State defense has forced just four turnovers this season, and the team ranks 110th in the country in turnover margin.
—Louisville’s only win over Florida State in Tallahassee came in the first ever meeting between the two teams. Johnny Unitas led the Cardinals to a 41-14 win over the Seminoles in 1952. U of L has lost nine games in a row in Tallahassee since.
—Louisville is 10-22-1 all-time in games played in the state of Florida.
—Lamar Jackson leads the nation in total offense, averaging 430.3 yards per game.
—As a team, Louisville ranks fourth in the country in total offense at 567.5 ypg.
—Florida State will be facing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for the fourth time in program history. The Noles are 1-2 in those games.
—Florida State Kicker Ricky Aguayo has made 11 straight field goals.
—Louisville kicker Blanton Creque is a perfect 9 for 9 on the season.
—FSU’s defense has allowed only seven touchdowns in 17 red-zone possessions. That’s the best mark in the ACC and tied for 10th nationally.
—Louisville has totaled at least 400 yards of offense in 17 of its last 20 games.
—Louisville’s loss to Boston College last week was its first when scoring at least 40 points since a 46-44 triple overtime loss at West Virginia in 2005.
—Florida State hasn’t lost its first three home games in a season since 1974. The Noles are 0-2 at Doak Campbell so far this season.
—Under Bobby Petrino, Louisville is 35-4 when winning the turnover battle.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 219 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 180-12 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-105 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points. U of L altered both of those marks last week with a 45-42 loss to Boston College.
—“Obviously, we’re not seeing the results we want. We do have a belief in how we prepare, how we practice, and it’s been good. It’s worked over time, so you have to stick to your beliefs and not try to have quick fixes.” —Bobby Petrino
—"Different team, different place. You don't take any of that (what happened last year) personally. If you take it personally, then it gets in your head and you make bad decisions " —FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher
—“Yeah, we’re taking this week very personally because of what happened last year.” —Florida State cornerback Levonta Taylor
—“He might put a little bit of fear in Lamar Jackson’s heart, just seeing him back there. Hopefully he can come in and make an impact in the game on Saturday.” –- FSU cornerback Levonta Taylor on having Derwin James available to face Louisville this year
—“We’re anxious to get back out there and right that wrong. It’s been very positive. A lot of people expect us to be down, but when you’re backed into a corner you have to fight. The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to but there’s a lot of good football left in this team.” —James Hearns
—“I feel like each week is another way to play a football game, another week to get better and test ourselves and see the team we can become. I think Louisville is a great candidate to go out there and test ourselves against. I’m excited to go out there and see what happens.” —FSU offensive lineman Alec Eberle
—“I just remember him scoring a lot, they had the bell ringing. This year, I don’t want to let that happen.” —Florida State cornerback Levonta Taylor
—"He's definitely the most dynamic player I have faced. He is agile and quick. You just have to contain him. Looking at the film it was obvious that we had a lot of mistakes on defense, too big of mistakes." —FSU LB Matthew Thomas said