Week 5 of Louisville Cardinal football…and ladies and gentlemen the fun is just getting started, amiright?!? Okay, so things may not be going quite as we expected about a month ago but there is no denying that when Louisville was an independent or even back in the Conference USA days we would have given our right arm to get Florida State to come and play us on an annual basis. The rainbows aren’t as bright and the roses may not smell as great but gosh darn it, we got them ‘Noles coming to town and the Cards are looking to build a three game win streak over the flaming spear throwers from down in Tallahassee.
Today I got a chance to chat with Dylan Kidd aka ‘DKfromVA’ from over at ‘Tomahawk Nation’ and pick his brain about the how Florida State’s season is going [not great], what the fans think of Taggert’s performance four games in [not great], and what the Cards chances are of putting up
50.. 40.. 30.. 20..10 points against that FSU defense come Saturday afternoon [probably not great]. Also, don’t miss the post where I returned the favor for those guys right here, ignoring all their questions and just typing 3,000 words about the 2002 rain game, the 2016 beat down, and offering a full synopsis of all of Chris Mack’s 2019 recruits....or did I? Go check it out.
CS: I could wax poetic about FSU’s vaunted history, the championships, the titles, the All-Americans, etc but even the most casual fan is well aware of the tradition you guys have built down there. From an outsider’s perspective, I have to be honest with you Dylan, things ain’t looking all that pretty in Year 1 of the Willie Taggert era. A few bumps were to be expected and the ‘Noles absolutely looked more competent on offense last week against NIU, but care to give the casual observer a brief overview as to what is going on with the Preseason Top 20 squad?
TN: It’s fair to say that just about everyone, myself included, underestimated just how many bumps there would be. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy now to see how much FSU is trying to fundamentally change what they do with very little in the way of an offensive line and a quarterback who isn’t a great fit for the new system. We did know that the ‘Noles were in trouble if they suffered injuries on the offensive line—especially at tackle—which is exactly what’s happened. It’s readily apparent that the guys are learning the offense week by week. You see it in the alignment penalties, footwork, ball handling, and discomfort with tempo with which we’ve become painfully familiar during these first four weeks. It’s a process, but I do think last week was a solid step forward when the ‘Noles moved the ball very effectively against a good NIU defense.
The Florida State defense has been quite good under new coordinator Harlon Barnett so far. They’ll give up some big plays, but that’s part of the aggressive scheme that will look to complement its offense by trying to make some big plays of their own and get the ball back. But even with that in mind, the ‘Noles might still be giving up too many home runs in obvious passing downs so far, as I believe they’re about 126th in the nation in explosive plays yielded in passing downs. Overall, it’s definitely been a rockier transition than anyone expected so far, but we hope to see them continue to progress as the season progresses. The problem, however, is a backloaded schedule that won’t do them any favors.
As I referenced above, it seems as if the offense awoke from its brief slumber against Northern Illinois last Saturday, dropping 37 points on a good defense behind a decent performance from Deondre Francois (352yd/2TD) who once again wasn’t spectacular but did plenty of things to help the team win. Do you think that was a catalyst to getting things going on that side of the ball or a onetime aberration for a team currently ranked 115th nationally (20.8pts/g) in scoring offense (please say aberration..please say aberration…please say aberration..)?
TN: That’s very much the money question. I expect the players to get more comfortable with the scheme and the staff to get more comfortable with their personnel, which should lead to improvement throughout 2018. However, there’s only so much you can do if you don’t have an offensive line. The only way FSU actually fixes this problem, rather than mitigating it, is by recruiting. For the season at hand, the Seminoles have to hope they get healthy at tackle, particularly the ankle of Landon Dickerson. I do think the staff is figuring out some workarounds for the offensive line group they have. We saw them using some pistol formation and downhill runs (read: mashing inside zone), and I expect to see more of this to simplify things for the line.
Francois looked better against NIU, but he certainly still has his limitations, particularly in the running game. This is unfortunate for Florida State because Louisville has struggled to contain quarterbacks on the ground this year. Francois also does not run the zone read or RPO stuff very effectively, which is also where I’ve seen UL struggle. So that might provide some hope for y’all. I still think the ‘Noles should move the ball decently if they play as well as they did last week, but I can’t say too confidently they will. We thought they took a step forward against Samford, even adjusted for opponent, only to see them play their worst game of the year at Syracuse the next week. Hopefully we can ignore the all-too-easy parallels this coming week, but I just can’t say for sure.
I have to come clean Dylan, the first two questions were a setup to try and make me feel better about the Cards chances coming into this week but frankly, I’m running out of excuses as to why the offense just can’t get things going. While fans down in Tallahassee may be a bit perturbed with the 2-2 start folks up here are borderline psychotic due to the lack of offensive production to start the season. The Cards have yet to score an offensive touchdown in the first half all year and statistically they are in the bottom 5% nationally in both scoring and total offense. If I handover the playbook and name you my offensive coordinator for Week 5 [for real though, you interested?] what are you doing to attack that FSU defense? What are their vulnerabilities?
TN: New FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett comes from Michigan State and brings their trademark cover-4 base with him. Their first objective is to stop the run, and you’ll see the safeties pretty close to the line of scrimmage. Vertical routes convert to man coverage for the Seminole DBs, so you’ll have chances to hit plays over the top with great throws and catches. Samford did exactly this with a kid who may be drafted at QB. So, if you like Jawon Pass and a wideout or two to make a contested play, you’ll have the opportunity. Florida State’s weakest defensive position group is the linebacker corps, and I’m sure Petrino will scheme some match-ups for them. Barnett has not been afraid to mix up coverage's and play a bunch of young guys, so you can probably catch a true freshman in a one-on-one.
I can’t say we’ve seen a consistent way to expose them yet, which isn’t surprising since it’s only been four games. They played well against Virginia Tech, had the aforementioned issues against the wunderkind from Samford, and then just wore down against Syracuse. Last week they gave up one long play, and everything else came after the offense put them in bad spots with turnovers. I don’t think Louisville will be able to run a bunch of plays against the ‘Noles, but the turnover part might be replicable. And even if not, you can bet that Florida State will not win the field position game, as the FSU special teams have not been good. So it may be that your best bet in scoring on the Seminoles this Saturday is your defense, whether directly or indirectly.
With everything else going on in the program over the last few years it would be easy to understand that a game against Louisville may not rank very high among the priorities for those passionate about the garnet and gold, but around these parts the possibilities of a three game win streak over FSU does make my britches tingle a little. What’s your read on the fans perspective of this Atlantic Division rival? Just another game or still looking for blood from 2016?
TN: We’re not in a position to be looking for blood at this point. We would joyously take our first win streak in the Taggart era and run. Florida State fans are very nervous about the jeopardized bowl streak. A win against UL would keep hopes alive, while a loss would pretty much slam the door shut. In an average year I’d probably be more concerned about a lookahead game with Miami on deck, and the 2016 game might help in avoiding that. But I really do think the team and its fans aren’t overlooking anything at the moment. I know Barnett said this week that his guys are looking forward to playing up there after 2016, but I think the coaching change and this year’s early struggles have taken the steam out of any sort of revenge factor.
While neither Deondre Francois or Cam Akers has set the world on fire personally against Louisville they both still scare me against this year’s teams as they have big play potential oozing from their pores. Who else should I be nervous about? Who has the potential to single-handedly ruin my afternoon?
TN: On offense, FSU has a bunch of candidates at the skill positions, but I’d have to say the most worrisome should be Tamorrion Terry.
He’s a very tall, very athletic wideout who finally broke a big one last week against NIU, and I think he presents a very tough match-up for Louisville’s DBs. At slot wideout and punt returner I’d keep an eye on #29 D.J. Matthews, who is a terror in the open field, especially if his teammates decide to block for him. True freshman Tre’shaun Harrison finally got on the field last week and looked great, so I’d look for #88 on some jet stuff too. And then there’s Deondre’s favorite target, for better or worse, Noonie Murray. He’s not a bad player at all, but we would like to see Francois reduce the number of balls he forces to his buddy every game.
Some things will always remain constant. The flowers will fade, the trees will change colors, the seasons will come and go, but death, taxes, and asking for a game prediction on a blog Q&A will never disappear. ‘Noles come into Cardinal Stadium five point favorites, 3:30pm kick, forecast calls for a high of 78…what’s the storyline as we walk back to the tailgating lots?
TN: I have this sinking feeling it’s going to be an undertone of disgust, regardless of who wins. As I mentioned, the stuff the UL defense struggles with most is not something Francois can really take advantage of. And while I think Petrino will draw up some shot plays for the Cardinals, I don’t expect them to move the ball consistently against FSU’s defense. So we may be in for a rock fight here, and the current over/under of 46 for a college game reflects that. I’m going to choose to believe in the power of positive thinking and predict the ‘Noles make one more play in the passing game than the Cards do and pull out a 20-19 win.
This may or may not be because I tried to reverse jinx FSU against Syracuse and that went quite poorly. Regardless, I have very little faith in Florida State in close games at the moment, primarily due to the massive question mark at the kicker position. So who knows!
Really appreciate your time, before I let you go a couple quick hitters…
Favorite FSU player of all-time?
TN: Devonta Freeman. Could not possibly be happier for that kid’s success.
Why is Leonard Hamilton always in a various stage of disappointment?
TN: Keeps him young. How old do you think he is? You’re super wrong. (He’s 70!)
If you had the opportunity to call one offensive series during a game or ride Renegade into the stadium and plant the flaming spear at midfield…which one you picking?
TN: Hmm. Both options are fraught with scary outcomes. Everyone hates their play caller, FSU fans especially included. But I’ve also never ridden a horse, much less while carrying something heavy, sharp, and on fire. Still, if you’ve seen #FSUTwitter, you’ll understand why I’m taking the latter.
A big thanks once again to Dylan Kidd for stepping up to the plate and hitting a few frozen ropes out to left field, and if this game doesn’t go well….baseball season is right around the corner for your nationally ranked ‘Cardinal Nine’. Feel free to go check Dylan out over at ‘Tomahawk Nation’ as he dives into a multitude of topics ranging from pop-tart flavors to his favorite He-Man character. I didn’t fact check those but they certainly sound like some amazing topics that Dylan would cover.
Come back next week as I discuss The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with a representative of ‘From The Rumble Seat’. I’m sure we can run through plenty of questions pretty fast and they won’t pass on a single one of them….see, because they run a lot….and never pass….get it? Nevermind.