LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-1, 1-0) At FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (1-2, 0-1)
Game Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium: Tallahassee, Fla.
Announcers: Mark Jones, Dusty Dvoracek and Olivia Dekker
Favorite: Florida State by 6.5
All-Time Series: Florida State leads, 15-4
Last Meeting: Florida State won 28-24 on Sept. 29, 2018 in Louisville
Louisville Depth Chart:
About Florida State:
When Willie Taggart took over as the head coach at Florida State, not many people expected the offense to struggle. Well, the offense didn’t struggle last year for the Seminoles. It completely collapsed. The FSU offensive line was hurt by injuries and the previous staff just refusing to recruit the position. The Noles had the worst offensive line in the country and it took the rest of the offense down with it. Taggart didn’t help things by setting the bar so high in year one but one has to wonder if he saw the roster and chemistry issues that he inherited.
One decision that Taggart gets to own himself is the decision to not play James Blackman last season. Deandre Francois was the starter and he struggled most of the season on the field while also being rumored to have issues as a leader off the field. Blackman won the job this year and he’s started the season hitting on nearly 70% of his passes. The offense showed a nice mix of quicker short throws to go with shots down the field against Boise State in their first game but I didn’t see it as much against UVA. Blackman is at his best on longer throws, in my opinion and the Noles have the receivers to get down the field.
One of the struggles for the FSU offense is the ineffectiveness of their quick screen game. Taggart has passed off the offense to Kendall Briles but the extremely wide splits from the receivers as well as the motion players turning into blockers has remained. The issue with both of these things is that it telegraphs the play and it takes forever for the ball to arrive to the receiver. That doesn’t even get into the issue of how short the field is for the receiver once they catch it. It becomes self defeating to an extent. I think that Briles will look to do more of what works with this offense and we will see more immediate level passes as well as throws down the field.
Cam Akers is one of the most physical running backs in the country and he is finally getting the blocking he needs to be effective. Akers was second to last in the country last season in yards before contact and the worst back in the country was his backup. Akers leads the ACC in rushing so far and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the year. The Noles have found more success running the ball so far but they also use Akers in the passing game pretty well. Louisville had some real issues stopping Notre Dame’s run game but they have executed very well over the last two weeks as guys seem to have fully bought into the system. Akers will have a big day if the defense regresses.
Florida State has some of the most talented receivers in the ACC but getting that talent to consistently produce has been an issue. Tamorrion Terry is the top receiver for FSU and he has developed his game a bit to be more useful on intermediate throws. Terry is a burner that scored on a long touchdown last year against Louisville. I expect the Noles to test the Louisville secondary with Terry as we haven’t seen anyone try to push the ball deep down the field yet.
The other receivers for FSU haven’t produced like you would expect. Keith Gavin is the opposite outside receiver and has great size. He just doesn’t ever seem to use it well. He is 6-3/212 but isn’t a consistent deep threat and isn’t strong with the football. D.J. Matthews is second on the team in catches but only averages six yards per catch. As the “space” player on this offense, you expect more from him. Ontaria Wilson is the guy that’s impressed me the most outside of Terry. Wilson has taken some snaps from Gavin and can do a little bit of everything. Tre McKitty is an athletic tight end in the same mold as the WKU tight end that had their long score last week.
The FSU offensive line has shown some real improvement this year but that’s not really saying much. The line was absolutely horrific last season and have elevated their game to serviceable so far this year. Akers has room to run the vast majority of the time but get hit in the backfield way too often. The line just seems to be very passive in the way they block. Guys don’t fire off the ball and they get beat to the spot a lot. There are also still a good amount of blown assignments in pass protection. But overall, the offense is working better because the line is playing better.
Louisville has to find a way to get FSU into long third downs. FSU has been terrible at converting any third downs but Blackman presses in those situations and his mechanics get sloppy. It’s also the situation that Louisville has done well in. Bryan Brown can go with a number of different looks and blitzes and this line hasn’t shown that it can hold up against a good pass rush.
In 2018, Florida State relied on a solid defense to keep them in a handful of games. For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to replicate the success this season. The Seminoles have given up a lot of yardage and a ton of points so far this year and Willie Taggart has already added his former defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, to the staff as an analyst. Harlon Barnett came from Michigan State with a very good reputation but it seems that his defense at FSU is having some of the same problems it had at MSU.
The defensive front for FSU is probably the best overall group on this defense. Marvin Wilson is the top player of the group and he’s arguably the best player on the team. Wilson is one of the rare five-star players that plays with the effort of a two-star walk-on. At 6-5/311, Wilson can eat up blocks very well but he is at his best using his quickness. It’s unbelievable watching a guy as big as him be so nimble and explosive. Wilson doesn’t always make the plays that show up on the stat sheet but the fact that he creates so much havoc and no one else ends up in the stat sheet is the problem.
Corey Durden has emerged as the opposite defensive tackle in the 3-4 scheme that FSU is running. Durden was once a Louisville recruit who has put on a lot of good weight to get over 300 pounds. As this is more of a traditional 3-4 that eats up blocks and lets the linebackers run around, Durden also doesn’t end up in the stat sheet much but he plays fast for a big guy and could cause some issues beating blocks in the run game. Robert Cooper mans the middle for FSU at 346 pounds and he has been pretty impressive against double teams. Cooper lost 30+ pounds over the last year and you can tell that he moves well because of that. Depth is a concern for the Noles but the backups have made a handful of tackles.
FSU lost their best edge player last week as former five-star Joshua Kaindoh suffered a season ending injury. Kaindoh led the team in tackles for loss and had a sack on the season. Janarius Robinson started the first two games, so I would expect him back in there. The linebackers have been a major issue for this defense and the edge guys have been underwhelming. Robinson and Leonard Warner are the outside linebackers in this scheme with Warner being the guy more likely to end up in coverage. The issue is that none of the guys that they play at those spots can cover anyone. They also haven’t done much as pass rushers. So they essentially play five defensive linemen that don’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
The inside linebackers haven’t been much better. Jaiden Lars-Woodbey was outstanding last year as a sort of rover but he hasn’t played up to his potential as an inside linebacker this season. Run fits and handling blockers are essential for a linebacker and Lars-Woodbey still has issues with trying to avoid blockers instead of maintaining gap discipline. Dontavious Jackson is a senior linebacker and he might be worse when it comes to the things mentioned above. He constantly tries to shoot other gaps or just goes into the wrong gap against the run. He is also a complete liability in pass coverage. At this point, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Emmett entrench himself as the full time starter. Rice at least plays with the type of effort that you expect to see from your man in the middle.
(Tashan Reed who covers FSU for the Athletic tweeted that Lars-Woodbey and Warner had switched places in practice on Tuesday, but there’s no way to know that will translate to the game.)
Florida State’s secondary is littered with four and five-star players and they have been fairly unreliable in pass coverage so far. FSU is allowing opposing offenses to complete 64.3% of their passes, 7.3 yards per attempt, and they’ve given up 51 first downs via pass plays which is second to last in the country. It’s all bad and it’s not all because of a bad pass rush. Guys have been beaten in single coverage and guys have also been very slow to react in zone coverage. Barnett admitted that he was too soft in the first two games but Virginia routinely beat man coverage when he blitzed last week. I’m not sure how Barnett will try to defend Louisville’s scheme but Scott Satterfield should look to test this secondary.
Amonte Samuel and Stanford Samuels will start at the corner spots for FSU. Both players have three pass break ups on the season and Samuel made a solid catch on an interception last week. The Noles need more from these guys in coverage from a play making standpoint. As of now, the defense tends to just let teams matriculate the ball down the field and they haven’t had anyone step up to make big plays.
At safety, Hamsah Nasirildeen is the top player. Nasirildeen leads the team in tackles for the second straight year and plays just as hard as Wilson does up front. I expected the staff to move him to linebacker this season and keep Lars-Woodbey in the secondary but I think they like his range in the back end. He will be key this weekend with Louisville running on the edges so much. Lovanta Taylor and Cyrus Fagan will split duties opposite Nasirildeen. Taylor came to FSU with a ton of potential and hype but hasn’t really been the star they anticipated. As a combo, I think they’ve been pretty good. They all cover ground really well but Nasirildeen is the guy they want to go after in the slot.
Excitement Level: 8.4
This is about as excited as I’ve been for a Louisville football game since the 2017 Clemson game. Win and the stage is set for the Excitement Level to produce some even higher readings over the next two months.
Game Attire: Red Cardinal bird polo, white and red U of L hat
I’ve gone t-shirt for each of the two wins, so I may have a change of heart at some point this afternoon.
Pregame Meal: Assorted tailgate foods
We’re going to a friend’s house to watch, so if baby Va. takes her first loss today, it’s only because we drug her out of the familiar confines of the CC Headquarters.
Bold Prediction: Blanton Creque makes at least three field goals
The man loves Doak Campbell.
Also, the CC bold prediction remains perfect in 2019.
Ty Tyler Sack Alert Level: Orchid (getting closer, but we’re not quite there yet)
Our man had his first tackle last week, so we’re inching closer and closer to the goal.
Predicted Star of the Game: Blanton Creque
Clearly, I’m all in here.
—Louisville enters Saturday one win away from its first three-game winning streak since November of 2017.
—After going 0-8 in the ACC last season, Louisville is searching for its first conference win since a 56-10 victory over Syracuse at home on Nov. 18, 2017.
—Louisville is 2-9 all-time against Florida State in Tallahassee, but won the most recent road game against the Seminoles in 2017.
—Florida State has scored at least 24 points in every game this season, only the fifth time in the last 20 seasons and first time since 2013 FSU has reached the 24-point mark in each of its first three games.
—FSU is 11-for-12 on red zone opportunities this season, scoring nine touchdowns with two field goals, and has scored on 35 of 40 chances (.875) dating back to week two of last season. In that span, the Seminoles are averaging 6.2 points per red zone conversion
—Because of a targeting penalty in the second half of last Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky, Louisville safety Jack Fagot will have to sit out the first half of the Florida State game.
—FSU is the only ACC team and one of only 11 teams in the country to have not given up a play of 40+ yards this season. The longest play given up by the Noles is a 36-yard completion vs. Boise State. FSU is also tied for 1st in the nation and one of three ACC teams that has not given up a 30-yard rush this season. The longest rush allowed by the Noles defense is a 24-yarder vs. Boise State.
—Louisville is 3-2 all-time in ACC openers.
—Florida State’s DJ Matthews, the team’s leading wide receiver, was suspended for last week’s game at Virginia but has been cleared to return to the field this week.
—Florida State ranks 93rd in the country in total defense, allowing 485.0 yards of total offense and 37.0 points per game to start the season.
—Louisville has outscored its first three opponents 35-14 in the first quarter and 59-28 in the first half.
—Florida State is outscoring its opponents 69-36 in the first half.
—Louisville RB Javian Hawkins is averaging 112.7 yards per game, the best of any freshman running back in the FBS.
—In seven seasons as a head coach, Scott Satterfield owns a 35-6 record in conference play.
—Louisville has recorded nine sacks through three games, ranking them 25th in the country. The Cardinals recorded 11 sacks all of last season.
—Louisville has scored touchdowns on 8 of its 10 red zone trips so far this season.
—A win for Florida State would be the Seminoles’ 300th all-time inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
—Louisville’s 136 rushing attempts through three games are tied for the 21st-most in the nation, third in the ACC, and account for 68 percent of their plays from scrimmage.
—Louisville has 18 players on its roster who call the Sunshine State home, including 13 from the Miami area.
—The Cardinals own a 22-33-1 record versus Florida schools in their history, including a 4-15 record versus Florida State.
—Louisville is 11-24-1 all-time in games played in the state of Florida and have dropped their last two. However, the Cardinals are 7-4 in their last 11 contests in the Sunshine State.
—Louisville lost 15-straight games played in Florida from 1979-2006, but are 8-6 since the losing streak.
—Louisville has lost its last four true road games. The Cards haven’t defeated an opponent inside their home stadium since a 44-17 win at Kentucky to end the 2017 regular season.
—Since 2010, Louisville is 29-12 in September and has won 12 of its last 17 contests in the month.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 240 games dating back to a 31-0 loss to Florida State during the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
—Louisville is 185-13 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-113 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—“I know a lot of things have been said, the media and this and that about them. They’re still Florida State. They still have a lot of great players. And you turn on the film, and you can see it and you can see how, you know, great size, good speed, really good speed. For whatever reason, they’ve not closed it out in the second half of games, but they obviously have a lot of potential to be really good.” —Scott Satterfield
—Louisville is a physical football team. And if you want to be a physical defense, you love going against teams like this. And you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to hit them. They’re going to run the ball and try to hit you. You’ve got to try to outhit them.” —Florida State head coach Willie Taggart
—“We are getting ready to play bigger games now that we are in conference play. We came out last week in the second half a little weak, and we know that we have to finish as we start ACC play this week.” —TuTu Atwell
—“The offensive line coach by trade is the offensive coordinator, so that makes sense. It kind of reminds me of Boston College a little bit, how it’s the same kind of thought process behind them with guys trying to run the ball. [We’ve] got to have the mindset to always stop the run. That’s every defense on every level of football. No. 1 is stop the run. They’re trying to run the football, so it’ll be a great challenge.” —Florida State head coach Willie Taggart
—“They’re really good on defense. They’re active. They play with nickel personnel. Their nickel’s a really good football player. They’re not the biggest guys on defense, but those guys fly around. They got ‘em playing at a high level. I like what they’re doing on defense. I think they’re really well coached. It’ll be a great challenge for us.” —Florida State offensive coordinator Kendal Briles
—”They’re averaging 260 yards a game rushing the football and that’s a lot... We got to have the mindset to always stop the run. That’s every defense on every level of football. No. 1 is stop the run.” —Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett
—“These guys have an identity in what they want to be and how they want to be. They’re sticking to it and it’s helping them win ball games.” —Florida State head coach Willie Taggart
Card Chronicle Prediction: Florida State 28, Louisville 27
I’ll be very, very surprised if we don’t at least have a shot to win this thing in the fourth quarter. But Willie Taggart’s due for some good luck, and we have to wait a couple more weeks for the first ACC win of the Satterfield era.
Here’s to being wrong.