By Scott Carswell Jr.
This Saturday at 3:30 FSU will travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals.
Louisville is 2-2 on the season with wins against Indiana State and Western Kentucky and losses to Alabama and Virginia.
The Cardinals have beaten the Seminoles two years in a row. The last time FSU played at Louisville they were thrashed 63-20 in the game that helped propel Lamar Jackson to the Heisman trophy. Last year the defense played decent against Jackson and the Cardinals but a late turnover by James Blackman turned out costly as FSU lost 31-28.
Florida State observations from the last game
The Florida State offense showed signs of life last weekend against Northern Illinois. During the first 40 minutes or so of the game the only thing that stopped the offense was itself. Hanging on to the football was the main issue as FSU fumbled twice, dropped a couple passes and had a costly high snap during this stretch.
The much-maligned offensive line was able to block well against the Huskies base defense. They still struggled against the blitz but showed improvement from the game before. When left tackle Abdul Bello went out of the game midway through the third quarter the offense reverted back to playing like they did in the first three games. While he was out coach Taggart called mostly run plays and NIU was able to pick up on it, stalling the Seminole offense for a few drives. When Bello came back Francois hit Tamorrion Terry for the long touchdown that busted the game open.
Francois looked more like the 2016 version of himself for most of the game except for a couple wild decisions that led to turnovers. The skill position players all had solid games except for tight end Tre’ McKitty who dropped some passes and fumbled.
The Seminole defense has been very stout against the run this season and really showed that last weekend allowing just 6 yards rushing to Northern Illinois. They did all this without their most experienced defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas. He should be back this week. The secondary fell asleep a few times during the game. Northern Illinois was able to get some really long plays on third down and the ‘Noles even gave up two touchdowns through the air.
Florida state defense versus Louisville offense
Louisville is being secretive about who will be the quarterback on Saturday. The quarterbacks to choose from are 6-4 Juwan Pass, who is more of a pro-style quarterback that will get yards running only when it’s the last resort and redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham. I think they will go with Cunningham because he is the teams leading rusher and is just good enough at throwing the ball to make the FSU corners pay for blowing an assignment, which happens a few times a game.
In last week’s game Cunningham was able to move the offense but they were not able to convert those drives into points. Louisville has three running backs that share the carries and they are Jeremy Smith, Trey Smith and Dae Williams. All of them have struggled as neither of them has surpassed the hundred-yard mark for the season. The Cardinals’ most talented offensive weapon is preseason first-team All-ACC wide receiver Jaylen Smith. Due to the struggles at quarterback and his inability to catch the ball at times Smith has only racked up 8 catches through the first four games. He is definitely the best wide receiver FSU who has gone up against this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a big game. Dez Fitzpatrick is another wide receiver to look out for.
The only way I see Louisville being able to get any yards on the ground is with the quarterback on the outside. Dealing with Jaylen Smith and Fitzpatrick will be the biggest question mark for the defense. Smith will most likely be double teamed for most of the game so it will be up to Fitzpatrick to help get the Louisville offense going. Cornerback Lavonta Taylor will need to play his most consistent game of the season for the Seminoles if he hopes to help keep the Cardinals from getting a lot of big plays. Cornerback Kyle Meyers will need to continue his solid play while dealing with the talented receivers. It will be up to Adonis Thomas, DeCalon Brooks, Jaiden Woodbey and Stanford Samuels to help spy on the quarterback Cunningham if coach Petrino decides to go with him.
Florida State offense versus Louisville defense
Coach Taggart and offensive line coach Greg Frey may have found the best line combination this past weekend. Bello, Arnold, Eberle, Minshew and Scott played decent together, which was able to free up some time for Francois and the running backs to get going. The most talented lineman for the Seminoles when the season started was Landon Dickerson and he is hopeful to return this weekend. This would add some much needed depth.
Louisville has a very young front seven but the secondary is the biggest weakness for this side of the ball. The deficiencies in the backfield were masked by Virginia’s young quarterback inability to push the ball down the field when needed. This part of his game was not called on very much last week as all the pre-snap motion and Virginia’s ability to run the football put them in non-throwing situations. The Cardinals defense will get a big boost this weekend when Dorian Etheridge returns in the middle of the linebacking corps. Last year he was third in the nation among freshmen with 66 tackles, which earned him freshman All-American honors. Louisville only has six sacks on the season and .5 of those are from defensive ends. Defensive tackles GG Robinson and Jarret Jackson have two each. Petrino’s guys will add to this total but limiting the Cardinals to only a couple could go a long way towards a Seminole victory.
Florida State probably won’t have a whole lot of success on the ground in the middle so it’ll be up to the wide receivers and tight ends to block on the perimeter in order for the running backs to have success. Downfield plays in the passing game will be needed to have the Louisville safeties play further back.
Ricky Agauyo was back to his old self last weekend going 3-3 including a 50 yard field goal to end the first half. Blanton Creque is also a solid kicker so this position is a wash once again. The punting averages are about the same as well. Both teams have speed at the return positions but DJ Mathews for the ‘Noles is a better returner when people don’t get blocked in the back. So I would say State has a very slight edge in special teams.
Prediction and why
At the beginning of the season the trip to Kentucky seemed like the more difficult early-season road game for the Seminoles. But with Syracuse getting out to a fast start and Louisville struggling so badly it seems like the experts were wrong.
Both teams seem to have the same problems like not having much of a rhythm on offense and a pretty good run defense with holes in the secondary. I think Florida State will be better at stopping the run but will still give up two or three big plays to allow Louisville to score around 20 points. I think the Seminoles offense will manage to score just enough to keep its postseason hopes alive. FSU gets the victory 23-21. If the offense turns it over as many times as it did against Northern Illinois it will be a different story.