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Florida State football: Louisville Preview & prediction

A great challenge awaits the Seminoles against a veteran, physical Louisville team.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State is 4-1 in its last 5 Thursday night contests, and now it travels to Louisville. The Cards enter this game at 6-2 on the season but could easily be 8-0.

Time: 7:30 ET | Line: FSU -3.5 | O/U 50.5

V. Louisville's Defense

Louisville fields one of the top defenses according to Football Outsiders and it's hard to argue with them. This Cardinal defense was built by former head coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Todd Grantham came over from Georgia and has done a wonderful job with this unit. The Louisville defense is aggressive, disciplined, very physical and confident.

The major questions for the Cards entering the year centered around the line and questions have been answered positively. Lorenzo Mauldin heads up the front seven and will be a pain for the FSU line. On the other side Sheldon Rankins does a very good job of taking advantage of teams focusing on Mauldin. Overall this line is very good against both the rush and pass racking up 60 tackles for loss and 28 sacks through 8 games. Louisville does not allow the football to be run on them on early downs, and they will commit numbers to the run if necessary.

The secondary was expected to take a step back from last year's unit despite holding onto 2 very good corners in Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd. The Cardinals have 15 INTs on the year and have allowed only 2 QBs to throw for more than 200 yards, and they just barely eclipsed that mark. In all fairness, Louisville hasn't faced much in the way of a potent passing attack, but they've performed well against the teams they faced.

Expect FSU to test the Louisville secondary early. First down is the best down on which to throw, as its the down most teams expect run.

This will be a stiff test for Florida State because Louisville does an excellent job of getting pressure with just its front four and with that, is able to play coverage with seven defenders. This is especially concerning because Florida State right guard Tre' Jackson and right tackle Bobby Hart are not 100 percent, and Hart is not even guaranteed to start.

FSU does need to be able to run the football some against Louisville if the Cardinals are not committing extra men to stop the run. And it must be able to throw when Louisville has its 3-4 defense in the game isolating some of the linebackers in coverage.

Louisville does a very good job of disguising their coverage and could give Winston problems. However, Florida State could test the secondary's depth and linebackers' covering ability, which other offenses have not been able to do to this point in the season, by spreading the field out and forcing Louisville to cover side line to side line.

It will be a colder night than FSU is used to, and Louisville is an extremely physical defense. It will be crucial that the receivers are tough in holding on to the football because they are going to get hit. Louisville hasn't seen anything close to the foursome of Rashad Greene, BoBo Wilson, Nick O'Leary and Travis Rudolph, but they must play with great toughness and physicality.

The Noles are not likely to be able to run the ball well but they should run towards Mauldin's side, at least initially. The DE turned LB did injure himself late in the contest with NC State but should play. FSU will likely test him early to see how well he can play and running at him, if they can do it effectively, would help slow down his pass rush, assuming FSU's own right tackle is healthy enough to hold up.

If FSU is successful throwing on early downs with quick game, it might be able to hit some deep balls on double moves, because Louisville's secondary can be over aggressive at times and may jump the shorter routes. This is a veteran, experienced, smart secondary, but they do show flashes of Terrell Buckley, their secondary coach, in attempting to jump routes.

This is a very good Louisville defense and I do not expect FSU to run up and down the field on them like they have against most every other opponent this year. The more important thing for FSU is to avoid turnovers and help it's defense with favorable field position.This might be the best defense FSU has faced in the last year, and it's the first time they'll be doing so on the road. The offensive line and receivers will need to be sharp if FSU is going to be able to consistently move the ball.

Execution in the red zone will be crucial as well. Louisville's red zone defense is excellent, and FSU's red zone offense has been better than expected.

V. Louisville's Offense

So far, Louisville's offense has not really had things cranking, but they are getting healthy at just the right time with the return of DeVante Parker and running back Michael Dyer. Just as Louisville's defense is not quite as good as the numbers may say, Louisville's offense should be considerably better than some of its early season numbers.

Injuries and so-so line play have hampered this unit. While Will Gardner's growth has been stunted this year due to injury (knee), the sophomore has not come near what Louisville fans had expected. Those expectations may have been too high considering the previous QB at Louisville was Teddy Bridgewater (take note FSU fans as this will happen next year in Tallhaassee no matter who FSU's QB is). Gardner completes a good percentage of his passes but the offenses inability to consistently push the ball down field has been concern.

Part of the reason this offense has not been explosive is the lack of it's best playmaker. DeVante Parker returned to the lineup for the Cardinals two weeks ago against NC State and had a great game. The caveat is that his performance came against NC State (81 in FEI defensive rankings), of course. Either way Parker is a legit top draft pick and will challenge an injured FSU secondary that hasn't been on the same page for a whole game this year. Louisville rounds out its receiving core with a good James Quick and competent Eli Rogers.

Another reason for hope is the return of Michael Dyer, yes that Michael Dyer, who seems like he's in at least his 12th year of eligibility. While the Louisville run game hasn't been terrible by any means, Dyer provides the Cards with another play maker that defenses must account for in both the run and pass game. Backup Brandon Radcliff is a competent RB and could grow into a very good contributor as his college career goes on. These are big, physical backs who run hard and must be gang tackles.

This is the first true pro-style offense FSU will have faced this season, as all the other games featured mobile quarterbacks. That changes how a defense will look to rush the passer, as it can be more aggressive with its rush, not having to feat the threat of a scramble as much.

This is especially important because Gardner does not handle pressure all that well, but he is dangerous with a big arm if allowed to sit in the pocket and sling it.

First, though, FSU will need to stop the running game to force high leverage down and distance on third down. Luckily for FSU, Louisville is not a major no-huddle team, so the lack of depth at defensive tackle might not be as noticeable in this ballgame.

Special Teams

UPDATE TO SPECIAL TEAMS!!!: Apparently this team has taken on the production capability of punter Cason Beatty. FSU has needed Beatty to be at his best and twice Beatty has done so (v. Clemson and Notre Dame). Nobody knows what this means. If you try to figure it out you'll likely end up with an aneurysm. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

John Wallace is a competent kicker for Louisville. Wallace has been asked to kick a good number of longer FGs (40+) and has the leg to connect but he's no Roberto Aguayo. Ryan Johnson has done a solid job at punter for Louisville this year with 1 out of every 4 punts going for over 50 yards. Eventually FSU is going to break a special teams touchdown as they've been very close to one on punts.


Florida State 27, Louisville 20

This game feels like a loss. Louisville matches up very well against FSU defensively (Louisville matches up well against everybody defensively). Combine that with this game being at Louisville on a Thursday night and you're just asking for trouble. Then again, Jameis Winston.

Bud: Florida State 31, Louisville 27

I think Louisville's offense is better than people think, but that its defense is worse than some of the stats say. The injuries to right guard Tre' Jackson and right tackle Bobby Hart are troublesome against Louisville's defensive front. I think FSU has better than a coin flip's chance to win, but not much more.

Staff Predictions

PhenomeNoles: FSU 31-17. UL has a great defense but they haven't seen anything close to the firepower a Jameis lead offense brings to the table. Defense holds an extremely mediocre UL offense under 20 with constant pressure via the blitz.

ricobert1: I think this will be our 2012 VT game. LOU takes away our run game, FSU throws it to win late. 30-23 Noles.

pbysh: I haven't felt we were going to lose a game during the streak, but I have a terrible feeling about this one. I think Parker and Dyer have big games and their defense does just enough to take us down. Louisville wins 27-24.

Dustin Tackett: While the Cardinal defense must be respected, and even more so in their own house, FSU's passing attack it nothing short of the best Louisville has and will face all year. Too much to stop. Winston takes advantage of the pressure and Travis Rudolph has another big game, further expanding the possibilities for Florida State. As good as Louisville is on defense, its offense does not mimic that same presence. Noles hold the Cardinals to just a couple scores and win 34-16 on the road.

TimScribble: Can I refrain from a pick? The last FSU game I attended, they lost to Louisville in an awful, cold rain. I have a ticket to the game on Thursday... FSU 28-20

Jmnpb996: 31-20 Noles. Parker and Dyer are great players, but even a reshuffled and reinvigorated UL OL is going to struggle with a (relatively) healthy FSU DL as Edwards gets to 100%, mitchell gets closer, and Darby has time off. On the other side of the ball, FSU features the two most clutch players in college football - Jameis Winston and Cason Beatty. I don't see either of them letting this team get a loss. Too many weapons in the passing game for UL to cover, and the short yardage proficiency from ND game translates to more green area running success.

FSUed: I pick a close victory, FSU wins by 2+ scores; I pick a blowout, the Noles eke one out. Looks like picking close is the way to go, unless an old Bowden-style karma double reverse is in the football gods' playbook. Hmmm. What to do? Well, let's go with the gut and say 31-23 FSU. (Whatever the result, Vandy wins impressively and passes FSU in the polls).

Nolethruandthru: This is the game I had circled from the beginning as a potential let down. I think Looweeville plays the game of their lives, Petrino calls a solid game, and the Cardinals defense hunkers down....... and FSU wins 27-21.

Michael Rogner: I can't name a single Louisville player off the top of my head, but I'm sure they're great. Noles 38-17.

FSUvaFan: FSU 38 - 27.  This game brings up haunting memories of the lost decade, but Jimbo, Jameis, and Greene ain't afraid of no ghost.

Onebarrelrum: I worry about the recovery of the team, both mentally and physically after Notre Dame. Yes, there was a bye week, but it is a short one. Louisville's defense is better than Notre Dames, but their offense shouldn't be. I'll pick FSU to squeak one out on the road, 23-20.

Matt Minnick: The Cardinals have the best defense FSU will likely face all year. So they certainly have a chance to score the upset at home. But fortunately for the Noles, Peyton Manning isn't lining up behind center at Papa Johns Stadium. Louisville's defense and newly healthy offensive weapons keep it close, but Jameis orchestrates another superb 4th quarter. FSU 27   Louisville 20

Kyle Griffis: I don't think I'm as worried about Louisville as most people are. FSU 34, UL 17.

FrankDNole: FSU comes out of the gate so fast the Cardinals will be dazed and confused and feel like they flew into a closed sliding glass door. The Cards will be given the same welcome to the ACC that the Noles gave to Pitt and Syracuse. UL has not played a team of FSU’s caliber yet, and while their gimmicky offense will score a few points, they will experience wave after wave of Seminole defenders, be completely outmatched, and will soon be demoralized as the crowd becomes eerily quiet and they start heading for the exits at the end of the 3rd quarter. FSU 45 – UL 17

That said, Ricardo will miss his first FG of the year.

It’s gon be cold.

It’s gon rain.

Alan Mundy: I think there are a lot of parallels to the Notre Dame game here. This is a good defense, probably a bit better than Notre Dame, particularly at corner. They do not have the matchup problems or depth that Notre Dame did on the DL. Like Notre Dame I believe FSU will have to pass to run and spread out Louisville to attack the depth in the secondary. Where the story turns is with Louisville's offense. They have gotten healthier in recent weeks and got some pieces back, but they do not have the dynamic presence at QB that Notre Dame does. It won't be pretty, but Noles eventually pull away 34-27.

DKfromVA: Louisville presents a tremendous challenge for the ‘Noles in this game, and I don’t think the line that has continued to shrink to 3.5 is far off of what it should be. There is every chance UL pulls the win off. But our refrain this season has continued to be that while FSU is not a dominant team right now, there really aren’t any who are currently in college football. And when you have the best quarterback and kicker in the country you’re such a tough out, to say nothing of all the talent and potential all over the rest of the field. Jameis and Aguayo have yet to lose a college game, and I’m going to have to ride with them until they do. Jameis does just enough, Ramsey makes some defensive plays, and Aguayo hits a late kick to deliver a fittingly cardiac event of a victory in the Pizza Bowl. 24-23 Seminoles.

RaysnNoles: Without a special teams or defensive touchdown I don't think Louisville can win this game. FSU run game struggles in the first ~3 quarters but Jameis does Jameis things and the defensive plays well overall allowing a few big plays. 34-17 Noles

The K-Man: The Jameis Nothing is a void of darkness that sweeps across the college football landscape. With every 300 yard passing game, stadiums crack and crumble, campuses reduced to rubble. You cannot stop The Jameis Nothing. People have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So The Jameis Nothing grows stronger. It's the emptiness that's left. It's like a despair, destroying your season. Listen, The Jameis Nothing will be here any minute. So just sit there and let it take you away too.

The Nothing – 31

Papa John’s Fantasia - 13