1. The Cardinals sit at 6-2 (4-2) in their inaugural ACC season and the first in Bobby Petrino’s new reign. What were your expectations for the team coming into the season, and what are they for the rest of the year?
It's rare, but, I think Louisville fans really have pretty reasonable expectations coming into the season. I think the average person thought maybe, just maybe, they could steal one of the three big games (Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame) and go 10-2 at best. But most were expecting something like 8-4 or 9-3. They're still on track to finish in that range and I expect them to.
2. The Louisville defense has been one of the best in the country this season to date. What has made them so good so far in 2014, and where might they be vulnerable?
Louisville's defense has excelled primarily because of the front seven. On the line, they've managed to be stout against the run and get pressure with just the three linemen and Lorenzo Mauldin rushing from his outside linebacker spot. And there is a great deal of speed at linebacker which has allowed them to pursue offenses that play horizontally and cover teams that work the middle and have good tight ends. If there is an area of vulnerability it is the corner spot opposite Charles Gaines. They've shuffled different guys in and out of that spot and for just the second week, regular corner Terell Floyd is back and starting.
3. Piggybacking off of that last question, which match-ups with the FSU offense concern you? Which have you feeling confident?
I think Winston working the tight end and middle with his eyes can be a problem for Louisville. Few quarterbacks have had enough time to really scan and make decisions that move defenses around but Winston is as good as it gets at that sort of thing. If he has decent time to throw, Nick O'Leary is a weapon. As for Louisville, they have to feel pretty good about being able to pressure Winston given the way other teams have and FSU's having to shuffle the line around some this year. So much of this game is going to come down to Winston having (or not having) time to move off his primary receiver.
4. The Lousiville offense has struggled at times this season, but the return of DeVante Parker has to help. Tell us a bit about what the stud wideout brings to the Cardinals’ offense.
He really does take the proverbial top off of a defense. He's a deep threat and a threat to take intermediate throws the distance after the catch. He's a jump-ball weapon in the red zone as well. But what Parker really does is make James Quick a second option instead of the primary option. He makes space for slot receivers and the tight ends because he demands attention. So the biggest thing he does in addition to his own plays, is create opportunities downstream for other weapons.
5. What will Bobby Petrino’s offense need to do to be successful against the FSU defense, and how many points do you think they’ll need to pull the home upset?
I think Louisville is going to have to have its best offensive game of the season to win. To be successful, Louisville has to get north of 30 points. To do that, they have to cut down the dropped passes that have consistently kept them from making 2nd and 6 into 3rd and 1, or that convert 3rd downs instead of forcing them to punt. Additionally, they've got to avoid the offensive line penalties. There was a series against Clemson where Louisville actually gained 18 yards on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd downs but due to penalties, they still had to punt on 4th down. If Louisville is catching the ball and not inflicting damage on itself with mental mistakes, it should be able to keep this one competitive.
6. How have Louisville’s special teams fared to date? Are there any unmentioned playmakers ‘Noles fans should be on the lookout for on either side of the ball?
Actually fielding punts has been a real issue for Louisville. And they allowed a punt return touchdown against Clemson as well. Field goal kicking and punting have for the most part have been decent but there's really not an area of special teams that anyone would consider a real strength for this team.
7. Finally give us a prediction. The line has been steadily dropping in the run-up to what looks to be a great game. Where would this upset rank in terms of the great victories in Louisville football history, and will the Cards get it done?
The West Virginia win in 2006 was probably the biggest home win ever, with the 2002 game being right behind it because of what it meant in terms of perception. This one, however, would be the biggest win in program history because this isn't the Florida State team that was at the end of its dynasty. This is the defending national champion, now a conference rival, and the Heisman Trophy winner entering with a near two-year winning streak. Ultimately, I'm not going to predict a Louisville upset, but I think they'll make Florida State earn it. Something like FSU 30 and Louisville 21.