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Florida State football opponent preseason preview: Louisville

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

10/29 Update

Here's a good Louisville preview from Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier Journal, including injury updates on Quick & Mauldin (see 10/20 update). FSU opened as an 8.5 point favorite. The Noles are now only favored by 3.5 points.

10/20 Update

Louisville got their first starts of the year from Michael Dyer & DeVante Parker, & they needed both to hold off a pesky North Carolina State squad in Louisville. With the 30-18 win, the Cardinals move to 6-2 overall & 4-2 in ACC play.

Dyer ran for 173 yards & a TD on 24 carries (7.2 yds/rush), while Parker had 9 catches for 132 yards (many of the routes were simple, & he was often on the bench was near the goal line, simply due to lack of game shape). A healthy Dyer would be a bigger concern to me than Parker, even though the latter is a better NFL prospect. I think PJ Williams can help neutralize the sizable WR, especially returning from that foot injury, although the bye week certainly helps Louisville in that regard.

Will Gardner was a solid, but unspectacular 21-36 for 203 yards (5.6 yds/pass), w/ 2 TD's & 0 INT's. Gardner is more of a game manager, so it's big for the Cardinals that he protects the football. It was the first game all season U of L didn't turn it over vs. an FBS school.

Defensively, it was probably Louisville's worst showing of the season, although NC State is quite talented offensively. The Wolfpack gained 351 total yards on 63 plays (5.57 yds/play).

Something to keep an eye on: WR James Quick (ankle), & LB Lorenzo Mauldin (hamstring) left the ballgame & didn't return.

Up Next: Louisville faces their biggest test of the year, as they host Florida State on Thursday, 10/30.

10/15 Update

SB Nation's Bill C. did a Study Hall of Louisville vs. Clemson, & the numbers say the Cardinals should've won a close one, but the 2 non-offensive TD's by the Tigers were the difference.

Louisville's SB Nation site, Card Chronicle wonders who should start at QB going forward, & the resounding answer is Will Gardner.

10/13 Update

Louisville lost 23-17 to Clemson, but their defense certainly wasn't the issue. The Tigers started the scoring w/ a 72-yard punt return TD from Adam Humphries & added their only other TD when DT, Grady Jarrett, recovered a Louisville fumble in the end zone.

Bobby Petrino decided to give Reggie Bonnafon the start at QB. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the dual-threat signal-caller didn't pose any threat vs. a nasty Clemson D. The freshman playing for his hometown school went 5-13 for only 62 yards & his longest running play was only 5 yards. The normal starter at QB, Will Gardner, entered in the 2nd half & almost led the Cardinals to the comeback. He went 10-16 for 150 yards (9.4 yds/pass), & a TD. Louisville had the ball 2nd & goal at Clemson's 1 w/ just under a minute remaining & couldn't score. They handed to Dominique Brown for a loss of 1 yard on 2nd down. Next was the most inexplicable play of the game: Louisville decided to spike the ball on 3rd & goal from the 2 w/ 0:27 remaining. Gardner's 4th down pass was batted down, & the Tigers escaped.

Louisville's running game was non-existent, carrying it 38 times for 52 yards (1.4 yds/rush), although their best back, Michael Dyer didn't play.

With DeVante Parker still nursing a foot injury, James Quick stepped up w/ 6 receptions for 101 yards.

Along w/ the turnover & special teams issues, Louisville can point to situational football. The Cardinals were an anemic 1-19 on 3rd & 4th down.

Louisville was fortunate that Deshaun Watson hurt his hand early in the contest, even though he got off to a slow start: 2-6 for -5 yards & an INT. He also carried it 3 times for 10 yards. Cole Stoudt came in the game & 20-33 for 162 (4.9 yds/pass) & an INT. He didn't have any success on the ground either, as his longest rush on the afternoon was 2 yards.

The Cardinals held Clemson to 229 total yards on 72 plays (3.18 yds/play). The Tigers also struggled on 3rd & 4th down, as they only converted 2 of 17 tries.

Say what you will about Louisville's D (I'll grant you: they were fortunate to face Miami on the first night of the season, in Brad Kaaya's 1st career start; they then faced Murray State, UVA, FIU, Wake, & Syracuse, before getting Clemson w/ a backup QB for the vast majority of the game), but they've locked every team down they've faced. NC State should be a good test (assuming Jacoby Brissett is healthy), before FSU comes to town to give the Cardinals the ultimate defensive test at the end of the month.

Up Next: Louisville hosts North Carolina State next Saturday.

10/6 Update

(From Pete Roussel's College Football Weekend Review)

Louisville's D does it again. Yeah, it's not exactly what I expected to start the season, either, but it's just the way it is right now. The Cardinals traveled north to Syracuse & used a stifling defense to beat the Orange 28-6.

Reggie Bonnafon started again at QB for the Cards, but he was wholly unimpressive going 12-22 for 174 yards with a TD & an INT. He also struggled on the ground, carrying 10 times for only 18 yards. Brandon Radcliff was the big story offensively for the 2nd straight game with 110 yards & 2 TD's on 23 rushes. Without injured WR, Devante Parker, this offense just doesn't scare me.

Louisville's kicker, John Wallace, has been good this year, going 7-9 on FG's, including a season-long 51 yarder tonight.

Louisville is 2nd in the country in rush defense, & it showed again tonight, as they held Syracuse to 59 yards on 24 carries (2.4 yds/rush). The Orange weren't any better through the air, going 17-37 for 196 & 2 INT's. The Cards also forced 2 safties. Yep, this game had #goacc written all over it. We even got Ron Cherry as the lead official, so there were plenty of fun penalty/review explanations!

Up next: The Cards are back on the road next Saturday, when they're face Deshaun Watson, & the improved Clemson Tigers in Death Valley.

9/29 Update

Louisville started slowly, once again. This time, they were able to overcome a 10-7 Wake Forest lead by scoring 13 in the final frame & shutting out Wake's anemic offense.

The Cardinals weren't great on offense: 421 yards of offense on 81 plays (5.2 yds/play) with 3 turnovers, but they held the Demon Deacons to 100 total yards on 67 plays (seriously, they only averaged 1.49 yds/play) & forced 3 turnovers. Louisville had 21 first downs, while holding Wake Forest to only 7.

Freshman QB, Reggie Bonnafon, made his 1st career start in place of the injured Will Gardner, but the big story offensively was Brandon Radcliff (listed as 4th RB), who tallied 129 yards & 2 TD's on only 17 carries.

9/15 Update

Louisville got down 20-7 through 3 quarters in Charlottesville, before trying to come back against a better than expected Virginia team. The Cards scored 14 in the 4th, but it wasn't enough, as UVA kicked a late FG & won 23-21.

You would expect a Bobby Petrino team to have a potent offense, but Louisville only gained 282 yards on 70 plays, good for only 4 yds/play (based on early season results, it seems Virginia has a solid D). They also turned it over 4 times.

Something to watch: Louisville QB battle. Will Gardner & Reggie Bonnafon both getting extended reps.

9/10 Update

Louisville smoked Murray State 66-21 to improve to 2-0. Card Chronicle is ready to get back to ACC action, but was very pleased with the game. This one wasn't much of a contest, as the Cardinals led 45-7 at halftime. They out-gained the Racers 603-292 in total yards. Louisville averaged 6.85 yards/play, while Murray State averaged 5.12.

For Louisville, starting QB Will Gardner was 13-22 for 133 yards and 2 TD's. His backup, Reggie Bonnafon, was even more impressive, completing 8-11 for 112 yards and a TD, while also running for 22 yards and 2 TD on 5 carries. The Cardinals had a balanced rushing attack, as L.J. Scott had 126 yards and a TD on 11 carries, and Brandon Radcliff added 15 carries for 97 yards and 2 TD's. Scott was named ACC Rookie of the Week for his performance. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the rotation when Michael Dyer (former Auburn RB) comes back from a thigh injury.

Up next: Louisville travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia at 12:30 Saturday. The Cardinals opened as a 10-point favorite, but the line has moved to 7.


Tomahawk Nation is setting up preview pages for each of Florida State's football opponents. This is the page for Louisville. Florida State travels to Louisville on October 30 for a Thursday night contest.

As of June 17, FSU is favored by 17 points in the game. That may seem like a lot for people who have seen Louisville put up excellent seasons in 2012-13, but consider that FSU is the most loaded team in CFB, that Louisville lost its coach to Texas, the best QB in its history to the NFL, and a bunch of defensive lineman, and you can begin to understand the spread.

This very well could be Florida State's best offensive line ever. If Louisville cannot slow down FSU's run game, it cannot beat Florida State. Period. Jameis Winston throwing off play-action is unfair.

Also, consider that Louisville is stepping up in competition, from the AAC to the ACC. We've seen some teams struggle mightily when doing so, like Miami, TCU, West Virginia, Colorado and Utah.

Still, this is a Petrino offense with a very nice OL and WR corps. Petrino often works magic with quarterbacks, and I'd expect nothing less from Louisville.

Here's Bill's excerpt on the defensive line. There are nine more just like it, which you really should read.

Most of my reservations regarding Louisville in 2013 came on the defensive side of the ball. When Charlie Strong came to town, he immediately improved the Cardinals' defense from 89th in Def. F/+ to 45th in 2010. But there was a ceiling in place; they ranked just 46th in 2011 and 48th in 2012. The level of returning experience was high in 2013, but I was curious just how much the defense could improve in just one offseason.

The defense improved quite a bit. Thanks mostly to a line that went from liability to extreme strength, Louisville improved all the way to 10th in Def. F/+. The Cardinals were equally adept at preventing you from moving the ball efficiently and putting the kibosh on big plays, and they got even better when you got closer to their end zone. Only one defense in the country allowed fewer than Louisville's 3.0 points per trip inside the 40.

While the defense was a pleasant surprise in 2013, it has its work cut out for it in 2014. First of all, the line was decimated by attrition. The thing about having top-notch experience in a given season is that it probably means you don't the next. Plus, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, formerly of Georgia, is installing his version of the 3-4 defense, which means that the front line is undergoing both turnover and change. There is almost no experience at the new nose tackle position, and while players like Sheldon Rankins have shown plenty of potential, they now have to produce at a much higher level.

The news isn't all bad, of course. Former end Lorenzo Mauldin should be absolutely terrifying at the OLB position, and inside linebacker James Burgess has proven to be tough against both run (eight non-sack tackles for loss) and pass (five passes defensed). Throw in some former four-star recruits who have been either limited by injury (Keith Brown) or simply waiting their turn (Nick Dawson, Stacy Thomas), and you've got loads of upside at linebacker.

Still, potential at linebacker only matters if the line can keep blockers off of those linebackers. We'll see.

8/11: Paul Myerberg added his excellent preview. Here's an excerpt, and as always, I encourage you to click on over the read it in its entirety. He has Louisville as the No. 29 team nationally.

Given Clemson's changing cast of personnel – and even if we all think the absolute world of Chad Morris – Louisville may very well have the second-best offense in the ACC, trailing only Florida State. There's so much to like; in fact, the only thing to dislike is the lack of proven depth up front. If the line stays healthy, however, and provides Gardner with ample protection, the Cardinals' attack is going to tear to shreds unprepared defensive backfields and provide sneakily dangerous production on the ground, providing the sort of balanced, opportunistic, big-play attack often lacking under the previous staff. This is Petrino's gift: Louisville is going to have an absolutely fantastic, often unstoppable offense.

In 2014, the growth on offense will be mirrored by a slide back on defense. Part of this is due to the scheme change: Grantham's going to implement this 3-4 base set and force the roster to catch up, a decision that will pay off in the long run but provide growing pains for the duration of the regular season. I don't really worry about the pass rush, which should be fine with the move of several ends to outside linebacker. I'm more worried about stopping the run and buttoning up the secondary, which should be far more prone to big plays downfield with the move at safety. That's another issue: Scheme is one thing, but Louisville is clearly weaker in personnel.

So there's a bit of a lack of balance, but not enough to immediately make Louisville one of the best teams in the ACC – essentially locked along with Duke and North Carolina behind the leading pair of Florida State and Clemson. If in the Coastal, I'd probably pick Louisville to win the division. As is, playing FSU and the Tigers – not to mention Miami and Notre Dame – is difficult, meaning the Cardinals will lose at least three and perhaps four games during the regular season. I'd be shocked by more than four; I think 8-4 is the result, and I'd likely view the Cardinals as deserving of a spot in the top 25 with nine wins – if one of the nine comes against either Clemson or the Fighting Irish.

Here is the bottom line from ESPN, which has a nice preview and gives Louisville a seven percent chance to win the ACC.

This year, Louisville will walk into a talent-thin conference boasting a roster packed with offensive skill players. Its weakest link, an unproven quarterback, will have the benefit of working under Petrino, a known quarterback guru. Add in a favorable schedule -- especially over the first half of the season, while the offense looks to pick up speed and the defense gets used to a new scheme -- and the potential here is tremendous.

Still, with the conference's unquestioned top two teams -- Clemson and Florida State -- in its division, Louisville can likely go only so far. If the Cardinals can steal one unexpected win, reach 10 wins and grab, say, a Gator Bowl invite, that would be a heckuva first year free of Big East purgatory.