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Florida State football preview and Nolecast: Louisville

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FSU takes on a top-10 conference opponent on the road. Get yourself set.

Charleston Southern week has come and gone, and it’s right back into the big-game fire for Florida State this week with a top-10 showdown on deck at Louisville, set for noon ET Saturday from the Commonwealth. No. 2 FSU (2-0) will face a stiff test – undoubtedly it’s biggest of the season outside of Clemson – against a No. 10 Cardinals (2-0, 1-0 ACC) team led by one of the more electric players in college football: QB Lamar Jackson.

Jackson, a 47% passer out of high school, has turned into a true dual threat under the tutelage of Bobby Petrino, and his numbers through two games are ridiculous – 13 total touchdowns and 1,015 yards of offense on 10.8 yards per play.

Leading a Petrino offense that excels at scheming receivers open, Jackson has thrown for 11.2 yards per attempt with 7 TD passes, even with lots of drops from wideouts. He’s added 318 yards and 6 TDs on the ground to go along with a 9.9 ypc average – for comparison, that’s 4.8 yards more per rush and four more scores than Dalvin Cook. Jackson is a big-play threat at all times, with three runs of 30+ yards already, and an incredible explosive-play record over his last four games:

Jackson and Louisville haven’t faced a real test yet, having played Charlotte and Syracuse thus far, but the Cards are thrashing teams that they should thrash, as evidenced by their +5.14 yards per play margin against Cuse, the largest margin in the country in Week 2.

It comes as terrible timing, then, that FSU safety – and overall best player – Derwin James tore his meniscus last week and will miss extended time. Petrino’s attack puts tremendous stress on safeties, so having A.J. Westbrook or Nate Andrews on the field instead of James is suboptimal, to say the least. Staying assignment sound and, most importantly, communicating will be huge for the FSU secondary this week after allowing far too many big plays on coverage busts against both Ole Miss and CSU.

Up front, the ’Noles D-line will need to control gaps and contain Jackson, and they’ll look to get after him against an O-line that allowed five sacks in this game last year. Louisville has protected him well this season, but it’s been a small sample size against bad defensive competition. Speed rushers like Jacob Pugh, Josh Sweat and Brian Burns have been able to find success against U of L’s tackles, but of course they’ll need to be cognizant of getting too far upfield. Linebacker Matthew Thomas’ range and athleticism will come in handy when it comes to tackling Jackson in space.

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Deondre Francois and the offense will see a Cards defense that limited Syracuse to 414 yards despite running 93 plays last week. The same qualifier applies here, however, as Charlotte and Cuse are hardly great measuring sticks for rating a defense.

Francois, who has been good but perhaps not as good as his second half vs. Ole Miss has led some to believe, will continue to get help from opposing defenses’ focus on Cook. FSU has been throwing the ball effectively off play action and will go against a defense that has allowed as many 10+ yard passes (16, six of which went for 20+) as the maligned FSU group through two games. Jimbo Fisher used easy, high-completion-rate passes to get a non-spectacular Everett Golson into a groove against Louisville last season en route to 372 yards and 3 TDs on 9.8 ypa.

While Cook hasn’t looked the same explosive version of himself as we saw in 2015, the running back has a good track record against Todd Grantham’s defenses. Dalvin had a coming out party of sorts in ’14 with 110 yards and 2 TDs and followed it up with 163 and 2 TDs in ’15, averaging 8.8 yards per carry over the two games. Linebacker Devonte Fields is back for UL along with five of last season’s top seven DL contributors, but the Cards may not have the horses to sell out against the run the way Ole Miss did, so chances should be there for Cook to eat.

Be sure to listen to Bud and Ingram on The Nolecast, which provides in-depth analysis of FSU football unavailable anywhere else. Brought to you by Louisiana Hot Sauce and Madison Social, Card Chronicle’s Mark Ennis joins as this week’s guest.

We’ll leave you with some numbers from our man Chuck Blunt:

  • FSU all time vs. AP Top 10: 48-57-3 (12-10-1 in Bowls).
  • FSU is 15-32-1 in such games when on the road.
  • The ’Noles are 10-2 all time when it is a top-10 matchup within the ACC.
  • Average score in the 108 all-time games is exactly 23.7 to 23.7.
  • Jimbo Fisher is 6-5, 2-2 on the road, and the average score in the 11 games is 29.3-28.5. He’s 3-1 in top-10 matchups between ACC teams.