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Florida State football preview and Nolecast: USF

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FSU looks to bounce back against an improved South Florida team in Tampa. Nolecast time.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

With the embarrassment at Louisville in the rearview, Florida State will look to right the ship on Saturday at USF, which won’t be an easy bounce-back game on the heels of that 43-point defeat. The Bulls enter this week 3-0 on the season and 10-2 in their last 12 games overall, looking improved in Year 4 under Willie Taggart.

While the Seminoles will be thrilled not to see Lamar Jackson behind center, they will have to deal with running back with NFL potential in Marlon Mack and another athletic quarterback in Quinton Flowers. Mack enters the weekend averaging nearly 10 yards per carry while Flowers has 9 total TDs and a 9.5-yard per attempt average through the air.

The Bulls have run off blowout wins over Towson and NIU and are fresh off a beatdown of the same Syracuse team that provided a springboard for Louisville before facing FSU. USF trailed 17-0 in the first quarter of that Syracuse game, but settled in and was far more efficient than the Orange en route to a 25-point win. The Bulls defense limited Cuse to 5.2 yards per play on a whopping 105 snaps, and SU managed only one FG on its final 11 possessions compared to five punts, two turnovers on downs, a fumble and a pair on interceptions.

While FSU would seemingly have to improve from its defensive showing a week ago, USF may present some similar challenges, albeit on a smaller scale. Mack is a talented back who has gone for more than 100 yards in six of his last seven games, and hit 100 nine times last season with a Dalvin Cook-esque 230-yard game vs. Temple thrown in on 11 yards per rush.

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Mix in Flowers’ mobility, and FSU could see a lot of zone read, which it struggled mightily to handle last week, and a good amount of crossing routes and play-action passing. Whether Flowers – who has a tendency to miss some throws – is able to hit open receivers when they’re there will be an important factor for USF against this struggling FSU defense, which is 20 points away from the program record for points allowed through four games. We should expect to see a more simplified defense for the ’Noles, which they hope will cut down on the mental mistakes that have been leading to busts far too regularly. They’ll need to improve quickly, and less thinking and more instinctive play could do nothing but help.

Deondre Francois has played fairly well relative to his status as a redshirt freshman, especially considering the kind of harassment he’s seen against Ole Miss and U of L. It wasn’t a good day by any stretch last week, though, and matters aren’t being helped by the non-presence of Dalvin Cook in the backfield. Although Jimbo Fisher maintains he’s fine, game film backs up suspicions of continuing trouble to his surgically repaired right shoulder, which has him look pedestrian compared to the version of DC4 we saw in 2015.

Jacques Patrick ran well in limited carries against Louisville, and if Cook continues to look a shell of himself we could see more of big No. 9, both in the rushing game and for pass-blocking assistance.

Although most of the Louisville game was abysmal, it did provide more flashes from Auden Tate, who now has 3 TD grabs on four receptions this season. The 6-foot-5 Tate could provide much help for Francois in the form of a big target alongside diminutive targets like Bobo Wilson, Kermit Whitfield and the 6’1 Travis Rudolph.

USF’s defense ranks near the middle of the pack in FBS in terms of opponent-adjusted S&P+ rating, and will face an upgrade in talent for sure against FSU – although if that talent executes anywhere near the level it did last week, that level of talent won’t be as apparent as it should be.

Be sure to listen to Bud and Ingram on this week’s Nolecast preview, where you’ll hear unmatched analysis on FSU football presented by Louisiana Hot Sauce and Madison Social. You won’t get better pre-USF prep anywhere else.