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For Florida State vs. Louisville: If not now, when?

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Numbers go only so far.

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Don’t read that headline wrong. It’s not to imply that FSU has to beat the Louisville Cardinals this year or it never will. That’s ridiculous. It’s also much bigger than that.

And it has everything to do with the culture of Seminoles football that has rightfully come under question through the first half of this season that has seen the ’Noles drop from a preseason No. 3 team to an unranked 2-3 squad that could struggle to make a bowl game. FSU lost its starting quarterback in a season-opening loss to the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. It lost three weeks to implications surrounding Hurricane Irma. It lost confidence by dropping a home-opener to NC State, and it lost a seven-game winning streak over the rival Miami Hurricanes.

Now, Florida State opens as a home favorite over Louisville. But there’s much more at stake here than a win or a loss. FSU could stand to lose much more than a game, regardless of the final result in Tallahassee on Saturday afternoon.

Pardon what could be perceived as melodrama and a terrible 90s music reference, but the Seminoles could lose their collective soul against the Cards. This is, after all, the UL team that hung 63 on FSU last year, the most points allowed by Florida State in program history.

Even in wins over Wake Forest and Duke this year, the Seminole defense has looked somewhat listless. The hunger, the passion, the “attitude of domination” about which Head Coach Jimbo Fisher formerly spoke seems as far away as the 2014 season in which he coined the term.

Has this defense played up to expectations? No. But even when it has made nice plays, it doesn’t appear to have much fun doing it. As was correctly mentioned on the most recent Nolecast, even in celebrating a win over the Blue Devils, FSU didn’t really do much celebrating. Fisher is fond of talking about not taking any win for granted, but after the score went final in Durham, this Florida State team didn’t even seem too happy about the result.

Now. Should they have emoted ebullience by beating a basketball school by seven? Probably not. But a relative absence of emotion is never a good substitute.

And it shouldn’t be an option come Saturday. It will be easy to quantify Saturday’s results by noting the stats sheet and the scoreboard. Fisher is right to downplay, as he has, this contest as some sort of revenge game against Louisville. As I’ve already said, his public comments to the media should not mirror what he’s said to his team behind closed doors. But whatever Fisher and his assistants have said to their players privately simply must resonate on the field come Saturday. Again, win or lose, if it doesn’t now, given last year’s embarrassment, when will it?

Reading players’ body language is a difficult proposition. But their effort and want-to on the field, regardless of outcome, is another story altogether. You can tell when players have given up, as FSU’s did last year at UL. They’d lost the fight— so they stopped fighting. With the very culture of this program hanging in the balance, that absolutely cannot happen again.

Florida State has an abundance of talent. Let’s see if their pride, for perhaps the first time this year, outweighs that enormous talent.