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Previewing 2017 FSU opponents: Louisville

Can Florida State get revenge for last year?

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

We continue our series previewing Florida State’s 2017 opponents with the Louisville Cardinals.

FSU fans don’t need a reminder of what happened last year, when Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals ran all over the ’Noles en route to a 63-20 beatdown. Jackson would go on to win the Heisman, the first in Louisville history.

The Cardinals have played Florida State fairly well since entering the ACC in 2014. It was a heroic effort by then-freshman Dalvin Cook that gave the Seminoles a 42-31 victory in ’14, and the ’Noles responded by beating Louisville 41-21 the following year. The aforementioned ’16 matchup was the first victory for the Cardinals.

If there is ever time for payback, now is that time.

Lamar Jackson is back... unfortunately

Not much can be said about Jackson that hasn’t already been said.

The defending Heisman trophy winner returns after racking up 5,114 total yards and 51 total touchdowns as a sophomore. Jackson was truly one of the most dynamic players in college football and returns with another offseason of preparation under his belt.

Joining Jackson in the backfield will be a plethora of running backs that Louisville has at its disposal. Jeremy Smith, Malik Williams and Colin Wilson will all likely get carries, and quarterback-turned-running back Reggie Bonnafon figures to have a role as well.

The Cardinals lost two receivers and a tight end to the draft, but Louisville has recruited fairly well and Jackson will still have some talented players to target. The problems on offense arise when we turn our attention to the offensive line, a weakness of last year’s squad.

As Bill Connelly notes in his preview, Louisville’s offensive line still has some work to do.

At a few points, however, Louisville is going to have to pass. And not only is Jackson going to be protected by a line that returns just two starters, but there’s also not a senior in sight up front. Returning tackles Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are juniors, as are most of the potential new starters.

Louisville’s offensive line was exposed last year, especially during their three-game losing streak to end the season. If Florida State wants to have a chance at revenge, putting pressure on an inexperienced line will be a big focus.

Louisville’s defense has talent

New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon arrives from Mississippi State, and he has some pieces to work with in his first year on campus.

On the defensive line, James Hearns and Trevon Young combined for 16.5 sacks last season. The Cardinals excelled at shutting down the run, and they ranked 17th in Rushing S&P+ thanks to their stout line.

If there is a weakness in the defense, it might be with replacing DeAngelo Brown, who signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.

Replacing DeAngelo Brown could be the key. He was a rare, active force on the interior of Grantham’s three-man line, recording 14 tackles for loss, mostly of the non-sack variety. He was huge in rendering opponents one-dimensional, and while senior tackles Drew Bailey, Chris Williams, and big De’Asian Richardson are all back, they weren’t quite as disruptive as Brown. Combined, they managed only four more TFLs than him.

Louisville’s secondary left a lot to be desired last year, but injuries were devastating to the unit. This season, cornerback Jaire Alexander returns after nabbing five interceptions last season and figures to be among the ACC’s top defenders. The Cardinals’ secondary is experienced this time around and loaded with juniors and seniors.

What will happen

All of the pieces are set for a revenge matchup. Louisville will head into Doak Campbell Stadium with Jackson at the helm, but Florida State returns an elite defense that is looking to rewrite the narrative as well. This October game is one that Seminoles and Cardinals fans have circled in their calendars for quite some time now.