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Defensive observations from FSU’s nail-biting win over Louisville

Life finds a way.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State Seminoles simply cannot finish games.

That was the narrative coming into this game and with good reason. Last week against the Virginia Cavaliers, the FSU defense gave up three straight touchdown drives to end the game. In fact, during the first three games this season, the Seminoles blew significant leads. Today was no different.

Except it was.

On Louisville’s first five drives of the day, the FSU defense allowed just 2.7 yards per play on their way to their four three and outs. The defense wasn’t just getting stops, they were helping the offense with good field position. Josh Brown saw increased action and played well. Despite Joshua Kaindoh’s injury last week, the defensive line was dominating the Louisville Cardinals. As always, Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden were unstoppable. Collectively, FSU’s front seven were triggering and playing gap-sound football. The run fits from the linebackers were noticeably improved.

However, on Louisville’s sixth drive of the night, Scott Satterfield called a fake punt, giving the Cards new life. On 3rd and goal Malik Cunningham beat Akeem Dent’s coverage with his throw and the Cardinals were down 21-7.

Despite getting the touchdown before the half, Louisville was averaging just 2.9 yards per play. On the Nolecast, Bud and Ingram set 5.5 yards per play as the defensive goal. FSU held Cunningham to 8/16 passing for just 65 yards, and twelve yards on just seven carries (includes negative sack yardage). At the break they had two sacks, six tackles for loss, and three pass breakups.

But as is so often the case, history repeated itself. Despite forcing another three and out to start the second half, the Seminoles began to break down. Following an emotional injury to quarterback James Blackman, the defense looked shook. Then Jaiden Lars-Woodbey went down with a significant and devastating lower leg injury, as he was rolled up on by Carlos Becker while the latter was making a tackle. Lars-Woodbey had to be carted off the field, his leg in an air cast. Somehow, the defense pulled it together to hold Louisville to a field goal. On the following drive, Louisville found the end zone. They were up to 4.4 yards per play and were on a 17-0 run.

Then the dam broke, as it has so many times before. Cunningham found Dez Fitzpatrick for a 74-yard touchdown just over the outstretched hands of Asante Samuel, Jr.

Comeback complete. 24 unanswered points. Fitzpatrick finished with 133 yards on seven catches, but was the only Cardinal receiver over 69 yards on the day.

At their peak, the Cardinals climbed to 5.8 yards per play. But then something different happened. Cyrus Fagan intercepted Cunningham deep in FSU territory with just 9:39 left, as Lars-Woodbey watched on from the sidelines in a wheelchair.

It was if a switch had been flipped.

FSU’s offense scored, and it gave the defense renewed life. On Louisville’s penultimate drive, Brendan Gant made a terrific tackle on third down to force a punt, and once FSU had a double-digit lead, the defensive linemen pinned their ears back, and it mercifully ended with Big Marv eventually falling on a loose ball, and that was all she wrote.

After the fat lady finally sang, FSU held Louisville to 5.5 yards per play on 75 plays. Despite losing multiple starters the last two weeks, the defense held strong when it mattered most. Cunningham finished 16/27 for 286 yards, tossing two touchdowns and one interception. He was held to just 5 yards on 17 carries.