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Line of Scrimmage: Previewing Florida State’s matchup vs. Louisville with John Powell of Card Chronicle

The Seminoles and Cardinals will battle it out for the ACC crown.

The Florida State Seminoles football team survived the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record. On Saturday, they’ll head to Charlotte for a matchup with the Louisville Cardinals to see who will take the ACC Championship. The Seminoles and Cardinals dominated the All-ACC team with a combined 40 players selected for the 2023 season.

Each week, as part of our Line of Scrimmage series, we’ll be speaking with members of the beat that covers FSU’s upcoming opponent, getting all the details from those who know those teams best.

To help the fans get to know the Louisville Cardinals better, we’ll catch up with John Powell of the CardChronicle.

Louisville currently sits at 10-2 with just one blemish on their ACC record. After the departure of coach Scott Satterfield last year, first year head coach Brian Brohm has taken the Cardinals up a level with a potent running game and a lock-down defense. The Cardinals will be making a run at their first ever ACC football championship.

Listen below, as well as on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your shows, or check out an abbreviated version of the conversation.

Last year, the Cardinals were 8-5 in their final season under Scott Satterfield. From an outside view, the program seemed very unhappy and lifeless. Not quite Bobby Petrino turmoil but plenty of rumblings. Insert Jeff Brohm, the favorite child of Louisville, and this program is the definition of a 180. The Cardinals are 10-2, the city is buzzing with excitement, despite the loss to Kentucky. Thousand foot view, how did Brohm pull off such a quick turnaround?

Like you can imagine, I’ve been getting a variation of that question most of the season. I think it’s just a great story — I’ll give you the condensed version, if you will. Just the highlights. So I think it’s a combination of a lot of things — with Satterfield, I think fans were just like, “this is where we are. We’re going to win six to eight games every year. We’re not seeing that next step.” And there just was something off about the fit — Satterfield created some separation with the fan base and it was really tough to win them back. He won the games he was supposed to win, but never won the games that he wasn’t supposed to.

Brohm — there’s this connection, obviously, having played here. He brought a coaching staff that has also got deep connections with the university — guys that not just were with him at Purdue, but familiar with the Louisville program, familiar with the fan base, familiar with expectations. And so they came in and immediately hit the ground running and hit the portal very hard. I think when it was all said and done at the end of the summer, they were a top five portal class and got guys that they needed. And at the top of that list was a quarterback in Jack Plummer. Getting him early was key to also pulling in some other key guys at core positions.

After spring, it was encouraging to see them go back to the portal again, they got some more depth in the trenches, the whole line, some help in the secondary as well. So it was encouraging to that they were coming in and trying to win immediately. You know, that’s the goal. And so it’s just a shift in mindset, understanding the expectations of the fan base and what we think this program can be, which is one that can compete for conference championships on a consistent basis. And so he’s shown that in the first season he’s been here.

Quarterback Jack Plummer transferred over to Louisville to be with Brohm one more time after his stint in Purdue. As most of my Facebook feed tells me, Plummer is not “exciting” by their standards but he’s been a capable signal caller leading Brohm’s offense. What are your thoughts on Plummer and how he has led the Cardinals?

So full disclosure — I’m actually a Purdue graduate. So my experiences with Plummer were a little bit of a mixed bag, right? I’ve been following Brohm pretty closely for the last seven years or so watching every Purdue game leading up to this, but I also had the full Plummer experience while he was at Purdue, which was like, “Hey, okay, this guy can can make some throws, but he’s also pretty inconsistent.” And there’s definitely issues with turnovers and ball security in general. And so he lost the starting job to Aiden O’Connell, who’s now playing for the Raiders, so it’s not some guy off the bench — but he lost the job. Brohm was very upfront with him and said, “Look, you’re not going to be the man this year, maybe not even next year.” And so he hung around for a year, split some time with O’Connell there and then went out to Cal and to me, looking back at it, it was kind of this like a rehab stint in the minors for a year kind of thing.

When he came to Louisville, my initial instinct was I didn’t even know if he’s QB1, — like, maybe he’ll add some depth to the roster but I don’t know if he’s the guy because of what I’d seen before. But now looking back, it makes perfect sense. You’re having to bring in someone no matter what this year, he doesn’t have anybody on the roster who’s familiar with his playbook with his offensive philosophies and style, so go get a guy who fully understands what to do week in and week out. He knows the playbook well, and even if he’s not the absolute best at executing everything, he at least understands what they’re trying to do conceptionally.

Brohm trusted him quite a bit early in the year and they were pretty aggressive — they took a lot of shots downfield, they trusted Plummer to make throws. And on some of them paid off and other times it was like, “Oh my gosh.” Week one vs. Georgia Tech, some fans were like, “I don’t know if this is the guy, who do we got on the bench?” So there’s definitely been back and forth moments for sure.

As the season has worn on, it’s been more, let Plummer still make some plays but manage the game a little bit more and lean a bit more heavily on some offensive weapons, backs that can help balance the attack a little bit not abandon the passing game. It’s helped some they haven’t asked quite as much of him in the last four or five weeks since the Pitt debacle, with one exception of last week at Kentucky, which we’ll just pretend that game didn’t happen from here on moving forward for this interview. But otherwise, I think he’s done a good job, he can do well running the offense. They’re not going to ask a ton of him. And if we get into the position where they they need to him to do a lot — they get behind behind it a few scores — I’d feel pretty, pretty comfortable if I was a Florida State fan.

Jamari Thrash has been explosive for the Cardinals this season with over 800 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He’s averaging nearly 15 yards a catch and is far and away the leader of this receiving corp. Last year, he pulled in over 1,100 yards, he’s one of the top receivers in the ACC. What sets Thrash apart from his peers? And also, outside of Thrash, who should fans be aware of in this group and also from the suddenly emerging Cardinal tight ends?

Thrash came in as a G5 transfer — you started hearing whispers of this guy seems pretty legit early in the spring. I was able to get out there for a few practices in the fall and it was like yeah, he’s different. He’s very shifty, he has great speed — I feel like he had to have four or five plays with over 50 yards in the first three four games. He was getting hit on a crossing route, making a couple guys miss and then taking off. He’s done a good job at remaining consistent as defenses have adjusted, starting to put a guy over top or anything to try to limit him a little bit. Now they’re having to get him involved in the offense a little bit more with some of the short yardage stuff, screens or some quick crossers. Brohm wants to run that mesh concept quite a bit. So they’ll have Thrash kind of across the middle, try to get him in some space.

And — he’s got an injury. Virginia Tech, news came out that he may not be available and he didn’t play against them. He’s been back since then but he’s been significantly limited. I think he’s maybe got 10 or 11 catches, you know, in the last three, four games. He’s got some bandages on his hands — I think he had surgery on his hand. So still a weapon while he’s out there, but he’s definitely been somewhat limited. Which to your points open up the door for some other guys — Kevin Coleman and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, who can make you pay for sure if they get any space and then they have Chris Bell, who I think is their officially their second leading receiver in terms of targets and yardage. He’s kind of like a glorified tight end — a pretty big guy, but he can create some separation.

If you watched Brohm’s offense at Purdue, he relied very heavily on the tight end. They went to the portal, they got a couple people to fill in with one of them being Joey Gatewood, which might be a name that rings a few bells — number one or number two athlete in 2018 back when he was coming out of high school, went to Auburn for a couple years, went to Kentucky, then UCF as a receiver. They brought him in this year and were like, okay, we’re gonna put you at tight end. He’d been relatively quiet most of the year hadn’t really seen much — I assume he was still learning the playbook and working on blocking and just learning the position overall but but yeah, they’ve they’ve kind of unleashed the beast a little bit between him and Nate Kurisky and other tight ends the last few weeks. I think they’ve got like 18 catches and four touchdowns in the last three games or something, you know, so he’s really starting to utilize that position.

Let’s talk about who I feel is the star of this offense, it’s running back Jawhar Jordan. He’s eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark, he’s got 13 touchdowns, he’s averaging over six yards a carry. The junior back is a stud for the Cardinals. In your opinion, what makes Jordan so successful?

The funny thing about him is, and there may be people that disagree with it, I don’t think he does anything like extraordinary — I think he’s just really good at doing all the things you need to do to be a good running back. Like those clickbait articles “These tricks that scientists don’t want you to know,” and it’s just like, eat healthy and exercise. He knows what to do and he just does it. He’s patient, waits for the holes open. He has good escapability in tight spaces. The big thing if you wanted to say what does separate him from everyone else, it’s his burst for sure. If you give him some space he can reach some cheetah speeds for sure. The only downside is he’s a bit dinged up.

I talked about a little bit earlier about the Pitt game — he tried to go, I think he had two carries but they saw he couldn’t do it and then they said, “Okay, Plummer, you’re the man.” And then they lost to probably the worst team in the ACC. He’s still not 100% but at this point in the season, I don’t think anyone is right. They’re balancing him with Isaac Guerendo, who was a Wisconsin running back transfer — think of a Wisconsin running back and that’s him. Big guy but he’s got some deceptive speed, he’s a track guy. Him balancing Jordan has helped really create a strong ground game, the last three, four games especially and we saw that against Miami. We saw that against Virginia.

It’s a veteran group on the offensive line with three redshirt seniors. This unit has allowed 22 sacks on the season while paving the way for over 2,000 total rushing yards. What’s the strength of the offensive line and where do you feel they need to improve?

Hudson’s been a great leader up front at the center position. He’s been there for a few years now. From a recruiting standpoint, they brought in two or three highly rated guys in the 23 recruiting class, but they knew they weren’t going to be ready to go, so they went out and pulled a bunch of guys who played at Power Five schools who had experience who were coming in, knew how to play the position, knew what the expectations were, brought good leadership, and were able to fill a lot of the gaps where they had lost some people from last year.

They did a really good job filling in and they’ve done a great job overall — in run blocking and in pass protection. They’ve done a great job in protecting Plummer for the most part, allowing him to be able to make those game managing throws, if you will, and short reads and even earlier this year, gave him time to hit those deep balls when when they needed them to do so. They’ve got weaknesses like anybody else, I think there’s definitely some times that they do allow a little bit too much pressure on certain sides, sometimes there’s some weaknesses on the right side of the line but overall, they’ve played well, especially for meshing together a group that hasn’t played together until this year.

Flipping over to the defense, I feel as if it’s been night and day for Louisville compared to last season. This is a top-20 defense which is led by the defensive front which has accounted for over 25 sacks. They’re led by Ashton Gillotte and his 11 sacks. How has this unit transformed? And is there an area that teams have found success?

Coming into this year, they had pieces in place where they could be aggressive. They’ve had a “bulls in the china shop approach” with some guys. I think Gillotte this year would probably have 20 plus sacks, if he didn’t get held — every team and every fan is like, “Oh, our defensive end gets held on every play,” but he’s been an animal, he’s been getting a lot of pressure up front. He’s been balanced by another transfer they brought in on the other side, in Stephen Herron from Stanford, who was a local kid that came back home. And they brought in a couple other pieces that have done really well. So that front group has played well, they run a modified four two five defense. The general idea is to have enough guys out there in the secondary, that you’re not going to get killed with a bunch of intermediate stuff or deep balls — trust the front guys to be able to get pressure or to make stops. And if you do have enough time to throw, then they brought in some transfers in the secondary as well.

The linebackers play in a similar style to FSU with two backers primarily seeing snaps in the traditional position. This group is led by TJ Quinn and Jaylin Alderman, who with assisted tackles, have combined for 127 on the season. This has been a big step up for both of these players in snaps, tackles, etc. What’s finally helped the light flip on for this duo? And are there any areas that concern you about their play?

TJ and Jaylin have done a great job and stepping up this year --- guys who’ve been part of the program and really took on an expanded role. They’re kind of there as the safety net, and so that’s why they’re up there leading in tackles. They do have weaknesses for sure, there’s times where they’re a little step slower than I’d love but I would say overall this season I’ve been really happy with the Cardinals defense in general. I do worry against a back like Benson that there’s gonna be some challenges with getting him down, they’re gonna have to do some gang tackling probably.

Finally, the Louisville secondary with all name team Storm Duck, old friend Jarvis Brownlee, and “Mr. Everywhere” Devon Neal. This is a talented group that compliments the rest of this defense really well. How do you expect this group to line up with the talented FSU receiving corp?

If there’s any complaint that I have is it seemed like there’s been a regression in the secondary and teams have figured out some stuff. And they’re they’re starting to attack through the air a lot more than they were earlier in the year.

Yeah, I like the secondary. I think they’re good. They’re not great, but they’re good. I think they can do their job well. I’ll say this as a side note. Quincy Riley, one of their corners, I think was absolutely robbed on the All-ACC lists — by all measures he’s got to be a top five corner in the conference. Absolutely should be second team all ACC, I can maybe make an argument for first team but I know there’s a lot of good talent out there as well. Nobody throws at him all that much. He’s kind of on an island a lot of times. He’s been tested a few times last few weeks and done a great job. I can’t remember the name of the wideout there at the end of the Miami game that would have tied it at the end but he was covering him and did a good job.

Overall the secondary has been good, they’ve got some have weapons back but they’ve been hit a few times as well. They’ve had some blown coverages the last few weeks, that have been really hurt and been detrimental, to the outcome of the game last week and keeping the Miami game close as well. If you’re looking at run defense vs. pass defense, you’re definitely going to see teams putting up more passing yardage, especially as of late. I think they’re talented enough to limit teams where they can still win ballgames, but that would be my concern, especially heading into this week with some of the weapons that FSU has. I still have night terrors of Johnny Wilson on the outside. So I’m hoping that they’re trying to do something differently than what they did last year.

And let me end this with a prediction from the Louisville side?

I keep going back and forth. I’m a little torn. If Travis was playing, I’d have a lot less confidence. But I say that and then Rodemaker came in last year in Louisville and lit us up pretty well here.

I think we’re looking at probably a seven to 10 point game for FSU. I think Louisville can keep it close, I think they have enough talent on offense that they can still score against a good defense. I don’t think it’s going to be a shoot out by any means. But I think they can keep it relatively close — I’m thinking 30-21 score, something like that. Florida State can still put up points against this defense, might start out a little bit slow, but then get into a bit of a rhythm as some teams have done here in the past few weeks. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s kind of where I see it.

The only thing I really hope, Tim, is that I feel like before last week, Louisville should’ve feel very comfortable about locking up an Orange Bowl bid no matter the result, right. But it’s based on the ranking — so if Florida State comes out and just runs them off the field by 40 or something, I’m nervous that they might drop below NC State. And then we had a season where we got 10 wins, and we’re playing in like the Pop Tart Bowl or something.