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Florida State vs. Louisville: Defensive breakdown, analysis

Can FSU’s defense hold an FBS opponent under 30 points?

Jamie Rhodes-ACC Pool

TALLAHASSEE: The Florida State Seminoles will try to avoid a 0-4 start to the 2021 season as they host the 2-1 (0-0 ACC) Louisville Cardinals. FSU’s defense has given up at least 35 points against FBS opponents this season and today will face a little bit different challenge against Louisville’s dynamic quarterback Malik Cunningham.

Nose tackle Fabian Lovett and safety Akeem Dent are unavailable for this game.


  • Louisville taking a shot on the first play from scrimmage. Kalen DeLoach spying Cunningham. Jarvis Brownlee gets beat for a first down. Then Meiko Dotson gets burned for a 59 yard touchdown. Dotson might be a great kid but his athleticism isn’t there and it’s worth questioning why Florida State keeps trying to play him. Dotson was caught flat-footed, just technically unsound and out of position. With the athleticism limitations, recipe for disaster. This secondary is really rough.
  • Unlike a lot of heavier man coverage earlier in the season, FSU playing more zone to try and limit Cunningham’s scrambling. A questionable personal foul call on Brendan Gant on 3rd down keeps UL’s drive alive. It was a bad flag to throw, but Gant had no reason to put his hands on Cunningham who was obviously giving up on the play and going out of bounds. Dennis Briggs gets hurt on a chop block. FSU gets a stop on 3rd and 13, UL converts 44-yard kick. FSU is doing a decent job squeezing the pocket but pass rush not really getting to Cunningham yet. Appears UL is running in-breaking routes on intermediate passing downs.
  • Offense turned it over on downs near midfield, so short field for defense down 10-0. FSU running a lot of Cover 3 and some Cover 2, or showing C2 and rolling a safety down into C3. Louisville tries to run a backside throw, Travis Jay picks it off but is out of the back of the end zone. Cunningham does a good job extending plays, picking FSU’s underneath coverage apart. Cunningham scores on a QB lead, now has a rush and passing TD in the first quarter.

Louisville scored on all three drives in the first quarter. UL has 6.5 yards per play, which is excellent for conference play. FSU with 1.5.


  • UL is now 6/7 on third down. FSU giving up pitch and catch. Louisville just methodically marching down the field, 5.8 yards per play. Cunningham now with 2 rushing touchdowns. They are attacking the linebackers in coverage with ins, outs, and curls.
  • Some of the younger players getting some burn here, which is good. Omarion Cooper, Joshua Farmer, Kevin Knowles, But Louisville is pretty much getting whatever it wants. This defense just cannot get off the field. Cooper got burned in zone coverage for a 21-yard touchdown.

Half-time stats

  • Louisville has 6.1 yards per play and 316 total yards in the first half. 52 plays, so on pace for 104 plays and 632 total yards.
  • Cunningham is 18/26 for 227 yards passing 2 TDs and 9 rushes for 25 yards and two more TDs.
  • Louisville is 8/10 on third downs and 2/2 in the red zone with two touchdowns.


  • Keir Thomas is playing well today. Good recognition on a screen, almost picked it off. FSU forces Cunningham to run on third and long and while he got quite a bit he didn’t convert. Good coverage.
  • Keir Thomas saves a touchdown by forcing a UL lineman to hold him. Louisville then fumbles on third down but recovers. A bit of bad luck for FSU, but defense is starting to string together good drives.
  • On third and three Cunningham takes off, Gant takes a bad angle. Looks like Cunningham will convert and then Brownlee comes down hard and tackles him short. Brownlee is very good near the LOS, like a box safety or linebacker. Maybe we see him there next season. Three straight stops for this defense.


  • UL execution mistakes starting to pile up. As Golic said on the broadcast, FSU has gone to more man coverage to try and tighten up the coverage, since their zone coverage got shredded in the first half. UL struggling to adjust. FSU gets another stop.
  • FSU again fails to convert on fourth down so the defense gets handed another short field, this time in FSU territory. FSU being a little bit more aggressive, keying a little better on what UL is trying to do. Jammie Robinson also mostly playing well today. Stuffs another run. Jay forces a 4th down, UL goes quick, tries a pop pass triple/option thing out into the flat but again Brownlee is already there. Kid is great around the LOS. FSU forces the turnover on downs.
  • UL is all the way down to 5.2 yards per play and now 8/15 on third down.
  • FSU’s offense keeps chipping away. Defense takes the field with a one-score game. UL runs a delay QB run with Cunningham, have Sidney Williams spying who whiffs really bad. He took a bad angle. Holding call brings a lot of the yardage back. Next play there’s a coverage bust on the boundary, but it’s against the sideline for a short gain. UL runs the same play again but pressure forces Cunningham to dump it. UL runs a pass concept, FSU doesn’t switch and a receiver gets wide open to convert on 3rd down. Briggs playing well, Lundy doing alright fitting gaps in run game. FSU blitzing DBs now, Fuller more comfortable in sending guys to make Malik uncomfortable and get rid of the ball before he wants to. 3rd and 15: UL runs a screen, Dotson plays it well.
  • UL was 8/9 on third down at one point. Now 9/17.
  • FSU turned it over on downs with just more than 2 minutes left, so this drive is meaningless.

Final Thoughts

Will defensive coordinator Adam Fuller get fired following this game? We’ve reached the point it’s a real possibility. This game was a tail of two halves. The secondary was atrocious in the first half, though it was good they started playing some younger players like Cooper and Farmer. The defensive line is still decent. Jermaine Johnson is very good. They held Louisville to 3.3 yards per rush; UL only got to 130 yards rushing because they had 40 carries.

This is what I wrote immediately after the first half: But the talent on this team is just bad; football is a matchup game and they just don’t have the players to make the math work in their favor as often as they need. Too many guys who are playing are not plus matchups for them on the field. They can’t play zone and are very inconsistent in man. They are seemingly regressing every week.

But after the game with the much improved play in the second half: With that said, they deserve a ton of credit for tightening up in the second half. But where was this defensive effort in the first half? It’s a shame they were so bad in the first half they got into a really deep hole and ran out of time to climb out of it. Where do you go from here?

End-of-game stats.

  • Yards per Play: Regressed to 5ypp.
  • Cunningham: 25/40 for 264 yards. 14 rushes for 56 yards. Four total touchdowns.
  • Louisville finished 9/18 on third downs. 0/1 on 4th down. UL averaged 7.8 yards to go on third downs.
  • Leading tackler: Jammie Robinson with 13. Amari Gainer had 8.

Defensive MVP:

I’m going to go with Keir Thomas, though Johnson recorded another sack, Brownlee had some good plays. Jammie Robinson had a very good game, especially in run support.