Location: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
Surface: Field Turf
Forecast: 79 degrees (at kickoff), 50% Chance for Rain during game
Game Time: 12:00 9-17-2016
CARDMARCH: 9:45 p.m. – Central Ave. Overpass
Line: Florida State -1.5
TV: ABC  – Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Sam Ponder
National Radio: ESPN (Bill Rosinski, Mack Brown, Ian Fitzsimmons)
Local Radio: Cardinal Football Radio Network (Paul Rogers, Alex Kupper, & Jody Demling) Sirius & XM Radio Channel #84
Series History: FSU leads 14-2 (1-5 in Louisville)
Last Time:  FSU 41, UofL 21 (10-17-2015 in Tallahassee, FL)

My Prediction

Everyone around the country is talking about this game and there is a great deal of hype surrounding it?  Too much?  It’s possible.  But the players for Louisville seem focused at the task at hand. But that’s only going to take the Cards so far.

Florida State is a super talented team with a talented redshirt freshman quarterback, a veteran group of wide receivers a killer running back an incredible front seven, a dinged up but opportunistic secondary and an unproven offensive line.  They are #2 in the country for a reason.

Louisville on the other hand has a great defense that has yet to play its best game, the most exciting and unpredictable Quarterback in football and has a series of skill players that compliment the system Bobby Petrino is trying to run.

The Cards have been on top at the half the last two years and a series of mistakes cost them the game as Florida State took full advantage.  Jimbo Fisher is a master at making in-game adjustments and the Noles have tons of talent.  But the pieces are in place for Louisville to take this game.  It will not be easy and while I like both defenses in this game a great deal I like both offenses a little more.  I think it will be a barn-burner down to the final drive and Louisville is going to have to make a stop against Florida State late to seal the win…..but I think they’ll get it.

Cards 38, Seminoles 34

Stat Comparison

Louisville Florida State
Strength of Schedule    
Scoring Offense (ppg) 66.0 (1st) 48.5 (14th)
Total Offense (ypg) 754.0 (1st) 509.0 (27th)
Passing Offense (ypg) 411.0 (6th) 344.0 (15th)
Rushing Offense (ypg) 343.0 (3rd) 165.0 (78th)
Scoring Defense (ppg) 21.0 (53rd) 21.0 (53rd)
Total Defense (ypg) 311.0 (38th) 337.0 (57th)
Passing Defense (ypg) 226.5 (72nd) 227.5 (76th)
Rushing Defense (ypg) 84.5 (23rd) 109.5 (40th)
Punt Returns (ypr) 1.67 (109th) 42.0 (2nd)
Kickoff Returns (ypr) 19.71 (80th) 19.6 (81st)
Opponent Punt Returns (ypr) 1.33 (22nd) 0.5 (14th)
Opponent Kickoff Returns (ypr) 18.00 (36th) 18.38 (41st)
Punting (ypp) 41.43 (67th) 46.80 (15th)
Field Goal % 66.7% (68th) 100% (1st)
Opponent Field Goal % 0% (1st) 0% (1st)
First Downs (per game) 34.0 (1st) 29.0 (11th)
Opponent First Downs (per game) 18.0 (51st) 18.0 (51st)
Penalties (ypg) 74.5 (105th) 93.5 (120th)
Turnover Margin (season) -3 (108th) +6 (3rd)
Time of Possession 30:41.00 (55th) 36:29.00 (9th)
Sacks (per game) 4.0 (10th) 4.5 (4th)
Sacks Allowed (per game) 0.5 (7th) 3.0 (98th)
Tackles for Loss (per game) 9.5 (12th) 7.5 (35th)
Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game) 1.0 (2nd) 6.50 (88th)
Interceptions (season) 1 (66th) 3 (16th)
Passes Defended (per game) 4.5 (40th) 4.0 (63rd)
Fumbles Recovered (season) 2 (26th) 4 (3rd)
Fumbles Forced (season) 3 (16th) 4 (4th)
Fumbles Lost (season) 4 (126th) 0 (1st)
Kicks/Punts Blocked (season)
3rd Down Conversions (%) 47.83% (39th) 58.62% (10th)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (%) 27.78% (31st) 30.43% (38th)
4th Down Conversions (%)
Opponent 4th Down Conversions (%) 33.33% (31st) 50.0% (47th)
Red Zone Conversions (%) 91.67% (39th) 100% (1st)
Opponent Red Zone Conversions (%) 75.00% (34th) 100% (93rd)
RedZone TD Conversions (%) 83.33% (16th) 70.00% (54th)
Opponent Red Zone TD Conversions (%) 75.00% (103rd) 100% (119th)
Kickoffs (ypk) 60.59 (93rd) 64.76 (9th)
Plays 151 (42nd) 164 (20th)
Yards Per Play 9.99 (1st) 6.21 (47th)

Louisville Offense vs. Florida State Defense

The Louisville Offense has been EXPLOSIVE in its 1st two games of the season. But Louisville’s had it easy offensively as Syracuse & Charlotte did not provide much in the way of  resistance to the Cards.  2 games, 1508 yards.  To put that into perspective Central Florida last year gained 3221 yards in all 12 of its games.  Right now the Cards are set to finish 138 yards per game AHEAD of Baylor’s #1 offense in the country from a year ago.  What Louisville has done offensively has been nothing short of remarkable…… but they are playing Florida State on Saturday, the #2 team in the country.

Sure Lamar Jackson’s last 4 games may have been unprecedented in college football but against Kentucky he had 130 passing & 186 rushing in just 38 snaps, against Texas A&M it was 227 passing & 226 rushing in just 48 snaps…..this year in just 34 plays Lamar added 286 passing and 119 rushing vs. Charlotte …..and finally vs. Syracuse Jackson was in on 60 plays and had 411 passing and 199 rushing.  Kentucky’s Defense last year was ranked #59, Texas A&M was #51.  So far this year Charlotte is 122nd, and Syracuse is 113th.   This will be a much different challenge that Lamar has faced in his last 4 match-ups.

Currently Florida State is 57th on Defense in 2016 and by the end of the year the Noles will rank much higher.  In its opener against Ole Miss the Seminoles limited the Rebels to 380 yards, but FSU made Ole Miss one-dimensional by allowing just 67 yards rushing.  The performance was similar to how FSU limited Louisville last season when the Noles won 41-21 and held UofL to 307 passing & just 99 yards rushing.  Lamar Jackson had a good day throwing the ball completing 20-35 with 3 TDs and just 1 INT, but Florida State hemmed Lamar in on the ground as Jackson was only able to manage 32 yards rushing in 19 carries.  Additionally Lamar failed to see a blitz from FSU’s secondary by Derwin James (who is injured vs. Louisville this time) who was able to get home for a sack fumble that set up a FSU TD.

For Louisville to do well vs. Florida State they MUST establish the run so that they do not become one-dimensional like last season vs. FSU.  The Noles are going to key on Lamar Jackson throughout the game so the Cards are going to have to figure out how to get some push up front against a very talented front 7 of Florida State. Brandon Radcliff, Jeremy Smith, and LJ Scott will absolutely need to bring their ‘A’ game as well as the Cardinals’ offensive line.

But the guy everyone will be looking towards first when the Cards are passing will be DeMarcus Walker.  Walker absolutely dominated Ole Miss in the 2nd half during the Seminoles comeback and racked up 4.5 sacks in a single game.  So far this season the Louisville offensive line has given up just a single sack, and it wasn’t Lamar Jackson in at QB.  But even though Louisville’s offensive line may have improved a great deal from a year ago and Lamar Jackson may understand his protections much better but that doesn’t mean that Louisville is ready for the heat that DeMarcus Walker & Co is going to bring on Saturday.  FSU is going to try to pressure Lamar and take the deep ball away from Petrino….because that’s where FSU is the most vulnerable without Derwin James in the line-up. But FSU also has an opportunistic secondary that created 3 Interceptions vs. Ole Miss.  So you pick your poison.

Ultimately Louisville’s best course of action vs. Florida State on Saturday is to try to remain balanced and disciplined in their play-calling.  If the Cards have success early with the run game that will pay huge dividends throughout the game.  Petrino can’t rely on Lamar Jackson to make every play and instead must have Lamar be the distributor that occasionally makes the big play.  Things will not go as easy for the Cards on Saturday offensively, it’s OK to punt and it’s OK to kick the field goal.  Louisville’s Defense is good enough to keep the Cards in it if UofL’s offense has some stumbles so there shouldn’t be a panic moment.  Just play football.

Florida State Offense vs. Louisville Defense 

Florida State will be sending out its 3rd new QB in 3 years to face the Louisville Cardinals. Deondre Francois (6’2, 205) is Florida State’s redshirt freshman Quarterback.  Francois has been superb thus far while completing 69% of his passes for 680 yards, 5 Total TDs and just one Interception.  Deondre Francois will be making his first true road start (Ole Miss game was neutral site in Orlando) so it will be interesting to see how the freshman deals with the hostile crowd and the big game environment.  So far most of Francois passes have gone to junior Wide Receiver Travis Rudolph who has 13 receptions and 179 yards and 3 TDs & Bobo (Jesus) Wilson 13 receptions 178 yards so far in 2016.

FSU has a very deep group of experienced receivers and the Cards will be without Safety Dee Smith in the 1st half vs. the Noles who was ejected for targeting in the 2nd of last week’s game vs. Syracuse. The Cards will have to WORK to cover this crew, but Florida State’s offensive line has had some tough moments early in its first two games and have allowed 6 sacks in the season’s first two games. In fact, Ole Miss got 3 sacks and then got ZERO in Week 2 vs. Wofford. Ole Miss does not have a recent history as an ELITE pass rushing team…..but the Cards have been in the Top 10 in Sacks over the past 3 seasons.  If the Cards can get pressure on an Offensive Line that has had some struggles early they may not need to worry as much about the deep ball from Francois but instead could limit the opportunities in the vertical passing game of FSU.

But now let’s talk about the elephant in the room……….. Dalvin Cook.  Dalvin had his coming out party in 2014.  The Cards had opportunity after opportunity to win the 2014 match-up and a big part of that was Louisville’s inability to bring down Dalvin Cook.  There were times that Louisville was in position to make the play and Cook slipped through for a TD.  There were other times that Cook just was gone.  The same was true last year in 2015 most notably when Devonte Fields were there for a short run that turned into a pivotal HUGE run for the Seminoles from Dalvin Cook.  FSU may be starting its 3rd quarterback in 3 seasons….but it’s standard over the last 3 years (against Louisville anyway) has been Dalvin Cook.   Cook had nearly 1700 yards and 19 TDs rushing last season and he’s also a threat in the passing game.

Louisville Defensively needs to make sure it is properly aligned and communicating effectively.  The Cards also need to finish tackles strongly and with authority.  There can be no falling forward while carrying the football every single yard will count in this one.  Louisville needs to mentally prepare itself to play its most physical game of the season.  Dee Smith is one of Louisville’s best open field tacklers so not having him on the back end of Louisville’s defense is going to be a major challenge for the Cards.  BUT when Louisville gets Dee back in the 2nd half Louisville’s defense can actually change quite a bit making FSU need to adjust early on in the 3rd quarter.

The Cards need to get home on pass rush and they absolutely can not allow Dalvin Cook to run wild.  This is a game for Devonte Fields, James Hearns to really rush the passer.  DeAngelo Brown SHOULD be able to get significant push up front against Florida State’s interior Defense line and that will be a tremendous key in disrupting what Florida State wants to do.  If Brown is effective Jimbo Fisher will have no choice but to shift the pocket and utilize outside runs.

Overall this is an excellent test for Louisville’s defense as FSU is a complete offense led by an offensive genius in Jimbo Fisher.  The Cards have finished in the Top 25 in Total Defense in all 6 of its past seasons and it returned a load of NFL talent for its senior season.  The Cards haven’t looked sharp defensively to date… but they haven’t needed to either.  On Saturday we’ll find out if this group is the real deal.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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