Welcome back to your weekly Keys to Victory! The Cards are once again coming off a victory, dispatching the Hilltoppers of WKU 38-21 under the UNRELENTING, GOD-AWFUL, STROKE-INDUCING sun of Nashville, Tennessee. Shout out to my good buddy LJ Nesbitt (my podcast partner in crime) and his lovely wife for allowing me to tag along on the road trip. It was a blast and the drive went by incredibly fast (partially because of good company and conversation, partially because LJ’s Maserati does 185). I thought overall the Cards did a good job asserting their will on the Tops in the first half, playing solid ball and limiting mistakes. The one glaring one being the busted seam route up the middle that led to the long touchdown by WKU (similar to the Notre Dame game). The second half saw some uneven play from Louisville, partially because of fatigue (did I mention it was hot?) and a lapse in focus (most likely brought on by said fatigue).
Now we turn our attention to the resident ACC dumpster fire, FSU. Of course, it’s all relative. Sure, they’re struggling in befuddling ways, but it’s not anywhere close to an all systems failure like UofL was last season. This is more of a “This team shouldn’t be this average with all that talent” type of dumpster fire. So maybe it’s more like a dorm room waste basket fire…with potential. Whatever you call it, it’s clear from the outside that the program is balanced on the edge of a knife. The Noles have led in all three contests this year, blowing game one to a good Boise State (after leading in the 4th), “winning” in OT against Louisiana-Monroe, and losing a heart breaker to the Coastal division favorites, Virginia. I thought FSU took a step forward during the majority of that game, only to trip on their own feet with undisciplined play and mistakes. The question is, what direction are the Seminoles going now? Was the improved play against Virginia a sign of things to come, or was the late game collapse just who they are this season? Willie Taggart sure sounded like he was over all of the nonsense that comes along with being the Florida State coach a few weeks back during his infamous presser on hydration. Will this game be the one that breaks the Noles and sends them spiraling? We’ll find out.
KEYS TO VICTORY
- LOUISVILLE O–LINE VS. FSU D-LINE – The improvement in Louisville’s offensive line play this season has been nothing less than amazing. The rushing attack has averaged 263 yards per game and 6 yards per carry. The seamless zone blocking schemes combined with the elusive running of Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall has buoyed this offense through three quarterbacks. The FSU game presents a new and unique challenge. Western and Eastern were both overmatched at the point of attack, while ND was replacing several key pieces of their front seven. The strength of FSU’s (mediocre so far) defense is clearly the line. They’re big, athletic, and absolutely capable of disrupting the zone ballet. Marvin Wilson, Robert Cooper, and Cory Durden man the line for the Noles, with Wilson the standout. Our linemen will have to be especially quick working across the face of these hogs when lined up on their outside or inside shoulders. Much like it sounds, zone blocking is predicated on blocking a “zone” and not a man, but a 3-technique taking a hard angle to the B gap can blow up a zone play before it even gets started. The UofL line will have to focus on the basics and take these guys where they want to go (for the most part), and let their running backs make the reads. Side note: Still waiting longingly for a batch of Mrs. Ledford’s chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I need to start a hashtag campaign… #CookiesForBiscuit? #ChocolateChipBiscuits? We’ll figure it out…
- GET THE (OTHER) STUDS INVOLVED – This will continue to be a theme until I see a breakout, especially against teams that struggle so mightily against the pass. Tutu Atwell has been a breakout star through three games, capping off his strong start with a 141 yard, 3 TD performance against WKU. But for this team to get some of these winnable conference games and threaten bowl eligibility, they have to find a way to involve Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins. Dez is one of the best pure receivers in the ACC, but at this point UofL can’t get the ball in his hands. The Noles have struggled all season against the pass, giving up 314 ypg through the air. Whoever ends up playing quarterback on Saturday needs to take advantage of the loose secondary and spread that ball around. We need to engage our studs, we’re going to need them down the line.
- GET AFTER BLACKMAN – Through the first two games this season, Louisville’s defense amassed 8 sacks, after only managing 11 all last season. Much the same was expected against WKU and their turnover prone QB, but the Cards could only manage one early sack, and at times during the second half the pass rush went missing altogether (we will get to that during the next point). Two years ago, the pass rush was a centerpiece of UofL’s strong road win in Tallahassee, as the defense got to Blackman four times and forced two picks. Blackman has shown the ability to throw it around the yard a little this season, and can do damage IF YOU LET HIM. Louisville needs to hit his skinny frame as often as possible and disrupt that rhythm. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryan Brown dial up a few Rodjay Burns third down blitzes to facilitate. Note: FSU is starting Abdul Bello at left tackle for Jauan Williams for the second straight game. Might be an area of opportunity…
- DON’T LET FATIGUE BEAT YOU – I’m going to be honest, not sure how this is avoidable. I don’t think the Cards have the same hydration and training staff issues that FSU apparently has (Looking at you, Willie), but at some point a lack of depth is going to catch up with you, no matter how many Capri Suns you drink at halftime. Nashville was roughly ten degree hotter than the surface of the sun, and the Louisville sideline was fully exposed to that sun until the early fourth quarter. The heat and reps clearly took their toll on UofL’s defense. By mid-third quarter, the defense was absolutely gassed. This led to a lack of pass rush, and a period of time where Steven Duncan looked like Peyton freaking Manning (to their credit, the defense got stops in the 4th, when they needed them most). More than that, physical exhaustion leads to mental fatigue, and lazy plays. A player is far more likely to jump offsides, false start, and hold when they are exhausted. Tallahassee will be warm, but looks like a high of only 90 with manageable humidity. Nothing like the hell that was Nashville (I still haven’t recovered, if it isn’t obvious). Still, a couple of extra gallons of water and an extra helping of mental fortitude and discipline will be needed down the stretch.
- STAY ABOVE THE FRAY – Like I said before, FSU is a team on the edge, and that’s reflected on the field. They are averaging 8.7 penalties per game, 119th in the country. And like all teams in crisis, they are getting these penalties at the worst times (Louisville fans will recognize this brand of “football”). They likely cost them AT LEAST one game this season. Louisville, while averaging 7 penalties a game (good for only 90th nationally), has largely eliminated stupid penalties (read: procedure fouls), and has seemingly been able to use other team’s lack of discipline against them. Most of the penalties they have accrued have been when second half fatigue sets in, or as a result of some of the worst officiating ever seen by human eyes (I won’t go into detail about the sequence of plays I am referring to…actually yes I will. See below.) The Cards’ mission on Saturday will be to not allow FSU to drag them down to their level. When the game gets sloppy, play gets snippy, and tempers flare, the Cards have to keep their head down and get back to the huddle. Play your game, not theirs. Second man always gets caught. ALWAYS. And we can’t afford any more attrition due to extracurriculars.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- Before I get into this segment, that sequence with the BS Roughing the Passer (HE HIT HIM AS HE THREW), missed Intentional Grounding, and late booth review to tack on a targeting call to Jack Fagot, whose action was more akin to a bear flopping down for a nap than targeting, was possibly the worst three play sequence I have ever seen from an officiating crew. They should all be ashamed of themselves, and should be compelled to donate their game checks to the charity of MY choice. That charity being the “Dave Scull Foundation for Getting Mrs. Ledford to Bake Me Cookies Fund”…or the V Foundation. Whichever one they find more worthy.
- The Quarterback Position – the obvious elephant in the room is the mystery at the QB position. Monday I was convinced Malik Cunningham was the guy no matter what on Saturday, believing Coach Satterfield would elect to hold Jawon out through the bye week to get all the way right. Then news came out Jawon was practicing Tuesday. Combine that with me reading far too into benign coach speak, I am starting to lean more and more towards Jawon getting the start. Either way we are going to have to be able to take advantage of the Noles through the air and we need a QB who is willing to do that. Malik looked good when he actually threw the ball , but he has shown a reticence to do so. We will see. Odds are they both see the field in some capacity on Saturday.
- Please stop rolling Malik to his left. He can’t throw across his body. (yes the irony of the chosen featured image is not lost on me)
- This week is a lot of strength on strength, weak vs. weak matchups. Our average passing game vs. FSU’s weak secondary, our strong running game vs. the strength of their defense (even though it’s not great by the numbers currently). I’m looking forward to seeing whose good is best and whose bad is…less bad?
- Can UofL get pressure from base packages? I would like to see our down linemen get to the quarterback with minimal blitzing at a regular clip on Saturday. That might be a lot to ask.
- Willie Taggart. I am going to be watching this man’s face to see exactly how many f**ks he has left to give. I set the over/under at .5. Take the under.
- RB rotation. I am expecting to see, at some point, a third option emerge on the depth chart. Obviously Hawkins and Hall have been sensational, and appear quite durable, but we need a consistent third back to take reps (and in case, God forbid, we experience an injury). Maurice Burkley got some run in the EKU game. It’s likely him or freshman Aidan Robbins that will assume this role.
- Evan Conley. He looked pretty damn good vs. WKU. At least we know we have a viable third option behind center. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we see him this season…
- Beers. I am heading straight from home to Bourbon and Beyond and some freaking HALL AND OATES after the game. So I will be imbibing and encouraging SARA to SMILE all night long. Can’t tell me nothing.
- The Blankenbaker Curse. Every year The Crunch Zone’s esteemed co-founder and leader Mark Blankenbaker takes a road trip with some friends to a road game. He is the reason we got smoked by Houston three years ago. He is the reason NC State curb-stomped us two years ago. He is the reas- actually he gets a pass last year. Nothing was going to help that team. Either that or the entire season was his fault. One of the two. Mark, do us all a favor and watch from home.
This is a tough one to call. FSU represents the conference opener, and the start to the meat of the schedule. The games that really matter. And it’s the first real toss-up. On paper, FSU is far deeper and more talented than Louisville. But this is an FSU team that should have lost to the worst team UofL has fielded in at least 20 years, maybe longer. Granted, that game was the one that broke the team, but they weren’t world beaters coming in either.
As I said, I can see this Seminoles squad going one of two ways. Either Virginia was a sign they aren’t dead yet, or just another brick in that disappointing wall they’ve been building all year. I tend to think they are broken enough, that if Louisville gets on top of them early they’ll be mentally defeated. But with Louisville’s lack of depth, this one will be a fight to the end.
Louisville 37 – FSU 31
The Cards outlast a struggling FSU team, whose defense just can’t stop the Louisville attack consistently from whistle to whistle. Javian eats and the passing game finds a rhythm. The boos grow louder in Tallahassee. Sorry, Willie.
Go Cards. Beat the Noles.