Spread: Florida State -6.5 (Bovada)
How to Watch / Listen: 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Up by ten to enter the fourth quarter, Louisville was poised to get their third straight win over Florida State. Even as Deondre Francois threw his third touchdown of the game with 9:55 left to cut it to 24-21, Louisville had the ball inside the Florida State 25-yard line with under two minutes left, and Florida State essentially needing to use its two timeouts to save some clock.
The Seminoles would never need them, as they picked off Jawon Pass on first-and-ten with 1:56 left. Then they scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:13 left, coming on a Francois 58-yard touchdown throw to Nyqwan Murray. Louisville’s last drive would end with an interception on fourth-and-nine, giving the Seminoles a 28-24 comeback victory over the Cardinals.
Florida State leads the all-time series 15-4.
Meet the 2019 Florida State Seminoles:
Despite coming out of that Louisville game with a 3-2 record, Florida State (1-2, 0-1 ACC) was not able to finish 2018 with a winning record, or a bowl game. The 2018 season marked the first time since 1976 that the Seminoles finished a season with a losing record, and the first time since 1981 that they did not go to a bowl game.
To put it lightly, Florida State has had a rough 2019 season to start. Their first two games saw the Seminoles blow three-possession leads in each of them, losing 36-31 to Boise State, and beating Louisiana-Monroe 45-44 in overtime. Last week at #25 Virginia, Florida State blew a 17-10 lead entering the fourth quarter, and gave up 21 points in the final quarter to the Cavaliers. FSU had a chance to tie the game inside the Virginia four-yard line on the final play, but was stopped short of the goal line.
Key Offensive Players: RB Cam Akers, WR Tamorrion Terry
Cam Akers arrived at Florida State in 2017 as not only the third-ranked recruit in the class, but also the #59 recruit all-time in 24/7’s Recruiting Database. He showed some of his potential in his freshman season, getting a 1,000-yard season and scoring seven rushing touchdowns.
But 2018 didn’t fare as well as for him, rushing for only 706 yards and six touchdowns. A huge part of that was due to Florida State’s poor offensive line play throughout 2018; the Seminoles were among the worst in the country in nearly every run-blocking metric, according to Football Outsiders. That included FSU being 126th in opportunity rate (which is the percentage of carries that go for 4+ yards, when available) and 125th in stuff rate (almost one in every four carries by an FSU runner was stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind it).
The offensive line so far has been better in 2019 under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, and that has also led to Akers returning to his 2017 form. Without having to split carries much this season, his 387 rushing yards currently puts him fifth among everybody in the FBS (Louisville’s Javian Hawkins is 11th with 338 yards). He is a strong runner at 5’11” and 213 lbs., able to shed some arm tackles and get to the second level with great speed.
Another reason for Florida State’s improvement on offense so far is the leap their passing game has taken. FSU struggled at times with Deondre Francois last year, but James Blackman returned to the starting role in 2019. Blackman has been solid to start the season, currently completing 68% of his passes for 843 yards, and thrown nine touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Blackman also has great receivers around him, including Tamorrion Terry. Terry emerged last year as a go-to receiver for Francois, tying the team lead with 744 receiving yards and scoring a team-high eight receiving touchdowns. He’s a gifted athlete at 6’4″ and 200+ lbs., and is able to score on any route given. Against Boise State, he took a short pass 75 yards for a touchdown with some nifty running. When Louisville and Florida State last played in 2018, he was able to burn the Cardinals for a 55-yard touchdown downfield. Louisville will face a lot of good receivers throughout conference play, but Terry figures to be one of the best in the ACC in 2020 and 2021.
Key Defensive Players: DL Cory Durden, DB Asante Samuel, Jr.
Florida State’s defense took a blow over the weekend, when they lost defensive lineman Joshua Kaindoh for the season. Kaindoh was one of the top returning contributors on FSU’s defense, tallying three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2018.
However, Florida State still has a very aggressive, solid defensive line led by Cory Durden. The Seminoles are tied for 24th in the FBS with nine sacks on the year, and Durden has a team-high 2.5 entering Saturday’s game. The best version of them was against Boise State, when they tallied six sacks against the Broncos and kept harassing their quarterback all game.
But one weakness that has been prevalent in Florida State’s defense is their pass coverage. FSU is currently 123rd in passing yards per game (314.3), and in their losses to Boise State and Virginia, were victimized by excellent throws all over the field. They probably won’t have to worry about it as much with Louisville transitioning to a run-heavy team, but they still have issues there that could ultimately plague them against teams like Clemson and N.C. State down the road.
The FSU secondary, however, has three interceptions versus four touchdowns on the season. If they have guys in the secondary that can make plays, Asante Samuel, Jr. is one to watch (one interception in 2018). Hamsah Nasirildeen currently leads the team with 28 tackles.
One More Important Thing to Know:
Florida State missed out on a bowl game in 2018, and that has already raised the temperature on head coach Willie Taggart’s hot seat. But FSU hasn’t had back-to-back seasons of missing a bowl game since 1975 and 1976, which was the last year of the Darrell Mudra era and first year of Bobby Bowden’s legendary run, respectively.
The Louisville Front Seven v. FSU Offensive Line
Louisville’s 2018 season was horrific in so many ways, but one thing that is not talked about is how well their run defense played against Florida State. The Cardinals held the Seminoles to 76 rushing yards and 2.5 yards per carry, with Cam Akers accounting for 42 of that.
Unfortunately, due to Louisville being unable to generate a sack, that left Deondre Francois a clean pocket to throw the ball downfield. Francois was able to finish with 297 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 18.4 yards per completed pass. And that was with a Florida State offensive line that wasn’t good last year.
Both FSU’s offensive line and Louisville’s front seven have improved from last year. But which group has made the most improvement? That’s something that could ultimately decide the game. If Louisville’s front seven is able to replicate the same success it had against EKU and WKU the past two weeks, that will mean Florida State isn’t running the ball well, and Blackman is forced to make big third-down throws.
But if Florida State is able to create lanes for Akers, that will take pressure off Blackman to produce on second-and-long, third-and-long situations.
Tamorrion Terry v. Louisville Secondary
Among the first four teams Louisville faces in 2019, Florida State will be the most aggressive. The Seminoles love to take shots downfield with their receivers, in particular because Blackman is a solid thrower on intermediate to deep routes.
It won’t be surprising to see Tamorrion Terry be targeted often against Louisville’s secondary. Louisville had a solid first half with shutting down Western Kentucky, but the second half saw the Cardinals give up a couple of touchdowns due to the Hilltoppers success in the passing game. Florida State might try and do the same with the screens that Willie Taggart is fond of, but they will likely test Louisville’s ability to guard deep passes downfield at some point. It will be on Louisville to try and keep Terry contained and not allow too many deep passes, if at all.
If not Terry, watch for tight end Tre’ McKitty or wideout D.J. Matthews. McKitty is the definite second option in FSU’s passing game, and he’s a big target at 6’5″, 245 pounds.
What Can Louisville Get Out of the QB Position?
Arguably the biggest storyline for Louisville entering Saturday’s game will be who is going to start at quarterback. Rumors of Jawon Pass’s injury didn’t surface on social media until Friday before the game, and Saturday morning/afternoon, it was ultimately confirmed that Pass would be sidelined and Malik Cunningham would start against WKU.
While it is encouraging that Jawon Pass has returned to practice, it is also not a definite sign that he will come back against Florida State. The staff will surely monitor him in practice to make sure he can run fine, and plant his feet to throw consistently without any strain.
In any case, whoever is lining up under center for Louisville needs to have a solid game. Florida State’s secondary has made some plays with their interceptions, but they have been incredibly suspect up to this point with their 314 passing yards allowed per game. If Louisville decides to turn up the volume on pass attempts, it would be a good opportunity for the Cardinals to get Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick involved in the gameplan.
Another key reason why is because Jawon Pass played arguably his best game of 2018 against Florida State. Excluding the final four passes Pass had thrown (including the two late interceptions), Pass had completed 63% of his throws for 306 yards and two touchdowns, also running for a score as well. Of course we shouldn’t expect Pass (or Cunningham, or even Conley) to throw the ball 35+ times on Saturday, but it is enough to suggest that Louisville could capitalize on opportunities through the air.