Everything You Need To Know: Louisville v. Florida State

Kickoff: Noon, local RSNs (Fox Sports South or Fox Sports Go App)

Spread: Louisville -4.5, O/U 61.5 (Bovada)

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Louisville fell behind 21-0 after the first quarter, but rallied back to take a fourth quarter lead by scoring 24 unanswered points. But their next two drives ended on a red zone interception and a three-and-out, leading to Florida State touchdowns on the other end. The Seminoles put up 522 total yards on the Cardinals, including 382 combined passing from two different quarterbacks (Alex Hornibrook and James Blackman), as FSU pulled out a 35-24 win over U of L.

Florida State leads the all-time series 16-4. Louisville and Florida State have split the last four games, with FSU winning the last two.

Meet the 2020 Florida State Seminoles

Florida State’s win over Louisville would end up being one of few highlights in their 2019 season. Willie Taggart was fired as head coach after dropping a 27-10 loss to rival Miami, as the Seminoles finished 6-7. This marked the first time since 1975-76 that Florida State finished with back-to-back losing seasons, and the first time since 1976 that the Seminoles were not ranked at any point in the AP poll.

The Seminoles replaced Taggart with Odell Haggins for the rest of the season, and eventually hired Mike Norvell from Memphis to lead the program. Norvell had an outstanding run as the Tigers head coach, leading them to three straight AAC Championship games (including a conference title in 2019, with a 12-1 record). The Tigers were 38-15 during Norvell’s run as head coach, and he is the second Memphis head coach to make the leap to an ACC coaching job (the other being Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente, who Louisville will face next week).

Florida State enters Saturday’s game with a 2-3 record, upsetting #5 North Carolina last week.

Offensive Players to Know: QB Jordan Travis, WR Ontaria Wilson, RB rotation (

Florida State has already played three quarterbacks this season, with James Blackman starting the first two games (Georgia Tech & Miami), and true freshman Tate Rodemaker making his lone start against FCS Jacksonville State. With Blackman and Rodemaker struggling to get scoring drives, Norvell opted to bring Louisville transfer Jordan Travis off the bench against Jacksonville State.

Since making that decision, Travis led the Seminoles on five straight touchdown drives to beat the Gamecocks, after trailing at halftime. He was named the starter against both Notre Dame and North Carolina, and the Seminoles are averaging 28.5 points per game with Travis as the starter.

Travis hasn’t found consistency yet in accuracy (54% in 2019), but he has done a lot of damage stretching the field (9.8 yards/attempt) and with his legs (5.8 yards/carry, four touchdowns, 342 rushing yards; 203 yards in his two starts). Florida State has had a recent history of poor pass protection, ranking no higher than 95th in sacks allowed per game since 2016. Travis’s mobility gives them a quarterback that is able to keep plays alive and give receivers an opportunity downfield. They can also use him on designed runs or the read option, and he is a good runner with solid vision and speed. Louisville has already played several quarterbacks with solid scrambling, so they should be prepared there.

One big question for Florida State will be the availability of star receiver Tamorrion Terry. He recently underwent a procedure on his knee to address an injury that kept him out of last week’s game. I haven’t seen any timetable given for when he’ll be able to return. But if he’s available to go, Florida State has a big receiver that can stretch the field and make tough catches. He’s also had a touchdown catch of at least 55 yards against Louisville in each of his last two games against them.

If Terry isn’t available, the next best option would be Ontaria Wilson, their second leading receiver (16 receptions, 194 yards). He’s averaging just over 12 yards per catch, and Travis managed to hit him on a deep play in the first half against UNC (part of a 31-point first half against the fifth-ranked Tar Heels). Tight end Camren McDonald (13 receptions, 139 yards, two touchdowns) will also be one to watch in the redzone.

One unique wrinkle in Mike Norvell’s offense is that the running backs are also a huge part of the passing game. Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, and Kenneth Gainwell were integral in the Memphis passing game, and Norvell is continuing that trend with Lawrence Toafili and Jashaun Corbin. Both account for nearly 20% of FSU’s receptions (the RB position itself accounts for 24.4% of all receptions). They are also splitting carries with La’Damian Webb, who averages 5.4 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns (Toafili has a notable 7.1 YPC).

In their last two games, Florida State has been running the ball 60.3% of the time. That’s roughly the same split that Georgia Tech had against Louisville (60.7%), and Notre Dame also had a run-heavy offense against the Cardinals (72%). I think you’ll roughly see the same split with Florida State; the Seminoles will likely split carries between Travis and Webb (with occasional runs by Toafili), and try to take shots downfield against a Louisville defense that has been susceptible to the deep ball.

Defensive Players: CB Asante Samuel, JR., DT Marvin Wilson, LB Amari Gainer

Cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. took a huge leap from 2019 to this year. He currently leads the team in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (five), and is making a case for himself as a potential first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The son of former four-time Pro Bowler Asante Sr., Samuel is a remarkable man corner that can close on the ball once its thrown. He’s shown some really remarkable athleticism on some of his closeouts from last year, and nearly had multiple interceptions on them. He’s also a really good tackler and can provide support in the running game, even with an undersized frame for the position (listed at 5’10”, 184 lbs.). There is room for him as a potential slot corner on FSU’s roster and even the NFL, but I wouldn’t have any problem with taking him as an outside CB in either case.

The argument for Florida State’s best defensive player comes down to Samuel and defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. I lean towards Samuel, but Wilson has a really strong case. He could’ve been a first round pick in the draft last spring, but came back for his senior season and actually improved his stock a little bit. Wilson is relentless in the trenches and can shed through multiple blockers without much trouble, even making plays when things break down after the initial 3-4 second window. He can be a disruptive pass rusher out of the 1 and 2-tech spots, and I think he has the flexibility to either continue that in the NFL, or even play as a 3-4 defensive end. For a Louisville team that has allowed nine tackles for loss per game, he’s going to present a lot of matchup problems in early down spots.

Florida State might also be without safety Hamsah Nisirildeen, who is a bonafide playmaker at safety and can really help them in run support against Louisville’s zone rushing scheme. Linebacker Amari Gainer has filled the void nicely for Florida State though, leading the team in tackles (34) and tackles for loss (4.5) with a forced fumble. He had a really productive freshman campaign last year (69 combined tackles with seven for loss, 3.5 sacks).

Points of Interest:

  • Can Louisville’s defense continue its momentum?

Last week’s performance against Notre Dame was the best that Louisville’s defense has had in quite some time. The Cardinals held the Irish to 12 points, tallied four sacks, and managed to get off the field despite being stuck on long drives.

It will be fascinating to see if Louisville can use it as a base for improved play the rest of the year. Kei’Trel Clark has been solid in pass coverage, and they have been better at forcing negative plays behind the line of scrimmage versus last year. The latter has to continue against a Florida State team that is currently allowing seven TFLs per game, and might run it at the same split that they have the last two weeks with Travis at quarterback.

Two areas to watch will be turnovers and third downs. The Cardinals weren’t able to get a turnover on the Irish (though they almost had a few from Kei’Trel Clark’s PBUs), and they were 8-of-15 on third downs. They will have to be better in both areas against a Florida State offense that is going to run it a lot and try to hit Louisville over the top with a deep pass.

I also think Louisville’s front seven could make a difference. The Cardinals are coming off a season high in sacks against Notre Dame, and playing a Florida State team that has been among the worst in pass protection since 2016. If Louisville is able to win the battle upfront, that could mean they end up winning the game and reestablishing momentum for the season.

  • Will Louisville’s passing game get back on track?

During Louisville’s three game road trip, the Cardinals averaged 6.2 yards per attempt and 157.6 yards per game. There were a lot of issues with the offense during their road stretch, but the lack of an effective passing game really hurt Louisville in tight contests against all three opponents.

The exact reasons for that vary from game to game. In the Pitt game, Louisville was overwhelmed by a really talented defensive line, and had three interceptions compounded with inaccuracy issues. Louisville’s game against Georgia Tech saw the Cardinals miss on multiple passes downfield, and Notre Dame saw them not push the ball downfield at all (the longest pass against the Irish was a 29-yard wheel route to Javian Hawkins).

Now that they’ve returned home for a couple of games, Louisville has a chance to get its passing game going once again. The Seminoles are allowing 282.6 yards per game through the air, with 8.1 yards per attempt and opponents completing 66.1% of their passes against them. While throwing against Asante Samuel, Jr. is usually a bad idea, trying out different concepts and testing their safeties deep could really open things up for Louisville, especially for their running game. I could see wheel routes and vertical plays being used more, especially with how much Hawkins turned out to be used in the passing game last week.

Tutu Atwell and Marshon Ford will be the big threats for Louisville as always, but this could also be a game where Dez Fitzpatrick can do some damage. He’s had a touchdown reception against Florida State in his last two games against them, and last year, had his season high in catches (seven) and yards (133). The only question is how much will Samuel be shadowing Fitzpatrick, as opposed to Atwell in the slot. Having him be a threat in the passing game would also open up opportunities for everybody in Louisville’s receiving corps, making the offense more potent than it has been.

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