Spread: Florida State -2.5, O/U 57 (Bovada)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
How to Watch / Listen: ESPN (TV), 93.9 The Ville (FM)
Louisville jumped to a 31-13 halftime lead, with Malik Cunningham accounting for four total touchdowns in the half (two passing, two rushing).
Trailing 31-7, Florida State scored 16 unanswered points to get back within one score. The Seminoles had two drives in the fourth quarter to potentially tie the game, but the Cardinals forced a turnover on downs on the first drive, and Kei’Trel Clark intercepted an errant pass from McKenzie Milton on the second drive to seal the game. The Cardinals pulled out a 31-23 win over the Seminoles, backed by stellar play from Cunningham (25/39, 264 yards, four total TDs) and a front seven that tallied six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, including a dominant showing from Yasir Abdullah (two sacks, 3.5 TFLs) and Ashton Gillotte (two sacks, three TFLs).
Florida State leads the all-time series 16-6. FSU and Louisville have split their last eight games against each other, dating back to 2014.
Entering the Game: Florida State
The Louisville loss put Florida State at 0-4 for the first time since 1974. FSU would recover to win five of its next seven games, but fell short in the regular season finale at Florida to finish 5-7. Last season marked the first time since the early ’70s that the Seminoles had three straight losing seasons.
So far in 2022, third-year head coach Mike Norvell hopes to flip the script. They’re off to a 2-0 start heading into Friday night, with wins over Duquesne and LSU on their resume.
FSU Offense: What to Watch
Florida State promoted offensive line coach Alex Atkins to offensive coordinator in the offseason, and so far the Seminoles have looked solid on that side. The Seminoles currently rank sixth in FBS in rushing yards per game (269 YPG) on 5.9 yards per carry, to go with a respectable 246 passing yards per game.
Leading the charge once again at quarterback is Jordan Travis, who is the undisputed QB1 after sharing duties previously with the likes of James Blackmon and McKenzie Milton. Travis had accuracy issues in his first couple seasons at Florida State, but ended last season on a high note, completing 58% of his passes in the final four games of 2021 and had seven touchdowns with one interception in that span. So far he’s completing 65% of his passes in 2022, and that’s on top of the superb athleticism he already provides there. He looked far more comfortable as a pocket passer against LSU two weeks ago, so this won’t be the same player that Louisville faced in 2020.
Helping Travis’s cause is the improved receiver group, where Florida State brought in a lot of talent to help him. Oregon transfer Mycah Pittman (7 rec., 89 yards) is a speedster that can test the defense vertically. 6’7″ Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson (four rec., 111 yards) is a huge target outside, he’s really sturdy and has an impressive catch radius. That’s on top of returning top receiver Ontaria Wilson (23 rec., 382 yards, five TDs) from last season’s group, who is as reliable as it gets and can line up anywhere.
Florida State has had good running backs seemingly as long as I’ve been alive, and surprise, they do once again. Treshaun Ward and Lawrence Toafili have great balance and speed, they have thrived with a revamped offensive line this season. Along with Trey Benson (17 carries, 120 yards, TD), all three of FSU’s running backs are averaging at least 5.9 yards per carry.
The Seminoles also acquired some much needed pieces on the offensive line, including Dillan Gibbons (Notre Dame), Jazston Turentine (South Carolina), and D’Mitri Emmanuel (Charlotte). So far, the offensive line has been much better than in recent years, allowing just one sack and three TFLs through the first two games.
Players to Watch: QB Jordan Travis (65% completion, 467 yards, three total TDs); WR Ontaria Wilson (seven rec., 102 yards); WR Johnny Wilson (6’7″, 27.8 yards per catch)
FSU Defense: What to Watch
Florida State picked up two big pieces in the portal for their defense as well, acquiring Albany edge rusher Jared Verse and UCF linebacker Tatum Bethune. So far, both guys have been bonafide difference makers.
Let’s start with the defensive line. Verse has stepped right in and made an immediate impact for them. He has a ton of speed on the edge and has great pursuit on ball carriers. He’s coming off a huge game against LSU (2.5 TFLs, two sacks), and he’ll be a tough matchup for the Louisville offensive line. Fabian Lovett and Robert Cooper inside are great run defenders, they clog the lanes effectively and allow edge rushers and linebackers to roam free.
Tatum Bethune has been just as good as he was at UCF. He’s a high motor player that just seems to be everywhere on any given play, Louisville will need to find him pre-snap and make plays around him. Kalen DeLoach (ten tackles, one TFL) is another really talented player in the linebacker group that complements Bethune. The front seven in general is very good against the run, they’ve managed to shut down both opponents they’ve faced against a conventional rushing attack.
The FSU secondary is pretty stout and has depth. Akeem Dent is a really talented player with a high ceiling, Jammie Robinson is coming off a strong 2021 campaign (four INTs, 84 tackles, 7.0 TFLs) and should be in the conversation for All-ACC honors. Expect Renardo Green to be the top corner outside for Florida State.
Players to Watch: DE Jared Verse (4.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks); LB Tatum Bethune (11 tackles, 3.0 TFLs)
Keys to the Game:
Louisville will need to mix it up offensively and keep Florida State on their toes
I cannot stress this enough: Louisville has to break the mold offensively against Florida State.
Can they run the ball against the Seminoles? There’s a possibility. However, FSU is allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, and outside of some scrambles from LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, the Seminoles were extremely effective at shutting down the conventional rushing attack. Their front seven is deep and they can play the run very well.
Louisville should look to pass the ball more often. You can even use the defense’s aggressiveness towards the run to capitalize on some play action looks. The Cardinals had some success with that in the first half of their game against the Seminoles last year. Mix it up, get Marshon Ford involved specifically, and the path is there for a win.
I’d also like to see Malik Cunningham get more designed runs, or at least make more plays with his feet on scrambles. Florida State’s one issue against the run was they couldn’t hold the edge against LSU, that allowed Daniels to scramble out of the pocket and sustain drives. Cunningham’s scrambling ability will be vital to Louisville’s success on Friday night.
Can Louisville’s front seven rise to the occasion again?
That’s going to be the big question as they face a stout Florida State rushing attack. I don’t think this is a game where Louisville can afford to have a cold start on defense. They’re allowing 6.9 yards per carry in the first half, but 3.9 in the second half. Finding a way to be more consistent from start to finish is going to be key if Louisville expects to have a shot at bowl contention this season.
As for what Louisville would need to do, I think it starts with gap integrity and bringing aggressive looks from the defense. Part of it will come down to whether or not the staff can call more blitz packages, but the defense needs to force FSU into third-and-long situations. They’ll need to prevent lanes from forming inside and allowing backs or Travis to get easy yardage, which is what has killed them in recent games against Kentucky and Syracuse. Do that, and the crowd can rally behind the defense to create a tough home field advantage.