by, Dave Lackford
Florida State and Louisville face off this Saturday at noon (ESPN) for their second ACC meeting. Both defenses feature NFL caliber players and both are playing at a very high level. This one will come down to who protects the ball and controls field position.
How does Florida State's defense stack up?
FSU is stingy against the run, evidenced by how they limited talented Miami running back Joseph Yearby to a measly 33 yards on 16 carries last Saturday. Louisville has struggled to run the ball with its backs but Lamar Jackson has run wild on defenses for 435 yards while splitting time with two other quarterbacks this season. FSU was shredded for over 400 yards in the air by Brad Kaaya. Jackson and Kaaya are nothing alike however, and FSU will have to focus on staying in their rushing lanes and spying Jackson with a linebacker or a strong safety. They will certainly have their hands full without preseason All-ACC middle linebacker Terrance Smith and standout strong safety Nate Andrews will be playing with a bulky knee brace all game.
How will the Cards stop the 'Noles?
Louisville struggled to stop the run early this season, allowing 618 yards in their first three games but they have improved over their last two, giving up a mere 58 yards (average) per game. Two weeks ago, in their last game, the Cardinal defense shut down NC State on the ground, allowing only 45 total yards. I would be remiss however, not to mention the Wolfpack were without the services of star running back Shadrach Thornton, who was booted from the school for disciplinary infractions.
Dalvin Cook is 100%, beware.
FSU will have their star running back/Heisman candidate, Dalvin Cook at full strength this weekend. During his weekly call-in show, Jimbo Fisher said that Cook practiced, "a lot more this Wednesday than last Wednesday." "Dalvo," as he is called by Seminoles' fans, ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns, and hauled in four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. This was all after speculation (from Matt Baker, Tampa Bay Times) that Cook may not be able to play due to a tweaked hamstring. He answered those questions with a monster game, leading the 'Noles to victory over the hated Miami hurricanes in front of dozens of four and five-star recruits.
Everett Golson now looks comfortable in his new home.
Even if they are able to slow Cook, the Louisville defense will face a confident Everett Golson, who is coming off a great game against Miami. The fifth-year transfer QB, completed 25-33 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. It appears that Jimbo Fisher has more trust in his new signal caller. In the first four games of the season, Fisher called his plays conservatively. Last week against Miami, he opened things up and showed the Canes a few new looks. Expect him to add a few new wrinkles again this week that the Louisville defensive hasn't had a chance to scheme against.
Lamar Jackson: a nightmare for opposing coaches.
Speaking of scheming, Lamar Jackson has a very particular skill set that is hard to stop. Jimbo Fisher praised the Freshman QB this week, admitting that he hasn't got much sleep preparing for him. The 'Noles head man also gave the young U of L squad its props, telling local Tallahassee media that they look more like a 5-0 team than a 2-3 team.
Fisher's apprehension of facing Jackson is well founded. The athletic QB from Boynton Beach Florida, is very familiar to the FSU recruiting staff. The 'Noles recruited him out of high school, but before his Senior year (August 2014), Jackson gave a verbal commitment to Louisville's Bobby Petrino. He stayed true to his pledge to U of L despite rumors the Florida Gators had pulled the flip, and signed with the Cards, a stroke of good fortune for Petrino. While he is raw, and makes mistakes, Jackson's raw talent is too rare to keep on the sidelines.
This will the biggest test of Lamar's young career. He plays a Seminole that is full of players he faced in high school that ended up staying in-state. While FSU has only lost one game over the last two seasons, I can't imagine the young man is intimidated. He's a confident, long striding, Randall Cunningham type of QB that can shake you, truck you, hurdle you, or just smoke you on a straight line. FSU's leading sack man, Demarcus Walker (3.5 sacks) told reporters that he thinks Jackson is faster than Marcus Mariota. That's serious praise from a guy that spent New Year's Day chasing Mariota all over the Rose Bowl. Coach Fisher also praised Jackson's arm, which can launch a football 55 yards in the air with a slight flick of his wrist. Don't believe me? Click the gif below:
There isn't much else to the Louisville offense outside of Lamar Jackson. Their offensive line has been inept all season long. It can be argued that the reason that Jackson is starting over the less mobile but more accurate Kyle Bolin is because he is the only QB on the roster that can move well enough to avoid the constant heat louisville passers face. The Cardinals' receivers have yet to fill DeVante Parker's shoes at the position. No wide out on the team has more than 14 catches. TE Mickey Crum, who leads the Cards with 2 receiving touchdowns so far, may provide a bit of a problem for the 'Noles, who have surrendered 14 catches for 135 yards to tight ends over their last two games.
As unimpressive as their receivers have been, the Louisville running backs have been even more sleep inducing. Brandon Radcliffe leads the team in rushing with 64 carries for 237 yards. That is 3.7 yards a carry to go along with three rushing touchdowns, two of which came against Auburn and one against Samford. As exciting as Lamar Jackson, he just doesn't have the pieces around him to outlast the 'Noles and their tremendous defensive depth and speed.
Noles control this one: 27-17