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First Impressions: A tale of two halves cost FSU against Louisville

Florida State fell to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the ACC after a 31-23 loss to Louisville in what was a tale of two halves for the Seminoles offensively and defensively. FSU trailed 31-13 at intermission only to battle back to make it a one score game, 31-23, and with the ball with 1:51 left in the game. Ultimately FSU was unable to complete the comeback but played its best complementary football of the young season in the second half against the Cardinals. However, when looking back on this game moving forward it will be its lack of success in slowing down the Louisville offense in the first half that will tell the tale of the Seminoles’ fourth straight loss to being the 2021 season.

First Half, Third-Down Woes

For the second week in a row the defense’s inability to get off the field, especially in the first half, was one of the biggest culprits in allowing Louisville a huge halftime lead. Louisville converted on 8 of 9 third-down opportunities, all of which resulted in scores (four touchdowns and one field goal). On Louisville’s third possession of the game, which resulted in a touchdown to make the score 17-0, the Cardinals converted on both of their third-down chances. On their next drive, which also resulted in a touchdown to make it 24-7, Louisville converted on all three of its third-down opportunities. Louisville also converted on both of its third-down conversions on its next to last drive of the half to take a 31-7 lead.

FSU was able to cut the lead to 31-13 before the half ended but the die had already been cast. FSU’s inability to get off the field defensively was just as problematic this week as the offense’s inability to stay on the field last week against Wake Forest. In the first half of its last two games FSU has allowed both of its ACC opponents to combine to convert on 65 percent (13 of 20) of its third-down opportunities and is one of the reasons it has found itself trialing by multiple scores (13-point deficit to Wake and 18 points to Louisville) the last two weeks. Besides third-down defense, FSU still must shore up its coverage in the secondary. Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham was way too efficient in the first half. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 227 yards to start the game.

FSU’s defense was much better in the second half on third down and overall defensively. After scoring on five of its six first-half possessions the Seminoles shut down and shut out the Cardinals’ offense in the second half. After having four drives of 10 plays or more in the first half, Louisville could only muster one drive in the second half of more than five plays. The FSU defense forced four three-and-outs by the Cardinals once the second half began. Louisville was only 1 of 8 on third-down conversions in the second half. After compiling 316 yards in the first half, Louisville managed just 79 yards to finish the game.

The defense’s performance in the second half gives coach Mike Norvell and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller something to build off with Syracuse up next. However, it will be the mistakes in the first half that will be what is scrutinized foremost when looking back on the outcome of Saturday’s game.

Offensive Production and Consistency

Granted it is another case of too little too late but one of the questions coming into this game was could FSU find some consistency on offense. It did, albeit after finding itself down 17-0 with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter. FSU ran for 205 yards against Louisville, its second best output of the season. Long touchdown runs by Treshaun Ward (20 yards) and Jashaun Corbin (75 yards) highlighted FSU’s production on the ground. Big plays in the run game were abundant with FSU totaling 189 yards on seven carries of 10 yards or more.

The Seminoles also found some production in the passing game, where they produced 248 yards through the air and completed 24 passes against Louisville, both single-game team-highs this season. After struggling to find big plays on offense the previous two weeks FSU completed nine passes of more than 15 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass from McKenzie Milton to Andrew Parchment to make the score 31-13 in the second quarter.

The success in the passing game was likely a by-product of three things. First, FSU’s success in the run game. Second, playing with four of its five regular starters on the offensive line. And third, FSU played with one quarterback for the entire game.

FSU totaled 273 of its 453 yards in the second half. The offense, like the defense, will look back on the what-ifs of the first half but its second-half performance gives it something to build off heading into Syracuse.

Resolve

Osceola publisher Jerry Kutz said in our preseason Seminole Sideline podcast the true story of any one game might not be reflected on the scoreboard for a team that started the season featuring 36 of 53 players on its two-deep who are redshirt sophomores or younger. In the Notre Dame game FSU showed the resolve to come back from an 18-point deficit in the second half to take the game into overtime. We wondered if that resolve would be a trademark of this team. Against Louisville it was. After a bad showing against Wake Forest one week ago and finding itself down 31-7 in the second quarter a lot of young teams might get frustrated or lose confidence. The Seminoles didn’t. They battled back and had a chance to tie the game on their last offensive drive. This is something we might not have seen last season. There are no moral victories in major college football but there are things you can build off in a loss and continuing to fight and claw back from adversity is one of those things.

There will be no shortage of shortcomings once the team and we go back and take a second look but this team also leaves this game, another disappointing loss, with plenty to build off of.