Florida State (2-3, 1-3 ACC) hits the road to take on Louisville (1-4, 0-4) at noon on Saturday in a game that will be broadcast by regional sports networks (Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports South and others listed here) and is also available on ESPN3. The Seminoles enter the game as a 4.5-point underdog despite the fact that they are coming off an upset win over No. 5 North Carolina last weekend and the Cardinals are winless against ACC competition. FSU holds a 16-4 all-time record in the series and has beaten the Cardinals in six of their eight trips to Kentucky.
After going 8-5 in head coach Scott Satterfield’s first season at Louisville the Cardinals’ slow start to the 2020 season has come as a surprise. Satterfield’s record is 9-9 at Louisville and 60-33 overall.
The Cardinals started the season with a 35-21 win over Western Kentucky but have since lost to Miami (47-34), Pitt (23-20), Georgia Tech (46-27) and this past weekend to Notre Dame (12-7).
Despite the Cardinals’ slow start FSU head coach Mike Norvell expects his team to have quite a challenge on its hands as the Seminoles look to get their first road win of the season.
“This Louisville team, they’re coming off a disappointing loss, but one where they competed at a very high level,” said Norvell of the Cards. “We’re dealing with a lot of different circumstances there, but I feel like they played Notre Dame extremely well. This is a team that presents a lot of challenges. And we’ve got to have our best week of work.”
And staying on message, as he has throughout the season, Norvell says his team must focus on getting better each week.
“This week, we have to be better,” said Norvell. “We have to go out there and have that same sense of urgency in improvement because that’s what we’re trying to do.”
And Satterfield knows his team will face and FSU squad feeling very good about itself.
“They are riding high right now,” said Satterfield of the Seminoles. “They feel like they got momentum coming up here this weekend.”
He, like Norvell, was also impressed with the effort FSU played with against UNC.
“They obviously missed spring practice, we missed summer, all the things that we talked about, and he’s a new coaching staff coming in,” said Satterfield. “It takes a little bit of time obviously to get what you want to do on offense and defense and kicking in the game. They have some talented players. What I saw Saturday was just those guys were playing hard. Just effort. Defensively, they played with great effort. Offensively making a lot of plays. I think when they started the quarterback, Jordan Travis, in the game, going back to Jacksonville State in the second half, they’ve scored on about half of their offensive possessions, and he’s kind of been that spark offensively for them. Anytime you’re doing that, you’re scoring points and it inspires your defense, inspires really your whole team to play a little bit harder knowing that you got an opportunity to go get a win. They got a big lead this past weekend against North Carolina. North Carolina made a great rally, almost came back, but they didn’t. Florida State hung on to win the game. So they’re riding high right now, they feel like they got momentum coming up here this weekend, and so I think for all those factors, they feel like they’re going in the right direction.”
The Cardinals, like most everyone else in college football, run their own variation of the spread offense. Their base offense utilizes 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end) that will line up in a variety of formations including spread shotgun and pistol formations.
They are relatively balanced on offense but prefer the running game over the passing game. The Cardinals have run the ball on more than 56 percent of their offensive snaps this season.
The star of the Louisville offense is redshirt sophomore running back Javian Hawkins (5-foot-9 and 196 pounds) who enters the game as the 15th-leading rusher in the country, having gained 519 yards on 100 attempts. He runs with speed, power and balance. Hawkins is also developing into a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield. His 10 receptions are fourth on the team and he presents a matchup problem against linebackers and safeties when opposing defenses line up in man coverage.
The trigger man for the Cards’ offense is redshirt junior quarterback Malik Cunningham (6-1,195 pounds) who has improved as a passer since last season and is of course a threat in the quarterback running game. He can buy time in the pocket with his athleticism and make plays with his legs when pass protection breaks down. He has completed 62 percent of his 143 passes this season for 1,118 yards but has been prone to turning the ball over, as evidenced by his five interceptions (7th-most in college football this season). He has also thrown for 10 touchdowns this season, which ranks 15th in the country.
Cunningham does have some talented receivers to spread the ball around to including junior wide receiver Tutu Atwell (5-9, 165 pounds), who is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the ACC. Atwell leads the team in catches with 29, which also ranks 13th in the FBS. He also leads the team with 321 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. Redshirt senior Dez Fitzpatrick (6-2, 210 pounds) has also been productive with 15 catches for 255 yards and his average of over 17 yards per catch leads the team. Sophomore tight end Marshon Ford (6-2, 240 pounds) is third on the team with 14 catches for 139 yards. Ford will line up as a unit tight end, H-back, fullback or as a slot receiver.
The Louisville offensive line is big, physical and athletic. The starting five average over 6-4 and 311 pounds and have a combined 86 starts between them. The leaders of the group are junior left tackle Adonis Boone (6-5, 310 pounds), who has 30 career starts, and senior center Cole Bentley (6-3, 314-pounds), who has 27 career starts. While they have been successful opening up holes for Hawkins, they have struggled in pass protection where their 14 sacks tie them for 65th (out of 77 teams) in the country.
Norvell was very complimentary of Satterfield and the Cards’ offense earlier this week.
“He’s an extremely sharp coach,” said Norvell. “You look at what they do schematically, it presents a lot of different challenges. You couple that with great personnel, a couple of elite receivers, a couple running backs who are home-run hitters, a quarterback who can do it all. Offensive line has a lot of confidence with what they’re being asked to do. Their staple play is the outside zone, and they do it as good as anybody. People know it’s coming, but they have a lot of confidence to block every look. Their guys play fast within that system and, couple that with the vertical shot, it’s a challenge week in and week out.”
FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller echoed Norvell’s thoughts on the Cards.
“You see their identity show up early,” said Fuller. “They want to really trust their ground game. They do a really good job schematically of trying to run the football and they’re well coached up front. They’ve got good running backs. The quarterback’s a veteran. They’ve got one of the better playmakers on the outside as well in our conference and in the nation. They offer a challenge, I think, just the way they play in unison up front and that back and their commitment to the run game, which creates one-on-one plays in the throw game and down-the-field play. Probably both of us right now are at a point in the season where we both have to make decisions on our identity and kind of how this thing’s going to unfold. So it’ll be a battle on Saturday. Got a lot of respect to that coaching staff. I know coach Satterfield has been successful everywhere he’s been.”
FSU Defense vs. Louisville Offense by the Numbers
FSU ranks 52nd (nationally) in Scoring Defense (32.4) vs. Louisville, who ranks 56th in Scoring Offense (24.6).
FSU ranks 66th in Total Defense (474.8 yards) vs. Louisville, who ranks 53rd in Total Offense (383.2)
FSU ranks 59th in Rushing Defense (192.2) vs. Louisville, who ranks 43rd in Rushing Offense (161.4)
FSU ranks 59th in Passing Defense (282.6) vs. Louisville, who ranks 45th in Passing Offense (221.8)
The Cardinals line up in a base 3-4 defense and are very experienced on that side of the ball. The starting lineup features seven seniors and the 11 starters have combined for 199 career starts. Louisville is aggressive on defense. They rank 12th in the country with 35 tackles for a loss and their 11 sacks rank 24th. However, that aggression has come with a price. Louisville has given up 77 plays of 10 yards or more this season, which ranks 61st in country and they have given up 20 plays of over 20 yards.
Louisville’s starting linebackers are the leaders of the defense and they are athletic, productive and have played a lot of football together. Senior inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge (6-3, 230 pounds) is the most experienced player on the roster with 40 starts and leads the team in tackles with 30 stops. He also as been a permanent fixture in opposing teams’ backfield, where he leads the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss and second on the team with three sacks. Senior outside linebacker C.J. Avery (5-11, 230 pounds) and junior outside linebacker Monty Montgomery (5-11, 225 pounds) are tied for second on the team with 28 tackles. Montgomery leads the team with four sacks.
The leader of the defensive line, which is tasked with freeing up Louisville’s linebacking corps, is senior nose tackle Jared Goldwire (6-6, 305 pounds) who is a giant in the middle of the defense. He has been productive this season with 21 tackles and 2.5 TFLs.
The Louisville secondary is led by senior strong safety Russ Yeast (5-11, 205 pounds), who has 23 starts to his credit and is fourth on the team in tackles this year with 22 stops. The most experienced cornerback on the team is junior Chandler Jones (5-10, 186 pounds), who has 13 tackles on the season. Sophomore Kei’Trel Clark (5-10, 165 pounds) lacks experience but leads the team with five pass breakups.
Despite Louisville’s record and relatively middle-of-the-road stats on defense, FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham has a lot of respect for the Cardinals on that side of the ball.
“Athletic,” began Dillingham when asked about the Cards defense. “They could be the most athletic defense we have faced all year. Just pure team speed. … It’s all over the field at every position.”
FSU Offense vs. Louisville Defense by the Numbers
FSU ranks 57th in Scoring Offense (24.2) vs. Louisville, who ranks 42nd in Scoring Defense (29.8)
FSU ranks 45th in Total Offense (401) vs. Louisville, who ranks 32nd in Total Defense (379.4)
FSU ranks 30th in Rushing Offense (183.4) vs. Louisville, who ranks 49th in Rushing Defense (171.8)
FSU ranks 49th in Passing Offense (217.6) vs. Louisville, who ranks 24th in Passing Defense (207.6)
Louisville’s Special Teams
Sophomore James Turner handles the place-kicking duties and sophomore Logan Lupo and junior Ryan Harwell have split time punting. Turner is 4 of 5 on the season on field-goal attempts and has made all of his kicks inside of 50 yards. Lupo has averaged 38.8 yards per punt on 12 attempts and Harwell is averaging 40 yards per punt on nine attempts. They have combined to force 12 fair catches and have pinned opposing offenses inside their own 20-yard line six times this season.
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