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Preview: FSU vs. Louisville

Florida State (0-3) hosts Louisville (2-1) on Saturday in Doak Campbell Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The broadcast team features Anish Shroff doing play-by-play, football analyst Mike Golic and sideline reporter Taylor McGregor.

FSU enters the game searching for its first win of the season. The Cardinals enter the game on the heels of a 42-35 upset win at home over UCF. They opened the season with a loss to Ole Miss (43-24) and beat Eastern Kentucky (30-3) in the second game of the season.

Louisville’s Scott Satterfield is in his third season as the Cardinals’ coach, where he has compiled a 14-13 overall record and 8-9 record in ACC play. Eight of those wins came during his first season after taking over a team that won just two games in 2018. Satterfield has a career record as a head coach of 65-37 when you factor in his six seasons leading Appalachian State from 2013-2018.

“I’m excited about the opportunity, excited about the opportunity to be back at home. It’s an opportunity to go out and get better and to continue to push,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said earlier this week about the Louisville game. “But we need to take a step. And it’s not hard to find the areas that we need to improve in because they’re showing up here these last three weeks. We’ve got to get it corrected so we can give ourselves the best opportunity to go out there and achieve success against a very explosive football team that’s coming in here on Saturday.”

By The Numbers

Louisville Scoring Offense – 32 ppg (ranks 57th in FBS) vs FSU Scoring Defense – 32 ppg (ranks 109th)

Louisville Rushing Offense – 168 ypg (64th) vs FSU Rushing Defense- 132.7 (66th)

Louisville Passing Offense – 264.3 ypg (44th) vs FSU Passing Defense – 289 ypg (116th)

Louisville Total Offense -398 ypg (46th) vs FSU Total Defense – 421.7 ypg (100th)

Louisville Offense Sacks Allowed – 4 (30th) vs FSU Sacks Made 12 (9th)

Louisville Run Plays over 10 yards – 14 (74th) vs FSU Defense Run Plays over 10 yards allowed – 43 (89th)

Louisville Pass Plays over 20 yards – 12 (33rd) vs FSU Pass Plays over 20 yards allowed – 15 (123rd)

FSU Scoring Offense – 23 ppg (99th) vs Louisville Scoring Defense – 27 ppg (84th)

FSU Rushing Offense – 185.7 ypg (44th) vs Louisville Rushing Defense – 162 ypg (87th)

FSU Passing Offense – 179 ypg (106th) vs Louisville Pass Defense – 244.7 ypg (94th)

FSU Total Offense – 364.7 (88th) vs Louisville Total Defense – 406.7 (93rd)

FSU Offense Sacks Allowed – 9 (105th) vs Louisville Defense Sacks Made – 5 (79th)

FSU Run Plays over 10 yards – 19 (30th) vs Louisville Defense Run Plays over 10 yards allowed- 19 (109th)

FSU Pass Plays over 20 yards – 6 (106th) vs Louisville Defense Pass Plays over 20 yards allowed – 14 (117th)

Louisville on Offense

Satterfield’s offense revolves around the stretch-zone play and, while his preference is run the ball first, the Cardinals have been very balanced on offense this season. Louisville is almost 50-50 run to pass through three games (52 percent run, 48 percent pass). They use several personnel grouping this year but primarily use 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) with multiple formations from the shotgun. You will see both 3 x1 (number of WRs to each side of the field) and 2×2 looks from 11 personnel. They will also use a trio-bunch (3 WRs stacked closely together, tight to the offensive line) formation out of 11-personnel. Louisville also shows some 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) looks and at times will line up two and three running backs in the backfield. But everything is predicated off the stretch zone. Even their passing game, which features a lot of play-action passes, boots and half-rolls.

The trigger man for the Cards offense is quarterback Malik Cunningham (6-1, 200), who is in his third season as the starter. Cunningham is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. He completed 60 of 98 passes this season for 734 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Cunningham is also second on the team in both rushing attempts (42) and rushing yards (207). And while he has improved greatly as a passer since playing against FSU in 2019, where he looked petrified to throw the ball, his greatest attribute is his ability to hurt you with his legs, either buying time in the pocket or in the quarterback run game. He has the ability to make game-changing plays with his arm or his legs. Cunningham will throw an ill-advised pass from time to time based off watching the first three games of this season and as evidenced by his 14 interceptions in his last 14 starts. Stopping him or slowing him down will be the key to FSU’s success on defense. Cunningham has been the team’s leading rusher in both of its games against FBS opponents.

“Cunningham, he’s been really good for that program for a number of years,” said FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. “He’s the most mobile quarterback that we’ve played against to date. With what they do, how they put the ball in his hands on some RPOs, naked (bootlegs), sprints, they’re option football, to throw the football or run with the football. He’s shown enough arm talent over his career to put himself high in a proud program’s quarterback ranking list. We’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a tremendous runner, he’s got a very strong arm and he’s been playing that offense for a number of years. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC for sure.”

Jalen Mitchell (5-10, 221) has been impressive so far this season at running back. The redshirt freshman leads the team in rushing attempts (46) and rushing yards (213). He might not possess the speed to take the ball the length of the field but he does run hard and with great balance. Mitchell is more of a one-cut and get up field back than a change of direction back.

Tight end/H-back Marshon Ford (6-2, 237) has been Cunningham’s favorite target this season and is coming off the most productive game of his career against UCF. Ford has hauled in 13 passes this season for 156 yards. Against UCF he caught eight passes for 100 yards. He will also be used as a lead blocker in the run game.

The Cardinals have six players who have caught between six and nine passes this season, so Cunningham likes to spread the wealth. Freshman Ahmar Huggins-Bruce (5-10, 165) seems to be the teams new deep threat. He leads the team in receiving yardage (174) and average yards per reception (24.9). Redshirt senior Josh Johnson (5-11, 187) and freshman Jordan Watkins (5-11, 194) both have nine catches apiece.

The Louisville offensive line features four players who are juniors or seniors but don’t have a ton of experience. Both offensive tackles, junior Trevor Reid (6-5, 303) and redshirt freshman Renato Brown (6-4, 309) have three career starts — all this season. The most experienced of the lineman is center Cole Bentley (6-4, 315), who has 24 career starts. The Cards’ lack of experience at both the tackles spots should be an advantage for FSU’s veteran defensive ends. Louisville’s offensive line will not be the best FSU has seen so far this season.

Louisville on Defense

Louisville is based out of an odd defense (3-4) although they will walk one of their outside linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to give you four-man look. They have also played a lot of off-coverage so far this year in the secondary be-it man or zone coverage. One reason for this is because the Cardinals will try and get to the quarterback by blitzing from the second and third levels of the defense. Despite the numbers they gave up last week to UCF, the Cards looked more comfortable, aggressive and faster against the Knights than they did in their season-opener against Ole Miss.

Junior Yaya Diaby (6-4, 273) and freshman Ashton Gillotte (6-2, 253) are listed as co-starters at one of the two defensive end spots and have been highly productive. Diaby has seven tackles on the season while Gillotte has six tackles and is tied for the team lead with one sack and second on the team in tackles for a loss (1.5).

As you would expect in a 3-4 defense, Louisville has very active linebackers. Inside linebacker CJ Avery (5-11, 227) is back for his senior season and he is tied for the team lead with 19 tackles. He is joined inside by redshirt junior Monty Montgomery, who is second on the team with 17 tackles. The pair have combined to see action in 69 career games.

Redshirt junior free safety Kenedrick Duncan is big (6-3, 216) and physical. He is also a sure tackler with 18 of his 19 stops being solo tackles. Senior strong safety Qywnnterrio Cole (6-3, 190) is also tied for the team lead with 19 stops. Sophomore cornerback Kei’Trei Clark (5-10, 172), has seen a lot of action. He is third on the team with 16 tackles and leads the team in both TFL’s (2.50) and interceptions (two).

As a unit Louisville’s defense has totaled nine tackles for a loss, five sacks, three interceptions, six passes broken up and seven quarterback hurries.

Louisville on Special Teams

Like FSU, Louisville went down-under to find its punter. Freshman Mark Vassett (6-4, 215) had never kicked in an American football game until three weeks ago but he hasn’t disappointed. Vassett has averaged 40.2 yards on his 14 opportunities this season. Eight of those have resulted in opponent fair catches. Six of his punts have resulted in opponents starting their possession inside their own 20-yard line.

Sophomore James Turner is back for his second season as the place-kicker. He is 2 for 2 so far this season with a long field goal of 38 yards. For his career Turner is 15 of 17 with a long field goal of 50 yards.

Statistically speaking Hassan Hall (6-0, 204) is one of the nation’s best kickoff return specialists. His average of 24.7 per return ranks 26th in the nation. Louisville has attempted 10 returns on 16 opportunities through three games.

Sophomore Braden Smith (5-10, 190) is averaging 12.5 yards per punt return. Smith has attempted returns on four of nine opportunities.