Two ACC teams in desperate need of a win will square off in the Bluegrass State on Saturday as Florida State visits Louisville. The contest will be a matchup of 2-2 teams and may be a must-win for each as far as bowl eligibility is concerned.
In his ninth season (in two stints) at Louisville, Bobby Petrino has never won fewer eight games and never failed to take the Cardinals to a bowl game. FSU has not missed out on a bowl since 1981. Head coach Willie Taggart will be aiming for his first ACC victory and first road win for Florida State on Saturday.
The two teams had very different weekends recently. Florida State played its most complete game of the season on Saturday in a 37-19 win over Northern Illinois, its first win against FBS competition. The Cardinals were handled at Virginia, 27-3.
Florida State at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida State -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Big plays
Both Florida State and Louisville have been offensively challenged this season, ranking 12th and 14th, respectively, in the ACC in total offense and 13th and 14th in points per game. The Seminoles seemed to pick things up a big last week, although the ground game was still largely a non-factor. Perhaps the best way for either team to put points on the board this week will be with the big play. FSU was able to strike late last week with a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Deondre Francois to Tamorrion Terry. Terry leads the Seminoles with three receiving touchdowns this season.
Louisville has playmakers at the skill positions like Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick, but the problem has been quarterback play. With former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson now suiting up on Sundays for the Baltimore Ravens, sophomore Jawon Pass and freshman Malik Cunningham have combined to average less than six yards per pass attempt with three touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Florida State has been solid defensively this season, but if there is a weakness, it’s giving up the big play. The Seminoles allowed a 66-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Childers to D.J. Brown on third-and-13 in last week’s win.
2. The battle in the trenches
While quarterback play has been the Achilles heel for Louisville this season, getting guys blocked has been the big issue for Florida State. Derrick Kelly, Cole Minshew and Landon Dickerson have all missed time for the Seminoles this season, and that’s on top of Josh Ball being dismissed by the university in the offseason. FSU did improve against a good Northern Illinois defense led by Sutton Smith last week but still managed just 2.1 yards per carry on the ground. Louisville is yielding 192 yards per game on the ground this season, which is better than only North Carolina in the ACC.
Despite starting two redshirt seniors up front, Louisville has also struggled to get much push. The Cardinals are averaging just 3.7 yards per rush as a team, and that number shrinks to 3.1 yards per carry if Cunningham is taken out of the equation. Brian Burns headlines a good and deep Florida State defensive line that ranks third in the ACC against the run and fifth when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
3. Turnovers and field position
For two teams that have been offensively challenged this season — to put it mildly — starting field position will be key for manufacturing points. When it comes to turnovers, both FSU and Louisville have been among the worst in the ACC and the country. For the year, FSU is minus-6 when it comes to turnovers and minus-10 against FBS competition. At minus-5 for the season, the Cardinals haven’t fared much better. Louisville quarterbacks have combined for six interceptions, while FSU’s Deondre Francois has five himself.
Another key component in the field position game will be punting. Both teams have very capable punters in Mason King for the Cardinals and Logan Tyler for FSU. DJ Matthews of Florida State and Louisville’s Rodjay Burns are capable return men. Burns already has a punt return for a touchdown this season.
This contest will come down to which team can find a way to put points on the scoreboard Saturday. Both Louisville and FSU have been offensively challenged this season, no matter how weak the competition. The good news for the Seminoles is that they found a way to score 37 points against a pretty good Northern Illinois defense and seem to have more things going in a positive direction than the Cardinals at this point. Playing at home should be an advantage for Louisville, but FSU has the edge at quarterback and has been better defensively against the run.