First-year Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell hopes his tenure hit a turning point last week. For the first time in six years, the Seminoles knocked off a top-5 team by holding off fifth-ranked North Carolina, 31-28.
Norvell will now look for his first road win as head coach at FSU as his team travels to face the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday. The Cardinals are just 1-4 but played Notre Dame tough last week in South Bend. Louisville actually held a 7-6 lead in the third quarter before falling, 12-7. Louisville has yet to win an ACC game (0-4).
FSU (2-3, 1-3 ACC) has rallied from fourth-quarter deficits to beat the Cardinals in each of the last two meetings. In last season's contest, Louisville erased a 21-0 lead to take a 24-21 advantage in the fourth quarter, but a long scoring pass from Alex Hornibrook to Tamorrion Terry and a short touchdown run by Cam Akers was the difference in a 35-24 victory for the Seminoles.
Florida State at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Raycom Sports Network/ESPN3
Spread: Louisville -5
When Florida State Has the Ball
The Florida State offense has come to life with Jordan Travis behind center. This week, Travis will be facing his former school where he spent one season. Known mostly for his running ability, Travis has also made big plays through the air with his arm. Last week, Travis accounted for three total touchdowns and was one of two Seminoles to rush for 100 yards. FSU will be without top wide receiver Terry again this week, so look for Ontaria Wilson, Keyshawn Helton, and tight end Camren McDonald to play key roles in the passing game.
Where FSU is best is on the ground. Travis is the Seminoles' leading rusher, but La'Damian Webb, Jashaun Corbin, and Lawrance Toafili — all newcomers — make for a great stable of backs. The offensive line, which has been a sore spot for some time for FSU, has shown tremendous improvement so far this year.
Statistically, Louisville is in the middle of the pack defensively in the ACC, but the Cardinals have been largely up and down. Louisville has yielded at least 45 points in two of its four ACC games but held Notre Dame in check for most of the afternoon last weekend. The Cardinals have a propensity to give up the big play. Louisville has yielded seven plays of at least 40 yards so far this season. Among ACC schools, only Duke has given up more.
The strength of the Louisville defense is at linebacker. Dorian Etheridge and Monty Montgomery have combined for seven of the team's 11 sacks with Montgomery leading the way with four. Fellow linebacker C.J. Avery is tied for second on the team with 29 tackles and has the Cardinals' lone interception this season. Rodjay Burns also is very good for Louisville. Senior defensive tackle Jared Goldwire and senior safety Russ Yeast are two other players to watch.
When Louisville Has the Ball
Despite returning quarterback Malik Cunningham and a myriad of talented skill players, Louisville has actually taken a step back offensively this season. After ranking second in the ACC in scoring offense last season, the Cardinals are averaging 8.5 fewer points per game so far this season (24.6). Cunningham has regressed a bit this season but is still a dangerous player who can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.
Running back Javian Hawkins ranks second in the ACC in rushing with 519 yards while Tutu Atwell, Braden Smith, and Dez Fitzpatrick make for a dynamic trio of wide receivers. Atwell leads the team with 21 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore tight Marshon Ford is a popular target in the red zone. He also has four touchdown catches. Up front, Louisville really seems to be missing Mekhi Becton. The Cardinals are in the bottom half of the ACC in sacks allowed and yards per rushing attempt.
For a half last week, Florida State played inspired on defense, but even in the upset of the No. 5 Tar Heels, the Seminoles yielded 558 yards and 21 second-half points. One area of improvement was the play of the defensive line. Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden did a nice job with penetration while Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh had outstanding games from their defensive end positions.
FSU ranks just 13th in total and scoring defense in the ACC. Linebackers Amari Gainer and Emmett Rice are the top two tacklers. FSU is still waiting for the return of safety and last season's leading tackler Hamsah Nasirildeen. Nasirildeen suffered an injury late last season and has yet to make his 2020 debut. The MVP thus far for the FSU defense has been junior cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Samuel is tied for the FBS lead with three interceptions and tops the Seminoles with a pair of fumble recoveries.
Saturday's contest will ultimately be won at the line of scrimmage. Although Florida State gave up a ton of yards last week to North Carolina, it held the Tar Heels to 2-for-12 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down. FSU also limited North Carolina to 4.1 yards per carry. The Seminoles must win the early downs and mitigate Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham's ability to convert third downs with his legs. FSU finally showed a pulse up front last week defensively. If it does so again, FSU should like its chances.
Prediction: Florida State 31, Louisville 28
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
(Jordan Travis photo courtesy of @FSUFootball)