An early-season ACC showdown with major College Football Playoff, conference championship and national title implications is set to take place on Saturday, as Florida State travels to Louisville for a meeting of top-10 teams.
Florida State and Clemson were widely picked as the favorites to win the ACC this offseason, but Louisville wasn’t far behind and was considered a top 10-15 team in a top-heavy Atlantic Division. However, after two weeks of the season, it’s clear this is a three-team race in the Atlantic. Clemson hasn’t hit on all cylinders through two weeks of the season, while Florida State scored an impressive win over Ole Miss in the opener, and Louisville thoroughly dominated Charlotte and Syracuse.
Even though it’s only Week 3, Saturday’s matchup between the Seminoles and Cardinals should play a key role in shaping the Atlantic Division. The winner of this game immediately jumps to the top of the division as the favorite, while the loser has some work to do in order to get back in the playoff mix. One loss certainly doesn’t eliminate either team from the conference title or College Football Playoff discussion. However, the margin for error certainly gets a lot smaller the rest of the year.
Florida State leads the all-time series over Louisville 14-2. These two teams have met only twice as ACC members, with the Seminoles claiming both of those matchups. Florida State won last year’s game 41-21 and used a furious second-half rally in 2014 to claim a 42-31 victory.
Florida State at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at Noon ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Lamar Jackson
Dynamic. That’s the best way to describe Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and his start to the 2016 season. Jackson has completed 37 of 62 throws (59.7%) for 697 yards and seven scores. Additionally, Jackson leads the team with 318 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The sophomore has produced two passing plays of 60 yards or more and three rushing plays of 30 yards or more. Simply, it’s not going to be easy for Florida State to stop Jackson. In addition to his ability to make plays outside of the pocket, the sophomore is improving as a passer and has a deep group of receivers at his disposal. In last year’s meeting, the Seminoles gave up 307 passing yards to Jackson but held him to 32 on the ground. How will defensive coordinator Charles Kelly defend the sophomore this time around? Kelly’s gameplan took a hit this week, as standout safety Derwin James was ruled out due to a knee injury suffered against Charleston Southern. Florida State has a bevy of talented defensive backs but none can match James’ overall versatility, range and playmaking ability. Louisville’s offense doesn’t have many weaknesses, but the line was a question mark entering 2016 and has yet to be tested by a good defensive front. Florida State has the necessary pieces to wreak havoc up front, as ends DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat are two of the best in the ACC, and tackle Derrick Nnadi is active on the interior. How will Florida State try to contain Jackson? The best possibility is to keep the sophomore in the pocket and not allow the him to make plays with his legs on the outside. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
2. Louisville’s Run Defense vs. Dalvin Cook
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook entered 2016 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. However, the junior is off to a slow start. Through two games, Cook has rushed for only 174 yards and two scores but has added eight receptions for 110 yards. Is this the game Cook gets back on track? Louisville’s run defense ranked second in the ACC last year and is fourth through two games this season. The Cardinals lost standout lineman Sheldon Rankins to the NFL, but DeAngelo Brown is one of the league’s top linemen and anchors the defensive front in 2016. Cook gashed Louisville’s defense for 163 yards and two touchdowns last season and will be called upon for 25-30 carries on Saturday. Florida State’s offensive line has been inconsistent through two weeks, but help could be on the way in the form of Kareem Are and Wilson Bell. Are has missed both games this season due to a concussion, while Bell did not play against Charleston Southern. With potentially the starting front five back in place, is this the week Florida State’s offensive line takes a step forward? On the Louisville sideline, Cook is going to get his opportunities, but the Cardinals can’t let five-yard rushes turn into 50-yard touchdowns.
3. Florida State QB Deondre Francois
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson has arguably been the nation’s best quarterback through two weeks, but Florida State redshirt freshman Deondre Francois has aced his first tests under center. Against Ole Miss, Francois completed 33 of 52 for 419 yards and two scores and rushed for 59 yards on nine carries. He followed up that performance by completing 25 of 32 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns against Charleston Southern. While Francois is going to make a few freshmen mistakes, he’s only tossed one pick on 84 attempts and averages 11.7 yards per completion. Francois has a solid cast of options in the receiving corps at his disposal, including Travis Rudolph (13.8 ypc) and Jesus Wilson (13.7 ypc). Louisville’s defense will counter with one of the ACC’s top defensive backfields, as well as one of the nation’s best linebacker units, headlined by Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields. After passing his first two tests as Florida State’s starter, Francois will be challenged in a tough road environment on Saturday night. Can Louisville’s defense generate a pass rush against a suspect Florida State offensive line and disrupt Francois in the pocket? Or will Francois deliver another standout performance similar to the one against Ole Miss and lead the Seminoles to victory?
This is one of the toughest games to get a read on for Week 3. Similar to 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Louisville jumped out to an early lead behind the home crowd and a few dynamic plays by Lamar Jackson. However, the Seminoles have a penchant for second-half comebacks under Jimbo Fisher. The absence of safety Derwin James is a huge blow to the defense, but the offense is capable of matching Louisville score-for-score and then some. The guess here is the Cardinals will lead for most of the game, but Francois and Cook lead the Seminoles to the game-winning drive deep in the fourth quarter to escape Louisville with a three-point victory.