Louisville will look to surpass last season's win total on Saturday as the Cardinals travel to Doak Campbell Stadium to take on a team that can't seem to finish. Florida State has led in the fourth quarter of each of its first three games but is just 1-2 as it returns home to face the Cardinals.
After letting an 18-point lead slip away to Boise State in the opener, FSU twice led in the fourth quarter last week against a ranked Virginia team, but came away on the short end of a 31-24 score. Louisville, last season, went just 2-10 and without a victory in ACC play. After hanging relatively tough with Notre Dame in the opener, Louisville has wins over FCS member Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.
The Seminoles snapped a two-game losing streak to the Cardinals last season with an improbable rally in the final two minutes. After A.J. Westbrook intercepted Jawon Pass' inexplicable throw on first down, Deondre Francois wound up tossing the game-winning touchdown pass to Nyqwan Murray as FSU escaped, 28-24.
That would serve as the first ACC win for the Seminoles under head coach Willie Taggart. Taggart will look for his first conference win of this season as he takes on first-year head coach Scott Satterfield and the Cardinals. Louisville comes in as losers of eight straight ACC games.
Louisville at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida State -6.5
When Louisville Has the Ball
Entering the week, there were questions as to whether starting quarterback Jawon Pass would play for the Cardinals, but it looks like all signs are go for the 240-pound junior. Pass did not play against Western Kentucky last week after accounting for six total touchdowns in the first two weeks. Pass is a dual-threat signal-caller, but if he is less than 100 percent, Malik Cunningham looks like a very competent option after tossing a pair of touchdowns last week.
Perhaps the biggest area of improvement for the Cardinals' offense this season is on the ground. Louisville is averaging nearly six yards per carry and leads the ACC in rushing at more than 260 yards per game. Redshirt freshman Javien Hawkins is the name to know as he comes in with 338 yards on nearly seven yards per tote. In the passing game, sophomore Tutu Atwell has 241 receiving yards and four touchdowns, including three last week against the Hilltoppers. Junior Dez Fitzpatrick is a great talent but has been quiet thus far this season.
Louisville has yielded seven sacks so far this season and will be facing an FSU defense looking to switch up its lineup and provide more pressure. The Seminoles have failed to get much off the edge this season, but in the middle, Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden and Robert Cooper are a solid trio.
Linebacker play has been suspect for FSU this season, but in the secondary, junior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen has been arguably the team's defensive MVP. Nasirildeen leads the squad with 28 total tackles and is in a three-way tie for the national lead in forced fumbles with three. Although the numbers weren't great, Florida State had its best defensive game of the season last time out in the loss to Virginia as it allowed season lows in yards and points while coming away with a pair of interceptions.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Although he missed some critical throws late last week against Virginia, redshirt sophomore James Blackman has been a net-positive for FSU at the quarterback position. Through three games, Blackman is averaging nearly 280 passing yards per game and has 10 total touchdowns to his name. Joining Blackman in the backfield will be the ACC's leading rusher in Cam Akers. Akers is leading the conference with 387 yards on the ground and is tied for the ACC scoring lead with five total touchdowns.
FSU is deep when it comes to pass catchers as six different Seminoles have caught a touchdown this year and three have caught two. Redshirt sophomore Tamorrion Terry leads FSU in receiving with 14 catches for 234 yards. The offensive line is improved, but still a sore spot for the Seminoles. FSU has allowed nine sacks in three games this season.
That's the same number of sacks that Louisville has thus far. Rodjay Burns leads Louisville with two sacks this season and is tied for the team lead in tackles with fellow linebacker C.J. Avery with 16 on the year. As a whole, the Cardinals are markedly improved on defense.
Louisville currently ranks fifth in the ACC in total defense. The Cardinals have not intercepted a pass yet this season. That is good news for an FSU squad that just had its first game of the year without a turnover. The team that has won the turnover battle has won the last four games in the series.
If Saturday's contest is close, both teams have very good kickers in Blanton Creque for Louisville and Ricky Aguayo for the Seminoles.
After missing a bowl game for the first time since the early 1980s last season, Florida State absolutely cannot afford to start 1-3. The Cardinals have played well against lackluster competition the last couple weeks and should arrive in Tallahassee with a ton of confidence. They'll be facing an FSU defense that hasn't been able to come up with a big stop. Still, the Seminoles played probably their best game of the season last week and should emerge victorious with a similar effort.