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Florida State Opponent Preview: Louisville

Florida State picked the perfect time to have a bye week that allowed us all to sit back and enjoy a 2-0 record while watching some awesome college football games. With all the wild finishes and crazy upsets it felt like a good time to just be spectating. It also provided FSU an additional week to rest up and get ready for the start of conference play. However, the bye week is over and it’s back to business for FSU football. 

This week’s game will be the first true road game for FSU as it’s travels to Louisville to face the Cardinals Friday night. Louisville is 1-1 on the season and looks very beatable for FSU even on the road. However, UL has had FSU’s number the past 2 meetings. There is certainly no guarantee of a win or that one will come easily anyway. Let’s look at the opponent FSU will face in game 3 with this week’s opponent preview.

Overview

Louisville had a rather surprising start to the season getting blown out 31-7 on the road against Syracuse. To be honest, I didn’t see that one coming and Syracuse may be better than I expected. Nonetheless, it was a poor showing by UL. In game 2 they got their first win against UCF on the road which is a solid win, however, UL didn’t exactly look great in that game either and benefited greatly from a struggling quarterback for the Knights. This will be their first home game of the year and with two weeks to sort some things out I do expect a better performance. A lot depends on how FSU performs because this game is very winnable for FSU if they play like they did the first 3.5 quarters against LSU. In my opinion FSU is a better team across the board and had an extra week to prepare.

UL put up 31 points in the first half of the last two meetings with FSU, so there is obviously room for concern. If Cunningham all the sudden goes off and FSU doesn’t show up ready to play, they can very well lose this game. We will learn a lot about this team from this game. How will they respond to some success? How will they handle playing with some expectations now that they are favored to win this game? How will they handle their first true road test? How much will have been cleaned up since the last time we saw them play? These are the things I’ll be looking for this Friday.

FSU can really make a statement and get some serious momentum going with a win here. It would put them at 3-0 heading into a very winnable game at home vs Boston College and provide an opportunity to be ranked for the first time in years. I know rankings aren’t the most important thing right now but to a recruit looking in from the outside it shows real progress by this program which is something they’ve been waiting to see in Tallahassee.

Louisville was 4-3 at home last season so it’s not exactly a snake pit to play in and FSU is favored by around 1.5-2.5 points depending on where you look. The ESPN FPI match up predictor leans in favor of the Seminoles at 54.8% which is opposite of what it was in the preseason with UL being a 52% favorite to win. 

A lot of people believe this is a race to 30 points and I don’t disagree. If FSU can get to 30 points and gets a decent game from its defense, I like their chances. Another important number is 21, an interesting stat I came across is the win at UCF was the first for Louisville under HC Scott Satterfield when scoring under 21 points. Their previous record prior was 0-9 when held under 21 points. So far this season the Cards have scored a total of 27 points against 2 average defenses. If FSU can keep them to around 21 or less, historically, you have a 90% chance of winning the game.

Louisville as a team has not had the cleanest play so far either. They have 19 penalties in 2 games with 12 coming against UCF and 7 against Cuse. They have 5 turnovers so far this season via 3 fumbles and 2 interceptions. And the UL defense has 12 players with over a 20% missed tackle percentage. If FSU can put together a clean game on the road they could take advantage of that. Let UL make the mistakes!

Offensive preview

As we covered in the preseason preview, UL’s offense is Malik Cunningham period. He is the battery that makes that clock tick, the engine that makes that offense run, whatever analogy you want to use he is the backbone of that offense. That is why the number 1 key to victory is to stop, or at least contain, Malik Cunningham as best as possible. Even thought he hasn’t had the best season so far; he is still a dynamic athlete at quarterback who can hurt you with his legs and his arm. Here’s a look at Louisville’s offensive stats through two games this season.

As you can see their offense has struggled to get going this season. Up front, they were believed to have an underrated offensive line which could be a strength for them. However so far, the unit has had its fair share of struggles too allowing 23 pressures and 6 sacks through 2 games. Cunningham’s ability bails this line out quite a bit which is why you see so many good pass blocking grades despite a high number or pressures allowed. You can certainly get guys into the backfield but getting Cunningham on the ground before he escapes and breaks one in you is another story. 

Their run blocking grades have been less than stellar this season with no starter having a PFF run blocking grade above 63 and some coming in far below average(60). Florida State’s D-line should have some opportunities in this game but must play disciplined against a guy like Cunningham as to not lose contain allowing him to break free in space.

Below is a look at the passer profile for Malik Cunningham which gives a statistical look at how he has performed through the first two games.

Passer Preview Template UL

Cunningham hasn’t had his best games passing so far this season. I attribute a lot of that to losing his three top targets from last season to the portal. UL also decided to try and make him more of a pocket passer this season which is not his game and has certainly contributed to his struggles. I think we will see less of this going forward though. They let him play more like he used to towards the end of the UCF game and they had some success with it. So much so that Satterfield made comments about needing to go “old school” towards the end of the game. Despite the slow start you still must respect Cunningham’s ability in this offense. After all he did put up over 4,000 yards and almost 40 touchdowns last season and the light could come on at any moment him in 2022.

Cunningham has been pressured a fair amount this season to the tune of 34.8% of his drop backs. If FSU can pressure him, they will be some opportunities as this is where Cunningham has struggled the most. When kept clean he has a completion percentage of 64.1%, a big time throw rate of 2.3% and a turnover worthy play rate of 2.1% which are all good numbers. However, under pressure those numbers drop significantly to a completion percentage of 41.7%, a big time throw rate of 0.0% and a turnover worthy play rate of 12%! 

Oddly enough Cunningham has better numbers against the blitz vs non-blitz plays. If FSU can get pressure with just their front four, they can have some real success vs this offense. Cunningham has also struggled finding success with the deep ball and has a 12.5% completion percentage on throws of 20+ yards so far this season. The overwhelming majority of their pass plays come in the area of 0-9 yards. He also has 17 carries for 170 yards and 1 touchdown. Cunningham is the type of guy who can turn a 3-yard gain into a 43 yards touchdown really quick which is something we saw vs UCF.

At receiver, their main guy is Tyler Hudson who is a transfer from Central Arkansas. So far this season he has been targeted over double that of any other receiver for UL and leads the team in receiving yards. He’s got size at 6-foot-2 195-pounds and a catch percentage of 78.6%. He will normally line up out wide and has done so 86.1% of the time. He has a PFF grade of 70.2 which is quality starter status. This will be the main guy for FSU to focus on keeping contained behind Cunningham. Ahmari Huggins-Bruce is another guy to keep your eye on and the second leading receiver on the team. He will line up out wide and also in the slot about which he has done 45.9% of the time. He’s a smaller guy at 5-foot-11 166-pounds and only has 5 catches on the year, but he has a PFF grade of 71.3 and averages 15 yards per reception. 

The main back for UL is Tiyon Evans who came in from Tennessee via the portal. Evans runs hard and has the ability to break some nice gains, but he doesn’t make a whole lot of people miss either. The UL run game has not been very impressive so far and Cunningham is their leading rusher through two games. They do prefer to run to the right side a little more often and a majority if the plays are run between the guard and tackle. FSU should find some success vs this rushing attack as far as the backs are concerned. I’m not saying this group is bad, but they just don’t appear to be anything special so far this season.

Overall, if you can contain Cunningham and try to take away Hudson you will have success vs this offense. Of course, that is easier said than done. The improved linebacker play should help contain Cunningham on the ground, but this should be the first real test for the secondary as they haven’t been thrown on much this season. They get credit for making the LSU receivers a non-factor in that game, but Jayden Daniels was probably this biggest factor in that. I like this secondary, but I’ll be interested to see how they perform in this game1

Defensive Preview

The UL defense has not been stellar either so far this season. They gave up 31 points to Syracuse who is not exactly known as an offensive powerhouse. They had a strong second half vs UCF once they switched some things up. They forced the UCF quarterback to beat them with his arm which was something he could not do. No disrespect to the kid but there is a reason he was playing receiver at Ole Miss. Jordan Travis should be the best quarterback they have faced so far this season as well as the FSU receivers being the best group UL has faced as well. Let’s take a look at the defensive numbers for Louisville so far this season.

Statistically, the UL defense has a rushing success rate of 59.7% which is dead last in all of college football. They also have the 116th ranked rush defense that has given up over 200 yards in both games this season. FSU has an opportunity to get the ground game going against UL which not only is good for the offense but also chews up clock keeping Cunningham on the sideline.

UL has the 72nd ranked third down defense and has allowed 41 first downs which is also 72nd. FSU has racked up 44 first downs in their first two games which is 24th in the country so you can see the opportunity to sustain some drives against UL. Through the air they allow an average of 186.5 yards per game which is 41st but remember they faced a running team in Syracuse, and a team with a receiver playing quarterback.

UL has a base defense of 3-4 with lots of blitz packages. Their defensive line is somewhat undersized and already lost one of their best (and biggest) players for the season due to injury in Jermayne Lole. One thing I noticed on the film is they tend to over pursue some things which sets up screen passes and opens running lanes too. I think we will see more running from Jordan Travis than we have seen the first two games. It has been nice to see him not need to run as much which keeps him healthy but that is a large part of what makes him special, and we have yet to see that really be tapped this season.

This defensive line didn’t get a lot of push from the tape I watched, and I expect FSU to be able to push them around now that they have some size upfront. The backup nose tackle for UL is a 6-foot-1 284-pound redshirt-freshman. If they can’t push around a 284-pound nose tackle, we have bigger issues to talk about. I know I have been critical of this line in the past, but they had a nice game vs LSU and I expect them to do the same here. I would really like to see FSU rush for 200 yards, and I think it is entirely possible.

Their best linebacker, in my opinion, is Yasir Abdullah who is more of hybrid LB/DE. He has above average PFF grades especially vs the run. The rest of the group in barely above average to below average grade wise. I know PFF grades aren’t the gospel, but they usually can indicate who is an impact player and who isn’t. I did a full position group breakdown on the preview podcast if you want to check that out. I’d like to keep this somewhat digestible and that would make it really long. There is a link to our podcast page below.

The UL safeties both have good coverage grades and allowed a very low completion percentage when targeted. However, their run defense grades are less than stellar. As most of you know, they have FSU transfer Jarvis Brownlee who starts at corner. Brownlee is a hardnosed player who is not scared to hit you in the mouth, but he certainly has some weakness in his cover game. He’s an emotional player and has already said he had this game circled. If he is not careful, he could get too emotional and make mistakes because of it.

No offense to the guy but he couldn’t circle a Jacksonville State receiver to end that game, so I doubt him having this game circled is scaring anyone on the FSU offense. FSU is familiar with his his skill set and knows what he is good at and what he isn’t. With most of the new receivers being transfers it’s not like he has went against them in the past to know their tendencies outside of Pokie Wilson and Malik McClain, so this is advantage FSU. Brownlee has been the most targeted of their DB’s as well and has allowed a 66.7% completion percentage with 120 yards. He has a PFF coverage grade of 59.2 which is below average, but he does have the teams only interception.

The other corners they primarily use both grade out below average on PFF, but have a lower completion rate allowed than Brownlee. You may not want to run towards him, but I expect FSU to take some shots at Brownlee with these new receivers.

Overall, on offense I expect FSU to run the ball until UL decides to stop it. They may decide to shift to a game plan similar to that in the second half of the UCF game and force Jordan to beat them through the air. Jordan is a better quarterback than they faced vs UCF and that may be playing with fire. It was the pass game that beat LSU which was a better defense. We’ll need another big game from Jordan, but I feel confident that he has it in him especially against his old school where he transferred from.

Special Teams

Lastly, I want to touch on some things I see in special teams. Obviously, neither team has a ton of faith is our kickers right now. I really hope Fitzgerald can get it together sooner than later because this is not a game where you can afford to leave points on the field.

One area I do see an opportunity for FSU to gain an advantage is punt return. Now I know the return game has continued to struggle but through two games UL is allowing an average return of 9.6 yards. Mycah Pittman had an average of around 10 yards per return at Oregon so this could be an opportunity for FSU to get the return game going and get an edge in field position. FSU is also tied for first in all of college football in net punting allowing -1 yard per return. Again, on paper this look like advantage FSU.

Wrapping up & Keys to Victory

As I said before, this is a very winnable game for FSU but it won’t come easy. Louisville is at home and probably has some confidence about this game the way the past two meeting have went. In my opinion, the three keys to FSU winning this game are as follows.

1) Contain Cunningham as much as possible by any means necessary. He is their offense and without him having a good game a win for them in unlikely. Take away Hudson if possible and make him have to beat you through the air with the rest of his receivers. If he just has a stellar game then so be it, but you can’t let him do whatever he wants. It’s time for Fuller to put the clamps on Cunningham.

2) Play a clean game on the road. As we discussed before, UL has been heavily penalized, had a good number of turnovers, and had some sloppy tackling so far this season. If FSU can play smart and let UL, make a majority of the mistakes this will undoubtedly given them an advantage.

3) Run the ball until they stop it and when they do pick on Brownlee. The UL run defense has been terrible this season, and the run game is something we expected to be FSU’s strength. The backs had a quiet game against LSU, but this could be their chance to make some noise against an FBS team. I also expect Jordan to use his legs a little more too. I’d really like to see FSU hit the 200 yard mark on the ground in this game. Which as we said before also chews up clock and keeps Cunningham off the field.

When UL decides they are tired of getting ran through and sells out to stop it start taking shots, particularly at Brownlee. He has been burnt a good few times this season and if you can get some one-on-one matchups vs these big receivers FSU has, I like their chances to wreak havoc on these corners. FSU has a much better qb than UCF and if they put the game on Jordan’s arm I have no issue with that.

Wrapping up, FSU could certainly go on the road and lose this game, but I feel they are the better team and if they do those three things they will come out on top. I could also see FSU winning this one by a few scores if they come out firing on all cylinders, but that not my prediction. Based on the history of how these two teams have played each other with the current staffs and the game being on the road in prime time I think it will be a little closer than that.

I think UL will let Cunningham loose because Satterfield knows if he doesn’t start winning soon that seat will start to get hot. Still, I think this is a different FSU team and they have an opportunity to get a quality road win to open conference play. I’ll take the Noles in this one 31-24. Thanks for reading and Go Noles!

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