Previewing Florida State at Louisville

Florida State faces a dangerous Louisville team on the road on Thursday night.

Florida State travels to Louisville for a tough road test against an improving Cardinal team that has been better than I expected them to be in their first ACC season. The Cards have one of the nation’s best defenses, and they’re strong up the middle with nose tackle Sheldon Rankins and have two of the best safeties in the conference. The offense has struggled at times in 2013, particularly against the two quality defenses they have faced (Clemson and Virginia), but that was without star WR DeVante Parker and a healthy RB Michael Dyer, both of whom are in full form for Florida State.

The Louisville defensive front is extremely quick and is loaded with underrated Florida recruits who will surely be extra amped to play against Florida State. Given that the FSU offensive line has struggled against quickness this year, that’s bound to be a concern going into the game.

That said, Louisville still has some question marks at cornerback, and I expect to see FSU spread the field and throw the football on first down from the beginning of the game, giving Winston the chance to attack this defense while it still has to honor the run. I’m not sure there’s a defense in the country that can hold Winston below 30 points when the offense takes that approach, and even if there is one, I don’t think Louisville matches up well enough outside to be that defense.

Louisville is a very well coached football team with Bobby Petrino calling the offense and former Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham running the defense, and after twelve days off, they’re sure to have a few extra wrinkles reserved for Florida State. This is definitely a team that could beat the Seminoles, particularly if FSU continues not to play at its potential.

But in the end, I can’t bet against Jameis Winston in this kind of game. The Florida State offense has still never scored fewer than 31 with Winston pulling the trigger, and I don’t see Louisville scoring over 30 against this FSU defense given the trouble Louisville has had on the offensive line. Louisville quarterback Will Gardner does not present the kind of dual-threat that has given FSU trouble in the past, and I think we see the defense get a bit more pressure than they have much of the year. I don’t think this is a rout, but Florida State’s win streak will run to 24. Noles win, 34-30.

Wayne McGahee III

Louisville has arguably the toughest defense Florida State will face in the regular season. They’re first in the F/+ defensive rankings and first in the FEI defensive rankings in first down rate, available yards, defensive efficiency, and explosive yards given up. They rank third in methodical drives and value drives. They’ve forced 18 turnovers in 8 games, and Florida State is going to beat them by double digits.

A 20 game sample size for Jameis Winston shows that in order to beat Florida State you have to score at least 30 points. I do not believe the Louisville offense is capable of doing that. Their defense is fantastic, maybe the best in all of college football, but their offense has been shaky. The offensive line has had major issues in both pass blocking and run blocking. Quarterback Will Gardner has an 11/2 TD/interception ratio but is completing just 57% of his passes and is not very mobile. For the first time this year Florida State will not have to worry about a running quarterback and will be able to let their pass rushers go. The Louisville offense does not rank in the Top-100 of any offensive category in the FEI offensive rankings. They are 115th in offensive efficiency, 113th in first down rate, 119th in available yards, 102nd in explosive drives, 105th in methodical drives, and 111th in value drives.

Florida State is going to have its hands full against the Louisville defense, but with Jameis Winston at the helm Florida State will be able to score. I have Florida State winning 31-21 as a late touchdown puts the game away for the Seminoles.

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