Chance To Step Up

Florida State defensive end Alonzo Jackson didn't hesitate when asked to critique the Seminoles' defensive effort against Duke last Saturday. "We took a step backwards," Jackson said, his eyes glaring. "Why? Because we lacked intensity." Well, that shouldn't be a problem Thursday, when fourth-ranked FSU (4-0) tangles with Louisville (2-2) at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. "It's important we have a good game," free safety Kyler Hall said.

Florida State defensive end Alonzo Jackson didn't hesitate when asked to critique the Seminoles' defensive effort against Duke last Saturday. "We took a step backwards," Jackson said, his eyes glaring. "Why? Because we lacked intensity."

Well, that shouldn't be a problem Thursday, when fourth-ranked FSU (4-0) tangles with Louisville (2-2) at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. In fact, the Seminoles' defense just might be playing second-fiddle to a Louisville unit that returns 10 of 11 starters and ranks among the nation leaders.

The Cardinals are No. 12 in rushing defense (82.75 yards per game), No. 14 in total defense (264.25), No. 23 in pass efficiency defense (98.79) and No. 34 in scoring defense (18.75). FSU, meanwhile, ranks No. 25 in rush defense (99 yards per game), No. 39 in scoring defense (19.2 points per game), No. 104 in pass defense (261 ypg) and No. 68 in total defense (360 ypg).

Defensive pressure also continues to be a hot topic of conversation. FSU has just nine sacks on the season - end Kevin Emanuel is the leader with two. However, the Seminoles have registered 35 quarterback hurries, more than half of the 61 they had last year.

"They are getting the pressure on hurries," free safety Kyler Hall said. "We can't expect them to get a sack every time. Pressure sacks are just as good, because that forces team into making a mistake."

FSU expects to control the line of scrimmage against a young Louisville offensive line that has surrendered 12 sacks and has been plagued by penalties. Additionally, Cardinals record-setting quarterback Dave Ragone is a classic dropback passer, though he has learned to step outside the pocket to buy time to throw.

"We have to get pressure on him, but it has to be controlled pressure because if he gets out of the pocket, he can do wonders," said Jackson, who has one sack but a team-high five quarterback hurries. "Sometimes when you are flying to the ball, stuff seems to happen like that - a quarterback is able to break containment. Sometimes you get caught inside or outside, and the quarterbacks are making good reads. But we will be alright."

The Cardinals' defense will be facing one of the nation's most potent offenses. FSU averages 40.8 points and has outscored opponents 132-23 over the first three quarters this season. The Seminoles are fourth in the country in total offense with 488.75 yards per game, and also rank among the top 15 in the nation in rushing offense (229.5) and scoring offense (40.8).

Dewayne White, the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and the nation's active leader with 28.5 career sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss, has had a quiet start to the season. Through four games, White has been double-teamed nearly every play and has just 1.5 sacks. In fact, he has been shutout since the season opener.

With rain predicted for the game," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said the key will be "who protects the ball better." Added quarterback Chris Rix: "I am praying for no rain because we want the passing game to be as sharp as possible."

Mother Nature aside, the Seminoles' defense, which was gutted for 114 rushing yards by Duke running back Alex Wade last Saturday, will need to shine.

While Ragone, the two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, has completed only 51.7 percent of his passes (74 of 143), he still ranks No. 15 nationally with 282.25 yards of total offense a game, up more than 22 yards from last season when he led the league with 260.2 yards per game. Ragone also ranks second on the team with 144 rushing yards. Plus, the Cardinals lead Conference USA at 33.8 points per game.

"He's a big guy. He's a good quarterback. He can throw it on the run. He will make you miss," Hall said. "It's important we have a good game. We are still making too many mistakes, in terms of missed assignments, but I also think we've made improvements there. We've been working very hard."

In wins against Duke (40-3) and Army (45-14), Louisville held a 9:24 advantage in time of possession and outscored its opponents 85-17. In losses to Kentucky (22-17) and Colorado State (36-33), the Cards trailed in time of possession (7:37). They also have averaged more than 100 yards per game in penalties this season.

"This is a problem that won't go away until we become more intelligent and learn to play like we should,'' Cardinals coach John L. Smith said. ``But we get hold after hold, and motion after motion, and we just kill ourselves offensively. We're never going to get anywhere on offense if we keep playing like that. We have to stop the holds, we have to stop the penalties or we won't be able to move the ball on anybody.''

The Cardinals' special teams - much like FSU - have developed into a weapon.

The Cardinals have returned a kickoff, a punt and two blocked punts for touchdowns, while also blocking another punt and recovering a pair of onside kicks. Senior wide receiver Damien Dorsey was named Conference USA's Special Teams Player of the Week. He returned six punts for a school-record 159 yards, including an 81-yarder for a touchdown, in Saturday's 45-14 victory at Army.

Additionally, The Cardinals have more players from Florida (23) than from any other state. Many were passed over by Florida, FSU or Miami.

"Anytime you play away from home and you are favored, I think there's always that danger of the same thing we faced up there (defeat at North Carolina last year)," Bowden said. "You have a crowd that will be all for them, the kids are fired up - somebody said this is the highest ranked team they have ever played in Louisville - so you can imagine their anticipation for this game."

It will be up to FSU's defense to help quiet the record crowd. The Cardinals are 31-6 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, which opened in 1998, including a 10-4 mark against nonconference opponents.

"This game will tell us a lot," Jackson said. "We've done all right. Not great. We have to do better."


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