CRAWFORD & BOZICH | Pregame talk: Breaking down Louisville-Florida State
Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich break down Saturday's big matchup between No. 2 Florida State and No. 10 Louisville, taking on some of the biggest questions facing the Cardinals.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- We’ve been talking about No. 10-ranked Louisville’s Saturday high noon showdown with No. 2 Florida State on television all week, so we thought we’d do it for a bit here in what passes for print in the online world.
I guess it’s our version of the pregame chat. Minus the chalkboard and video playback. And the cursing. Though I do think Bozich will reach up and slap the WDRB sign in the office on the way to the press box.
Our thoughts on some key questions we’ll get answers to in Saturday’s game.
1). LAMAR JACKSON HAS BEEN THE NATION’S TOP PLAYER THROUGH TWO WEEKS, HOW WILL HE FARE AGAINST A MAJOR STEP UP IN COMPETITION, AND WHAT ARE HIS KEYS TO SUCCESS AGAINST FLORIDA STATE?
ERIC CRAWFORD: The biggest danger in this game -- and maybe in the rest of Jackson’s games -- is going to be the natural desire to try to top what he did in his first two games. Jackson doesn’t need to be spectacular. He needs to be solid. He needs to make good decisions. He needs to protect the ball. He needs to be accurate with his throws.
Florida State is going to try to force him to become a pocket passer. It was successful in doing that last season. It sacked Jackson five times, for losses of 27 yards. Even when Jackson did pass the line of scrimmage, his longest run was 10 yards, and he generated just 59 yards in 14 attempts.
But Jackson was able to throw for 307 yards and three touchdowns, along with an interception, in that game. And he’s far better able to recognize defenses and understand what his own offense wants to accomplish this season. I’m expecting a big game for running back Brandon Radcliff catching the ball out of the backfield. He leads the nation in yards per carry, and will be a valuable safety-valve for Jackson.
I expect Jackson to play a big game. Winning or losing, most likely, will come down to how his receivers and offensive line play around him, and how well Louisville fares on defense.
RICK BOZICH: Is Lamar Jackson going to throw for 349 yards and run for another 159 — his season averages?
I wouldn’t count on that, but if that does happen Jackson can strike the Heisman pose next to the Unitas statue after Louisville fans celebrate without storming the field (hint, hint).
Is Jackson capable of throwing for 349 yards or running for 159? You bet. As Eric correctly said, Jackson passed for 307 yards and three touchdowns against FSU last season and didn’t really know the offense yet.
Jackson has added nine games of experience, spring practice, fall camp and hours in the film room since then. He’s torched Kentucky, Texas A&M and Syracuse in three of his last four games. It's been four excellent games in a row, not one.
Don’t forget this: FSU will likely be without two defensive starters. Safety Derwin James underwent knee surgery earlier this week. He won’t play. It was also reported Thursday night that Josh Sweat, a sophomore defensive end, was injured in practice this week and did not make the team flight to Louisville Thursday night.
That said, I’m sure U of L coach Bobby Petrino has coached Jackson into remembering that he doesn’t have to be Superman for the Cards to win the game. Let Brandon Radcliff, James Quick, Jamari Staples, Cole Hikutini do their work, too.
2). CAN THE LOUISVILLE DEFENSE SLOW DALVIN COOK AND THE FSU OFFENSE?
RB: This is the ball game.
Louisville’s defense allowed 24 points per game last season. FSU scored 41 against that defense.
The Cards’ defense allowed 21.8 per game in 2014. FSU put up 42 against that Todd Grantham defense.
If FSU cracks 40 for the third consecutive year, I don’t expect Louisville to win.
Louisville’s defensive front has to deliver. Cook has averaged close to 9 yards per game in two games against Louisville. He scored a pair of touchdowns in 2014 and again in 2015. Cook has delivered scoring runs of 40, 38 and 54 yards against Louisville. Those are killers on the scoreboard and along the sidelines. I remember one long run by Cook in that game where several U of L defenders almost appeared to give up while chasing him.
To me, the choice is clear: Don’t let Cook beat you. Make Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois do it.
EC: The stats are pretty clear. Cook likes playing against the Cardinals -- and everybody else for that matter. Without question, the Seminoles have worn Louisville down, then picked them apart in the second halves of their past two games.
Last year’s domination: Five straight drives for touchdowns to open the second half -- four of those going 75 yards or more, and the one that didn’t came after a Louisville fumble at its own 33. After gaining just 161 first-half yards, FSU ground out 360 yards in the second. Two years ago, FSU managed just 175 first-half yards, but roared to life for 399 in the second.
Watching tape of last year’s game is the toughest tape-time of the season, according to linebacker Keith Kelsey.
“It wasn’t Cardinal football,” he said. “They’re a very good team. But we didn’t play well.”
Petrino has told his team, in all phases, it just needs to play sound football, and it needs to play a complete game. Most of all, it needs to finish.
Jaire Alexander is emerging as a top defensive back, and a guy opposing quarterbacks don’t want to throw at. But the bottom line is this -- if the defensive front doesn’t get a lot of pressure on FSU freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, it could be a long afternoon. But Rick is right. Stopping Cook is Job No. 1. Solid tackling, pressure on the quarterback, limiting big plays. Those are the keys for the Louisville defense.
3). FSU SEEMS TO HAVE A SPECIAL TEAMS EDGE. HOW BIG A FACTOR IS THAT?
EC: Florida State is No. 9 in the nation in kickoff average. Louisville is No. 92. Florida State is tied for No. 2 in the nation with 13 touchbacks. Louisville has had one. Florida State is No. 15 in the nation in punting; Louisville is No. 66.
Neither team has excelled at kickoff returns: Louisville is No. 81 and Florida State No. 82. Louisville has averaged just 1.7 yards per punt return, ranking 107th nationally. Florida State averages 42 yards per punt return, though it has only returned two.
FSU has perhaps the top kicker in college football in Ricky Aguayo. He’s already 7-7 on field goals this season. Louisville’s kickers are inexperienced.
This category, on paper, presents a solid edge for Florida State. Louisville needs to avoid giving up the big play, and it needs to exercise good judgment, especially on kickoff returns, to keep the defense from starting too deep in its own territory, which is a danger spot against FSU’s athletic and talented defense
Special teams weren’t a major factor last season. If that were the case again, I don’t think Louisville would be too disappointed.
RB: Beware the Seminoles’ edge in special teams, specifically at kicker.
Florida State lost Roberto Aguayo, arguable the most accurate kicker in ACC history. How good was Aguayo? Good enough that Tampa burned a second round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on him.
Guess what? FSU has not taken a step back at kicker.
They replace Aguayo (Roberto) with Aguayo (Ricky), another three-star scholarship kicker. All he’s done during FSU’s first two wins is make all seven of his field-goal attempts, four from 40 yards or more.
If you’ve watched Showtime’s series, “A Season with Florida State Football,” the kid has some swag. He thinks he's as good as his brother. He might be right.
Evan O’Hara is the guy Louisville is counting on to replace John Wallace. He’s been solid, making all 17 (17!) extra points and two of three field goals. But he did miss one from 28 yards at Syracuse.
The punting game looks pretty even. Louisville’s Mason King has pinned two of his seven kicks inside the 20, averaging better than 41 yards per kick. But Florida State invested a scholarship at punter, too. It shows. Logan Tyler is averaging closer to 47 yards on his five punts — and 13 of his 21 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.
Special teams matter most in close games — and this game fits in that category.
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