Florida State (2-2) vs. Louisville (2-2) Game Preview
Two years ago, Westbrook was a sophomore safety, used mostly on special teams, thrust into a starting role after an injury to star Derwin James.
At the time, no one knew that Louisville’s Lamar Jackson would become the signature player of the 2016 season, rewriting both passing and rushing records on the way to the Heisman Trophy.
The Cardinals, however, knew that Florida State had a new guy in the secondary. And coach Bobby Petrino used his quarterback to test both Westbrook and the rest of FSU’s defensive backs relentlessly.
Not exactly a friendly welcome.
In an outburst that was equal parts fast and devastating, Louisville stunned the second-ranked Seminoles, 63-20, in a game that raised eyebrows across the country.
FSU will make its first return trip to Louisville on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN2), and while the Seminoles have more important things to worry about than what happened two years ago, the ones who were there haven’t exactly forgotten about it, either.
“It is something I always think about, because it was when I first got out there, and felt very embarrassed,” Westbrook said. “Just embarrassed. I always think back to that. Just try to capitalize on the things I can do.”
A lot has changed since then, for both programs.
Westbrook, now a senior, has developed into a fine safety, a full-time starter in a secondary finding its stride under new coordinator Harlon Barnett.
For that matter, the Seminoles have almost an entirely new coaching staff, with defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins the only holdover from that 2016 staff.
And there aren’t many players on FSU’s current roster who logged significant action that day.
It’s a new-look Louisville team, too. Petrino is still there, but Jackson is gone. As are five other NFL draft picks from 2017 and 2018.
Like FSU, the Cardinals are in transition. And, like FSU, the Cardinals are 2-2 on the season and looking for a win that can give the rest of their season a boost.
“There’s some similarities there,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “And I think we’re all trying to do our best to correct those things, so our teams can get better.”
While most Seminoles said they intend to treat this game just like any other, it’s still hard to ignore the history.
Not only did the Cardinals top FSU two years ago, but they also came to Doak Campbell Stadium and beat the Seminoles, 31-28, in 2017.
Deondre Francois, Florida State’s starting quarterback in 2016, said it “still weighs on us.”
And Barnett, when told of Louisville’s point total over the last two years, said he expected his players to take this one personally.
“I would think so,” he said. “Yeah, absolutely.
“To say almost a combined 100 points – wow. Yeah, they’ll go up there fired up. We’ll be ready to go.”
Louisville’s transition into the post-Jackson Era has been uneven at best.
Both of the Cardinals’ losses have been lopsided – 51-14 in their opener against Alabama, and 27-3 last week at Virginia – and their only win against FBS competition came in a 20-17 escape over Western Kentucky two weeks ago.
Along the way, Louisville’s offense, so explosive and dynamic over the past few seasons, has tumbled to near the bottom of the country in most major categories.
Louisville ranks 125th out of 130 teams in total offense (284.3 yards per game), 124th in scoring offense (17.0 PPG) and 109th in average time of possession.
Petrino has rotated between two quarterbacks – Malik Cunningham and Jawon Pass – but neither has done much to separate himself from the other. Pass is completing 50.7 percent of his passes and has thrown two touchdowns against five interceptions.
Cunningham has fared a little better (64.7 percent, and a team-high 209 rushing yards), but after earning a start at Virginia last week, he was just 10 of 19 for 113 yards and an interception.
Petrino said earlier this week that he had a plan for how he’d use his quarterbacks against FSU, but wasn’t much in a sharing mood.
“It doesn’t do us any good to tell everybody that,” he said. “But we do need to improve and get better there.”
In a season filled with heavy swings from one week to the next – just think of all the different feelings and expectations surrounding the program from August until now – Florida State’s trip to Louisville will certainly be another.
If it goes well, the Seminoles will have their first winning streak of the season, an above-.500 record and some serious positive momentum heading into next week’s rivalry game at Miami.
It’s another chance to move forward and make that tough start to the season feel further and further away. And to make what happened here two years ago feel further away, too.
“That’s the past,” fifth-year senior Fredrick Jones said. “We can’t do nothing about that.
“But we can set up for our future.”
Taggart ‘hopeful’ that Dickerson can play
While it isn’t yet certain, Taggart is crossing his fingers that junior lineman Landon Dickerson will be available on Saturday. Dickerson hasn’t played since injuring his ankle against Virginia Tech, but he has participated in practice this week. Taggart said Monday that Dickerson’s recovery might be ahead of schedule.
“Landon is getting better,” Taggart said. “Each day, he’s gotten better, gotten more reps. He’s getting better and, hopefully, Saturday he can play.”
Odds and ends …
- Taggart is returning to coach in the state of Kentucky for the first time since serving as the head coach at Western Kentucky, his alma mater, from 2010-12. Taggart’s wife, Taneshia, is from Louisville.
- Louisville’s Petrino is in his second stint at Louisville. Before returning to Louisville, he had previously taken over at Western Kentucky after Taggart departed for South Florida. Petrino was 8-4 in one season with the Hilltoppers.
- The Seminoles lead the all-time series against Louisville, 14-4, and are 5-2 at Louisville. However, the series is split, 2-2, since the Cardinals joined the ACC in 2014, with each team 1-1 at the other’s home stadium.
- There are several connections between FSU and Louisville: Running backs coach Donte’ Pimpleton served as a quality control coach at Louisville in 2009, and coached at three Louisville-area high schools. Louisville linebackers coach Ryan Beard played for Taggart at Western Kentucky. FSU offensive coordinator Walt Bell was previously on staff with Louisville cornerbacks coach Grady Brown at Southern Mississippi in 2010 and 11.
- Florida State allowed just six rushing yards last week against Northern Illinois, its lowest total since holding Colorado to minus-27 yards in 2007.
- FSU last week ran 89 plays, its most since running 93 against Mississippi in the 2016 opener.
- In their loss at Virginia last week, the Cardinals managed just 214 yards and three points, both of which are the lowest totals of the Petrino era.
One Reason Why Florida State Will Win
Louisville is supposed to have a fun and exciting offense – it’s a Bobby Petrino offense, after all.
It’s saying a lot to be a bad ACC offense with Florida State sputtering so much, but the Cardinals are really, really struggling.
The O is miserable on third downs, and the D is worse – the Cardinals are last among all ACC teams in third down conversions on both sides of the ball.
The offense is the biggest issue, though, averaging an ACC-low 17 points per game with no ground game and no pop down the field. The Cardinals only managed three points against Virginia and have yet to score more than 20 against an FBS team.
FSU might have its issues, but the defense hasn’t been bad. This isn’t the week the UofL O is ready to blow up.
Fortunately for the Cardinals …
One Reason Why Louisville Will Win
The Florida State offense hasn’t found its groove yet, either.
The passing game finally kicked in with 352 yards in the win over Northern Illinois, but the Cardinal secondary is good enough to keep the Noles from blowing up through the air for a second straight week.
It also helps that there’s no running game to worry about.
FSU has the talent in the backfield, but behind this mediocre line, it just can’t get this dog to hunt. Even with the great backs, the ground attack has yet to hit the 150-yard mark.
Making matters worse is the fumbling issue. The Noles have turned it over 11 times in the four games with six fumbles, losing three in last week’s win over Northern Illinois. The Cardinal offense needs all of the easy chances it can get.
What’s Going To Happen
Something has to give with these two shockingly bad teams.
Louisville is trying to find the right mix, but the offense simply can’t score on a regular basis. The defense has been able to hold its own over the last few weeks, but Deondre Francois and the passing game should be just good enough to crank out a few scoring drives.
Neither team will run the ball, and FSU has a better passing game. The Nole defensive front will hold its own just enough to get by.
FSP Fearless Prediction & Line
Florida State 38, Louisville 31
Line: Florida State -6, o/u: 46
Date: Saturday, September 29
Game Time: 3:30 ET
Venue: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
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