After routing UNC-Charlotte and Syracuse to start the season, No. 10 Louisville faced its first real test against Florida State—a team that provided a good barometer for how far Lamar Jackson and company might be able to go this season. If Saturday afternoon’s game is any indication, the answer is far. Here are three thoughts on the Cardinals’ 63–20 win:
1. Lamar Jackson might be leading the Heisman Trophy race
Through three games, the Louisville quarterback has as strong of a case as anyone for the Heisman. He’s responsible for 18 touchdowns—eight passing and 10 rushing—and on Saturday, he looked nearly as good against the country’s No. 2 team as he did running all over Conference USA doormat UNC-Charlotte two weeks ago.
Jackson finished the day with 216 passing yards and 146 yards on the ground. (Here’s a fun stat: At the end of Louisville’s win, only one other team had scored as many touchdowns as Jackson has singlehandedly this season.) He was a YouTube star at Boynton Beach High in Florida, and he looked the part again Saturday, cutting and spinning his way into the end zone and baffling Florida State's defense.
After the game, Michael Vick tweeted that Jackson is five times better than he was at Virginia Tech. That may be an exaggeration, but if this keeps up deep into ACC play, who knows.
2. Let’s not ignore Louisville’s defense, either
Todd Grantham’s unit was just as dominant as Jackson on Saturday—which might be the most impressive thing we learned about the Cardinals. Grantham runs the closest thing to an NFL defense there is in college, driving home to his players that they must master multiple positions. His biggest knock as a coordinator at Louisville had been his unit’s propensity to give up big plays, but that didn’t happen Saturday; the unit allowed just 284 total yards and held Florida State’s star running back Dalvin Cook to just 54, his fewest this season and his fewest in a regular-season game since Week 3 of 2015.
Devonte Fields and Josh Harvey-Clemons, two of Louisville's most dynamic pass-rushers who could have left for the NFL last spring, looked like some of the top defenders in the games—and like their bet to stay in school another year to up their draft status might be paying off. The level of elite talent on Grantham's speedy unit is indisputable, and Louisville is milking it for all its potential.
3. Derwin James is really, really important to Florida State’s success
The safety—who’s out 5–7 weeks while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus—is one of the game’s most versatile players, and apart from Dalvin Cook, he might be the most important player on Florida State’s roster. Saturday certainly underscored that.
The Seminoles, who have plenty of talent on defense, need to find a better way to rush the passer and compensate for James’s absence for the next month or so. Against Louisville, the group looked sluggish, failed to close gaps or manufacture much pressure. It was like a flashback to the first half against Ole Miss—without the miraculous second-half comeback.