Final Thoughts and Observations on Louisville vs. Florida State

The Cardinals escaped Tallahassee with a road victory against the Seminoles to open up conference play.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville kicked off Atlantic Coast Conference play on the right foot on Saturday down in Tallahassee, Fla, holding off Florida State long enough to capture a 31-23 victory for their third straight win.

Before we close the book on Louisville-Florida State, and transition into week five's critical conference game at Wake Forest, I wanted to provide some closing thoughts and observations from the game:

  • First, give some credit where credit is due. Florida State not a good football team, and while Doak Campbell Stadium is not an easy place to play, this was a game where Louisville needed to take of business. Sure, it was done in a manner that made you hold your breath until the final minute, but they still found a way to preserve victory at the end. Good teams find a way to win, no matter what.
  • Good teams win, and great teams cover (although FSU had no business being favored).
  • I was curious as to how the team would carry their positive momentum from the UCF victory into this game, and you couldn't have asked for a better first 26 minutes to the game. Louisville scored on their first five drives of the game, whereas FSU punted twice and had a turnover on downs in three of their first four drives. They needed to establish early dominance, and I'd say taking a 31-7 first half lead qualifies.
  • The offense in the first half was as methodical and efficient as we have seen it all year. In the face of a stout FSU front seven, Louisville opted for the short throws in much of their passing attack, and FSU had no answer for it. Not only that, but the run game did a good enough job that it forced the Noles defense to account for it. In the first five drives, four of them lasted 10 plays or longer, and the other was the 59-yard bomb to Tyler Harrell.
  • Then came the final 34 minutes. Sure, Mike Norvell and the rest of the FSU staff made some adjustments, but nothing that should have caused the complete offensive collapse that Louisville had. While watching live, it seemed that it was mostly a case of the play calling reverting back to its simple and predictable ways. While that was present at times, rewatching the game shows that a lot of it was mistakes and a lack of execution from the players themselves. Like in the Ole Miss and EKU game, 10 players would be doing their job, but one player's egregious missed assignment would throw through the play into disarray - such as a missed block, offline throw or less than stellar route running.
  • Considering how well wide receiver Braden Smith was playing in the first quarter before he went down, it's almost inexplicable that players of offense admittedly started to take their foot off of the gas when they took a big lead. Couple that with Ahmari Huggins-Bruce's dropped would-be touchdown reception against EKU, and this team is showing signs that it might not fully embrace the foot-on-the-throat mentality and focus that it should. Some second half penalties, such as the two holding calls that negated long Cunningham runs, come to the forefront of my mind.
  • Speaking of Braden Smith, Louisville's wide receiver situation just got a whole lot more interesting if he has to miss extended time. Fortunately, Josh Johnson has proven to be reliable over the last few weeks, Jordan Watkins is slowly coming into his own, and Shai Werts should be coming back soon. That being said, someone will have to step up big time if Smith could be out for the year.
  • While the offensive line did struggle a bit in pockets of the second half, you have to commend them for their overall effort. Florida State was averaging 4.00 sacks and 8.00 TFLs heading into this game, and they put up just one and five. However Cole Bentley needs to cut down on some of the mental mistakes he made, especially for an upperclassman, and Trevor Reid again had a game where he was underwhelming.
  • Weekly Malik Cunningham appreciation bullet point. Sure, several throws in the second half were too high or behind, and he did take a couple wrong angles on scrambles, but once again he had another great game. Who wouldn't take 320 yards, four touchdowns, and no turnovers?
  • With how physical FSU plays up front, it was nice to not only see Maurice Burkley get some time at running back, but be able to both take and deliver punishment. Though it was concerning that we did not see a single offensive snap from Hassan Hall.
  • While the defense might have struggled a bit with containing big plays, they did a great job at getting in the backfield. Heading into this game, Louisville had just five sacks and 15 tackles for loss through three games. Against FSU, they had six and 11, respectively. Yasir Abdullah and Ashton Gillotte both were phenomenal in pass rush, as both had a pair of sacks and 3+ TFL's.
  • But like the offense, the defense started to slip in the second half - just not in as grandiose fashion. The reason was because of the amount of big plays (Passing Gain of 15+, Rushing Gain of 10+) that were given up at the same time as the offense's struggles. In the first 28 minutes, the defense allowed just three 'big plays'. In the final 32 minutes, they allowed 13. Oddly enough, a lot of big plays came on just a handful of drives, and nine of FSU's drives ended in a punt, failed fourth down conversion or turnover. The defense was very boom or bust, but fortunately, were more boom than bust.
  • Monty Montgomery was sorely missed in the linebacker room. CJ Avery had just five tackles, while Jaylin Alderman and Dorian Jones looked average in Montgomery's place. The one linebacker who did stand out was Jack Fagot. One week removed from struggling against the speed of the UCF skill position players, Fagot looked much improved in space, logging a team-high 10 tackles (7 solo), while also notching a couple tackles for loss.
  • While FSU's McKenzie Milton did find some success at times, the Louisville secondary again had a great day. Kei'Trel Clark continues to demonstrate that not only is he a lockdown corner, but a clutch one at that with his game-sealing INT. Greedy Vance is slowly put surely developing into a future star, and the safety duo of Kenderick Duncan and Qwynnterrio Cole continues to be steady on the back end.
  • Marvin Dallas could crack the linebacker rotation sooner rather than later with how well he is playing on special teams.
  • Turnover margin check: +1 on the year!
  • I'll close with this thought. Yes, it is always good to win on the road against a team you *should* be able to handle (despite what the bookies say). But, in order for this team to truly take a step closer towards 'elite' status, they have to find a way to become more consistent. The coaches are clearly preaching "finish", but I'm not sure a lot of players are completely buying in. We'll see how they respond with a crucial matchup against No. 24 Wake Forest, in a game that, surprisingly, could have significant repercussions in the Atlantic Division race.

(Photo of YaYa Diaby: Melina Myers - USA TODAY Sports)

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