Derwin’s Loss Larger Than Expected
After the 63-20 loss to Louisville, the impact of Derwin James’s knee injury is massive. It was obviously a huge loss, but Nate Andrews return from injury was supposed to soften the blow. It certainly did not.
The Seminoles missed the type of player James is– a ball-hawking, hard-hitting, assured presence. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson ran wild on Saturday and no one on the Noles defense could match his speed and agility. James, whose 91 tackles were second most on the team a year ago, might have matched Jackson’s athleticism.
DeMarcus Walker burst into 2016 with 4.5 sacks against Ole Miss, but has zero since. Josh Sweat has only three tackles through three games and only one for a loss. James will be out indefinitely as the cartilage in his knee heals, and if the secondary is going to hold up in the mean time, the defensive line needs to get to the quarterback.
Louisville Is A Lot Better Than Anticipated
Yes, Louisville came in as the No. 10 team in the country, but routing the likes of Charlotte and Syracuse didn’t build a lot of credit with the Seminoles. They were “untested.” Florida State had already survived its “test” against Ole Miss and assumed the No. 2 ranking in the country.
Louisville wouldn’t be able to do the Seminoles what they did in their first two games. Not against an elite defense. They did.
Louisville put up 63 points against FSU accumulating 530 yards of total offense. Lamar Jackson was by far the best player on the field running 17 times for 146 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing for another 216 yards. Jackson upped his rushing total to 464 yards through three games, second most in the country.
Their defense was physical and punishing. The Cardinals sacked FSU QB Deondre Francois five times and held the Seminoles to only 284 yards of offense.
Offensive Line Needs To Get Better
Only seven teams have given up more sacks than Florida State (11) to begin the year. That is a staggering statistic.
This was a unit that should have gotten better in the last year. They returned everyone but Chad Mavety and somehow they seemed to have regressed. Granted they have been a little banged up to start the season, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for perhaps the deepest unit for Florida State. They carry 19 offensive linemen on scholarship.
They have also struggled to open holes for the running game. Dalvin Cook has no room to operate, gaining just 228 yards on the ground thus far. The line needs to win their individuals battles and start to push the defensive line backwards.
Where Is The Competitive Fire?
Florida State has trailed by double digits at halftime in three of their last four games dating back to last year’s 38-24 loss to Houston in the Peach Bowl.
Halftime deficit in those three games:
3-21 vs Houston
13-28 vs Ole Miss
10-35 vs Louisville
Ole Miss turned the ball over in consecutive possessions to start the second half, allowing FSU to climb back into the game, but the other games went in the opposite direction.
FSU looked beat against Louisville in the third quarter. They didn’t play for pride. They didn’t compete. The Cardinals hung another 28 points on them in the second half, including two 60-yard punt returns.
How Does FSU Get Back Into The Title Hunt?
It will be a long road back into playoff contention, but the loss is early enough in the season for Florida State to come back.
Step 1: Run the table
Another loss would surely eliminate Florida State from contention. They need to win out, simple as that.
Step 2: Win the ACC
The Seminoles put themselves in a big hole, but they are not out of contention for the ACC title. However, the three best teams in the conference are in the same division, and only one of them can make it to the ACC championship game.
Louisville now controls the Atlantic Division and plays a relatively easy conference schedule. After their showdown with No. 5 Clemson Oct. 1, they have conference games against Duke, NC State, Virginia, Boston College, and Wake Forrest remaining.
Clemson has yet to play a conference game. Their first test will be this Thursday night on the road against Georgia Tech at 7:30.
Step 3: Get Some Help
Florida State will need some help. First they need Clemson to beat Louisville to have a chance to win the ACC. It looks like three of the four playoff teams will be the winner of the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC. The fourth may be the winner of the PAC 12 or Big 12.
There is a danger an undefeated Houston could sneak in over a one-loss Florida State. Ironically, FSU may need Louisville’s help. The Cardinals go on the road for a Thursday night matchup against No. 6 Houston Nov. 17.
Step 4: Impress The Committee
The Seminoles still have plenty of opportunities to impress the committee. Unlike past seasons, the Noles’ schedule will play to their advantage.
With games against USF, North Carolina, No. 15 Miami, No. 5 Clemson and No. 19 Florida still to come, Florida State could vault its way back through the rankings.