LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In their comeback victory over Ole Miss two weeks ago, Florida State’s script followed a familiar pattern of scoring before halftime, getting the ball back to start the third quarter and then scoring again.So maybe the surest sign that things would be different here at Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium came when Louisville, not the Seminoles, scored the momentous touchdown at the end of the second quarter. And it was Louisville, not FSU, that scored the decisive blow early in the third. By then, the Seminoles trailed by 32 points and their hopes for yet another jump-off-the-mat rally were gone.
This time, the hole was too far deep as No. 2 FSU fell prey to a Heisman-worthy performance by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in a 63-20 defeat.
“It starts with me and ends with me as the head coach,” FSU’s Jimbo Fisher said after the game. “You’ve got to fix it and look at your issues and (see) what you’ve got to do.
“Find it, correct it, coach them better. And they’ve got to play better.”
FSU (2-1, 0-1 ACC) will get a chance to play better at South Florida next Saturday at noon. The No. 10 Cardinals improved to 3-0 and, after a trip to Marshall next week, will then travel to Clemson for a game that will have massive implications for the ACC Atlantic Division.
Louisville’s Jackson cemented his status as college football’s preeminent rising star with a 372-yard, five-touchdown performance that kept the FSU defense guessing all day.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, never could find a groove on offense and, save for a few moments after cutting their deficit to 14-10 early in the second quarter, never gave the Cardinals much of a scare.
“Second half, they got the momentum and we couldn’t ever change it,” Fisher said. “You play with fire when you let teams get ahead of you. We felt like we had weathered it.”
Playing in his first true road environment, redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois completed seven of 18 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. But he also threw an interception and mishandled an exchange with running back Dalvin Cook that led to another turnover.
And Francois was sacked five times by a Louisville defense that, afforded a big lead, could be relentless in its pass rush.
Cook didn’t fare much better, carrying 16 times for just 54 yards.
“We didn’t block anybody,” Fisher said. “I actually thought (Cook) ran pretty decent. I liked our scheme coming in. we had some plays, we just didn’t make a block.”
Behind a balanced effort through the air and on the ground, Louisville outgained FSU 530-284 despite conceding a time-of-possession advantage to the Seminoles.
Matthew Thomas had 10 tackles to lead the FSU defense, which was playing shorthanded with safety Derwin James sidelined while recovering from knee surgery.
With James out and a handful of other FSU defenders hit by injuries throughout the game, the Cardinals struck for seven plays of more than 20 yards. The Seminoles had just one.
“(Injuries) make a difference, but that’s ball,” Fisher said. “That’s not their fault, that’s our fault … that’s football. You build depth and develop young players.”
Florida State’s day perhaps could best be summed up by Louisville’s fateful drive at the end of the second quarter.
Leading 28-10 with less than a minute to go in the half, Jackson threw a low pass toward the right sideline that appeared to bounce off the turf for an incompletion.
But it didn’t. Instead, Cardinals receiver James Quick caught the ball between his knees and, in the ensuing confusion, gathered it in his arms and raced 44 yards to the FSU 2-yard line.
Three plays later, Jackson scampered into the end zone for a score that made it 35-10.
And as the Cardinals kept scoring throughout the second half, the Seminoles had just two second-half drives of more than four plays.
“We didn’t communicate like we should have, like we did throughout the week” junior linebacker Jacob Pugh said. “It seemed like when we got on the field, everything went blank.”
Their usual comeback plan thwarted, the Seminoles were left to watch as the Cardinals served notice to the nation that the ACC Atlantic is no longer the exclusive domain of FSU and Clemson.
FSU received that message in a resounding way on Saturday. And the Cardinals will look to deliver it again when they see Deshaun Watson and the Tigers on Oct. 1.
One the other side, the Seminoles resolved to glean what they can from this one and, otherwise, move on and turn their focus toward next week’s trip to USF.
“We’ve just got to bounce back,” said junior Travis Rudolph, the team’s leading receiver with two catches for 40 yards. “We’ve got to look forward to the next game. We can’t control what just happened, we’ve just got to deal with it.”