TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Given the final score, it’s easy to forget that the Florida State football team wasn’t in a bad position midway through the second quarter of its game at Louisville last season.
Deondre Francois had just connected with Auden Tate for a touchdown that cut FSU’s deficit to four points, and, moments later, the Seminoles’ defense had Louisville in a third-and-5 that, had they held, could have led to a punt and a chance for FSU to take the lead.
But it didn’t work out that way. Louisville struck for 30 yards on that third down and scored another touchdown a few plays later. And it got worse when FSU fumbled the ball away on the first play of its next drive.
From there, it was mostly clinical as the Cardinals raced to a 63-20 win at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“It was a weird deal,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Because if you remember, they scored early, but then we had rebounded. … I thought we had weathered that storm. …
“All of a sudden, it just snowballed.”
That reality doesn’t ease the sting of last year’s result, but it does provide a measure of confidence as the Seminoles prepare to meet the Cardinals again on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium (noon, ESPN).
Louisville may have been the better team on that day, but the Seminoles believe they were better – and are better – than the final score showed.
“No matter who you play,” senior linebacker Matthew Thomas said, “if you have as many mistakes as we did, the outcome would be something similar.”
With that in mind, most Seminoles have resisted the temptation to assign this game extra meaning due to last year’s result.
Thomas said that the game is “not personal at all,” while center Alec Eberle said he’s motivated only by a desire to continue to play and improve.
That’s welcome news for Fisher, who on Monday said that focus and execution – not extra emotion – is what will lead to a better outcome.
“You don’t take any of that personally,” Fisher said. “If you take it personally, then it gets in your head and you can’t play. You make bad decisions.
“You’ve got to play the game with the team you have right now, (against) the team they have.”
Which isn’t to say that that FSU expects a lesser challenge than the one it faced a year ago.
While Louisville’s 4-3 record might not reflect its preseason aspirations, the Cardinals still have one of college football’s most elusive and electric players in reigning Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson.
The junior quarterback ran for 146 yards and four touchdowns against FSU last season, with another 216 yards and a score through the air. And he hasn’t slowed down this season, already accounting for 26 touchdowns and a nation’s-best 430.3 yards of offense per game.
“You’ve just got to contain him,” cornerback Levonta Taylor said. “We’re a great open-field tackling team. You’ve just got to get him down, that’s all. Don’t try to go for the big hit.”
Otherwise, both Florida State and Louisville have more important things to focus on than anything that happened a year ago.
Neither team is off to the type of start it would like, with the Seminoles 2-3 and the Cardinals 4-3 but smarting after back-to-back losses.
That includes a 45-42 home defeat to a Boston College program that hadn’t scored 45 points against a Power Five opponent in seven years.
Saturday’s winner has a chance to stay on the tails of North Carolina State and Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division race, while the loser would have an even steeper hill to climb.
As a result, the Seminoles say they’re using what lies ahead as motivation. Not what happened in the past.
“We’ve been through some adversity this year, but we’re just getting better,” Eberle said. “Everyone is getting more confident, doing their job. I think as long as we continue on this path, we should be good.”