WATCH: Layne Herdt and Tim Linafelt preview FSU’s game against Louisville
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart of course wants his defense to embrace every challenge it faces this season, whether it’s up against a hurry-up, spread attack, a traditional, pro-style offense or anything in-between.
But that’s especially true for what’s in store on Saturday.
Taggart has made no secret his desire for the Seminoles to be tough, aggressive and physical.
And there might not be a better way to measure those traits than against a Louisville team that intends to run the ball. A lot.
“These guys have an identity in what they want to be and how they want to be,” Taggart said. “They’re sticking to it and it’s helping them win ball games.”
In their first year under coach Scott Satterfield, the Cardinals (2-1, 0-0 ACC) have already equaled their win total from a year ago. And they’ve done it, in large part, with a commitment to their running game.
Louisville’s 136 rushing attempts through three games are tied for the 21st-most in the nation, third in the ACC, and account for 68 percent of their plays from scrimmage.
And, with freshman Javian Hawkins (6.9 yards per carry) leading the way, the Cardinals are averaging more than 260 yards per game on the ground. That includes 249 rushing yards in their opener against Notre Dame.
So the question on Saturday won’t be what Louisville’s offense is going to do. It will be what FSU’s defense can do to stop it.
“Louisville is a physical football team,” Taggart said. “And if you want to be a physical defense, you love going against teams like this. And you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to hit them. They’re going to run the ball and try to hit you. You’ve got to try to outhit them.”
Especially when it’s a quarterback carrying the ball.
While Hawkins has the big numbers (49 attempts, 338 yards), he’s just one of four Cardinals to run for at least 100 yards. Fellow running back Hassan Hall (38-195) has done it. And so have quarterbacks Malik Cunningham (119) and Jawon Pass (104 yards).
Pass entered the season as Louisville’s starter, but missed last week’s win over Western Kentucky.
He reportedly practiced this week, but his status for Saturday’s game is not yet clear. Satterfield told reporters earlier this week that he intends to play “the healthiest player” against the Seminoles.
“We are going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win football games,” Satterfield said. “I really don’t care who it is.”
The Seminoles might not either. Regardless of who is leading the opposite huddle, Florida State will be forced to contend with dynamic, athletic quarterbacks (Pass is 6-4, 238 pounds, Cunningham is 6-1, 192) who are both hard to get a hold of and hard to bring down.
Previously considered a pocket passer, Pass has already run for more yards this season than in either of the previous two. And Cunningham is a pure dual-threat who, remarkably, has the exact same number of career passing yards (616) as he does rushing yards.
“Both of those guys can really run, and they understand the offense,” defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “They’re trying to run the football, but when they throw it, they can throw it as well.”
FSU’s primary focus will likely be on stopping the run.
The Seminoles’ defense has been under heavy scrutiny lately, and there’s no doubt that they still have plenty of room to improve as they enter the teeth of their ACC schedule.
But FSU did show a few encouraging signs during last week’s game at Virginia, particularly with its run defense.
After entering the game with the 108th-ranked run defense in the country, the Seminoles limited the Cavaliers to 120 yards and 3.8 yards per attempt on the ground.
That was good enough to climb 23 spots in the national rankings.
“We’ve got to have the mindset to always stop the run,” Barnett said. “That’s every defense, on every level of football.
“Number one (priority) is stop the run.”
Odds and ends …