First, Winston's competition during his year-and-a-half as FSU's quarterback hasn't exactly been stout. He's yet to play a defense that ranks better than 22nd nationally in yards-per-play allowed (Wake Forest in 2013, which, coincidentally, was statistically his worst game) and the average ranking for Winston's opposition is 65th. Louisville, on the other hand, is currently second in the nation.
The Cards' defense is a lot like Florida State's was last season -- aggressive, stout in the secondary, and capable of affecting the passer with a strong rush up front. That's translated into 28 sacks (fifth nationally) and 15 interceptions (second). Opposing quarterbacks have an adjusted Total QBR of just 14.7 against Louisville -- the best mark in the country.
Will Winston be an exception? Surely he's the toughest test Louisville's defense has faced, too, but the other problem FSU faces is that Winston can't be a one-man show. Louisville has a strong enough pass rush to avoid blitzing regularly and still pressure the quarterback -- particularly against an FSU line that's looked shaky so far this season. That means the Cardinals can double Rashad Greene, forcing FSU's younger receivers to step up. More importantly, however, Louisville has allowed the fewest rushing yards in the country this season, while FSU is already struggling to run the ball and now has the additional concerns of Karlos Williams' off-field drama to deal with.
Add it all up, and it's clearly the biggest defensive challenge FSU's offense will have faced during Winston's tenure -- and it may be enough for Louisville to be the first team to hand the Seminoles' star QB a loss.
Big plays will be hard to come by Thursday as statistics argue this is one of the best defenses Winston has faced, and that can't be disagreed with. However, just how good this defense is worthy of debate. The Cardinals' defense took advantage of a true freshman playing his first game ever in the season opener against Miami, and Clemson star Deshaun Watson was injured in the first half against Louisville. Watson was the nation's leader in QBR. This Louisville defense has not faced a quarterback of Winston's caliber, so how it performs against one is still a question mark.
What this Cardinals defense should be able to do is make Florida State one dimensional on offense, but that's something a lot of teams have been able to do. The Seminoles rank 104th in rushing yards per game, and there is little reason to believe they'll improve upon that ranking after this game. Oklahoma State and Notre Dame both shut down the Seminoles' rushing attack, but Winston provided all the offense the Noles needed in the second halves.
With all of that said, it wouldn't be a shock if Louisville holds Florida State to below 30 points, something that hasn't happened once with Winston at the helm. The issue that remains for the Cards even in that scenario is some way, somehow this Florida State team always finds a way to win. If this is a game in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles are going to know how to react. The crowd is not going to intimidate the FSU offense. No matter how many plays go for negative yards, the offense is capable of three chunk plays and a touchdown drive spanning less than two minutes. The receiving corps is no longer Greene and a bunch of also-rans. Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson are taking the pressure off of Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary.
This isn't the offense of a season ago, but it's still the best in the ACC. And that'll be good enough to beat the Cards.
Fortuna: This is not a very favorable matchup for FSU, and it cannot come at a worse time: Thursday, the night before Halloween, the site of a major upset 12 years ago. Louisville's defense is relentless, especially against the run, and the Seminoles' already struggling ground game probably won't be turning a corner in this one, as Mario Pender (ankle) is out again and Williams has been engulfed in controversy all week. Who knows if Williams is as adept at blocking out off-the-field issues as Winston is, but it might not matter. The Cardinals finally have their weapons -- namely, DeVante Parker — back at full strength, and the offense might just look like what we all expected it to when Bobby Petrino took over. Can the underwhelming FSU defense step up? Getting pressure on Will Gardner will be key. Playing from behind is no way to live, though, and the Noles can overcome only so many slow starts (Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame) before paying a price. Louisville 23, FSU 17
Shanker: The Eagles run the ball very well and don't ask quarterback Tyler Murphy to do too much through the air. So that sounds like the same formula Miami used to beat Virginia Tech last week. Duke Johnson ran all over the Hokies, and Murphy and BC's stable of backs are capable of running for close to 300 yards combined. Defensively, the BC defense is stout, and it is hard to imagine the Virginia Tech offense finding much success. Boston College 17, Virginia Tech 14
Adelson: The Hokies played their worst game of the season last week against Miami and now have to face the best running quarterback in the country in Murphy, who is on his way to a 1,000-yard season. The matchup advantages seem to skew toward BC, but expect Virginia Tech to really place an emphasis on its run game. The Eagles have had trouble closing out games this season, so the Hokies will have a chance to survive in a slog. Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 20.
Hale: The simplest answer here is the Wolfpack have to win an ACC game eventually, right? Sure, we've been fooled into thinking the streak would come to an end before, but this seems like a must-win for the program. Dave Doeren has had a week off to prepare. Jacoby Brissett has had the bye week to get healthy. The defense gets back a handful of suspended players. Syracuse is coming off a tough, physical loss to Clemson and is playing with a true freshman at QB. Meanwhile, the fans in Raleigh are getting restless, and the goodwill engendered by NC State’s close loss to Florida State has all but evaporated. It’s time for a Wolfpack victory in conference play, and, really, it feels like now or never. NC State 21, Syracuse 14
Fortuna: A.J. Long finally looked like a freshman last week for Syracuse, getting sacked four times, but he was facing a nasty Clemson defense. He'll be better off for that test in the long run, including this week against an NC State team that averages less than two sacks per game. The Wolfpack have struggled against the run in ACC play, surrendering 217 rushing yards per outing, which give the Orange some opportunities to open up the offense and let Long breathe a bit. Brissett, meanwhile, has not looked like the same player in his three outings since the FSU game. A Syracuse defense that gave its offense a chance despite four turnovers should be strong enough to keep Brissett and the Pack offense from regaining its touch. Syracuse 24, NC State 13
Hale: Georgia Tech runs the football. Virginia is 10th in the nation in rushing defense (based on yards-per-carry). And if that strength-on-strength battle ends in something resembling a draw, the Hoos have a clear advantage nearly everywhere else. The Hoos can get after the quarterback, which should negate Georgia Tech’s big-play threat. Georgia Tech has struggled to affect the passing game, which should help Virginia’s inconsistent passing attack. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 5.4 yards per carry, meaning the Cavaliers should be able to run early and often. But perhaps most important, it’s an issue of motivation. Virginia needs this game desperately -- both for its bowl chances and for coach Mike London to keep his job. Virginia 30, Georgia Tech 27
Adelson: Though Virginia has been excellent against the run this season, the defense has been gashed for some big plays. It happened last week against North Carolina, and now the Hoos have to play a Georgia Tech offense that not only pounds the ball but has a nose for big gains. Georgia Tech has 48 offensive plays that have gone for 25 or more yards this season -- including 15 in the past two games. If Virginia cannot stop the big play or score off takeaways, the Jackets will win. Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 27.
Duke at Pitt: Both defenses are light years ahead of where they were since last season's meeting in Durham (a 58-55 Panthers win), but Pitt's offense needs to regroup in a hurry after its turnover-plagued performance against Georgia Tech. Facing a Blue Devils' offense that is coming off a bye is no easy task the week after defending the Yellow Jackets' attack, either. Duke 31, Pitt 27
North Carolina at Miami: There is something to be said for UNC's recent resurgence. Its defense has made several big plays lately, too. But Brad Kaaya has only grown as a passer, and Duke Johnson might be running as well as he ever has. The Hurricanes have just too much offensively for the Tar Heels to handle. Miami 40, UNC 35
More than $3,000 in cash, actually.
As The Post & Courier writes, Stoudt isn’t looking downfield often. Of his 35 attempts last week against Syracuse, 21 were thrown to targets behind the line of scrimmage. Ten were thrown downfield at least 15 yards, and he completed just two. And that’s a big reason for the lack of real productivity for the Tigers.
As we noted in our weekly By the Numbers post, of the 93 quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts vs. FBS competition, Stoudt ranks 92nd in yards-per-completion at just 9.0.
Add to the lack of a downfield threat the fact that Clemson’s running game has been stagnant — just 3.5 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays, the worst among Power 5 teams save Wake Forest — and you’ve got a real problem.
The end result is that Clemson is averaging just 4.73 yards-per-play in the month of October, which ranks 105th nationally. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be saying that about a Chad Morris offense?
The good news is that Deshaun Watson continues to make progress from his broken finger, and while it’s unlikely he’s back for Wake Forest in a week’s time, the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 15 seems like a legitimate possibility. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman ran for 101 yards on 28 carries last week against Syracuse, which marked the first 100-yard game by a Clemson tailback this season.
A few more links for your Thursday reading pleasure:
The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at what makes Louisville’s defense so dominant.
DeVante Parker should be an interesting challenge for Florida State’s secondary, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
Karlos Williams will play against Louisville, according to Jimbo Fisher, but he’s the subject of a university inquiry, as Yahoo notes.
Tonight will be a major recruiting night for Louisville as it hosts the defending champs, writes The Courier-Journal.
Anthony Harris hasn’t racked up the interceptions for Virginia as he did a year ago, but he’s still playing at a high level, writes the Daily Progress.
Miami will be missing a key contributor on the offensive line against North Carolina, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
If AJ Long is going to turn things around from last week’s struggles vs. Clemson, NC State looks like the right defense to do it against, writes Syracuse.com.
Duke isn't getting distracted by its Top 25 ranking, writes the Associated Press.
In spite of Virginia Tech's struggles, Steve Addazio knows Lane Stadium is no easy place to win, writes BC Interruption.
Tallahassee Police Department officials intend to continue their domestic assault investigation of Florida State running back Karlos Williams, according to The Associated Press, and Williams might face a Title IX investigation by the school even if police drop the case.
Williams, the No. 2 Seminoles' leading rusher, was accused of physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his infant son and pregnant with their second child. On Wednesday, the woman formally requested that Tallahassee police terminate their investigation and asked that Williams not be charged.
"It is my desire that this matter be resolved expeditiously without Mr. Williams being arrested, charged, or prosecuted for any criminal offense," the woman wrote in an affidavit, which was sent to Tallahassee police by her attorney. "Please exercise your discretion properly by respecting my privacy and my family's privacy in this matter."
Williams, a senior from Davenport, Florida, also could face a Title IX investigation by FSU's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which could lead to findings of violations of the school's student conduct code.
FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks said in a statement Wednesday: "While each set of facts and circumstances is different, as a general matter notice of Title IX-related issues would prompt an investigation."
Florida State would not confirm whether it would investigate Williams, citing privacy policies, according to the AP. Federal policy dictates that universities must investigate possible Title IX violations if they are aware.
A source told ESPN.com that Casher has paid restitution to attorney Adam Ellis, and the status of the case is now listed as closed after the Leon County court received a notice of voluntary dismissal on Oct. 28 from the plaintiff.
A pretrial hearing had been set for Nov. 4.
Casher was named as a defendant in a civil suit filed Oct. 1 for "small claims more than $500 but not more than $2,500." Earlier this month, The Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat reported the suit was for $2,500 in legal fees.
Last May, Casher faced a student code of conduct hearing for his role in the 2012 alleged sexual assault involving teammate Jameis Winston and another Florida State student. In an interview with police, Casher said he witnessed and videotaped parts of the encounter but deleted the video and no longer had the cell phone.
Winston has maintained his innocence through his attorney, saying the sexual encounter was consensual. He was not charged criminally but still faces a school conduct code hearing as part of the university's continuing Title IX inquiry.
In June, Casher, a redshirt sophomore, received one year of probation after being found responsible for two violations of the school's conduct code: acts that invade the privacy of another person and the recording of images without consent, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Florida State at Louisville Preview
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