LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The 10th-ranked Louisville Cardinals insist they’re preparing for No. 2 Florida State like any other opponent. That doesn’t mean they’re downplaying the importance of their biggest test to date.
Louisville (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts the Seminoles (2-0, 0-0) on Saturday in one of the program’s biggest games. More challenges remain for both schools — including games against defending ACC champion and preseason favorite No. 5 Clemson — but the winner of this nationally televised showdown can take a major step in the Atlantic Division.
“We knew that if we were going to make a run in this conference or get to the goal that we want, we had to find a way to beat them,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “We are looking forward to the matchup.”
Adding more intrigue are two dynamic quarterbacks who have shown they can dominate games.
Louisville dual-threat sophomore Lamar Jackson has shown he can win with his arm and legs with 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns (seven passing) in the nation’s top offense (754 yards per game). He’s coming off an ACC-record 610-yard offensive performance at Syracuse that included a highlight-reel leap over a defender for a TD along with 72-yard scores running and passing.
FSU running back Dalvin Cook saw Jackson’s skills in high school in Florida and said, “He got better as a passer. Louisville did a great job developing him as a passer.”
Florida State’s offense is just as explosive (509 yards) and features redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, who has passed for 681 yards and five TDs. Francois’ 419 yards passing and two scores helped the Seminoles erase a 28-6 first quarter deficit with 33 unanswered points that beat then-No. 11 Mississippi 45-34 on Labor Day.
Neither marquee games nor comebacks are new for FSU, especially in recent meetings against Louisville. The Seminoles have beaten the Cardinals with second-half rallies the past two years, and another competitive meeting seems likely on Saturday with a lot at stake for both teams.
“We have to bring our A game to play,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “(This will) be another great test and challenge early in our season. … We’re looking forward to the challenge in going up there.”
Some other things to watch as Florida State visits Louisville:
PROTECT AND SUPPORT: Jackson’s running has overshadowed performances by other Louisville rushers who figure to contribute in multiple ways against FSU. Brandon Radcliff had a career-best 156 yards rushing at Syracuse with a 48-yard TD run on 10 carries, while Jeremy Smith and L.J. Scott have turned swing passes out of the backfield into TDs. Not only do they provide additional targets for Jackson, they can also block. “There’s going to be more of us involved in the pass protection game,” Radcliff said, “but that’s nothing new for us.”
ELIMINATE BIG PLAYS: Florida State has already allowed 11 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Safety Derwin James is out for an extended period after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Senior Nate Andrews, who missed the first two games due to a calf injury, is likely to return this week and would move into James’ spot. Sophomore corners Tavarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis are expected to get challenged early.
RACKING UP SACKS: Louisville’s pass rush has started strong with four sacks each in the first two games. Seven Cardinals have at least half a sack with junior linebacker James Hearns’ 2.5 leading the way. Louisville is tied for ninth nationally.
SPECIAL DIVIDENDS: Florida State’s special teams have exceeded expectations early. Freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo has made all seven field goal attempts while punter Logan Tyler leads the ACC at 46.8 yards per punt. The return game has also been solid with Jesus Wilson returning a punt 89 yards last week. It was FSU’s first punt return TD since 2012.
ALI TRIBUTE: The Cardinals’ will wear special red chrome helmets featuring butterfly stickers honoring late heavyweight champ and Louisville native Muhammad Ali, who died in June at age 74. A 30-foot painting of the same design will be displayed in the northwest corner of the end zone, and several presentations are planned. Ali’s wife Lonnie and son Asaad will attend the game.
Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaryBGraves
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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
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