Cards aiming for a 'shark attack' and revenge against Seminoles

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- This is where it all started to unravel a year ago. Florida State.


Posted on a wall outside the team meeting rooms in the Howard L. Schnellenberger football complex is a small sign that bluntly reminds the Cardinals of what happened, even though the current staff wasn't around and Florida State is never mentioned by name. It doesn't have to be.


The sign is headlined "Bad Taste," followed by "Blood in the Water." It goes on to urge the Cards to behave like sharks with aggressiveness, a lack of fear and a deadly persistence. There's more shark analogies, but you get the idea.


Saturday's game in Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN) is a rematch of a pivotal loss in UofL's dismal 2018 season.


The Cards went into their Atlantic Coast Conference opener in Cardinal Stadium with a 2-2 record. They came out of it with a soul-crushing defeat aided by a head-scratching decision courtesy of then-head coach Bobby Petrino.


FSU had struggled under new coach Willie Taggart, so it looked like a good chance for Louisville to gain some confidence and momentum with a significant victory. It appeared to be working out exactly that way as the Cards took a 14-0 halftime lead.


They still led 24-21 with about two minutes remaining and had a first down at the Seminoles' 21-yard line. Coaching 101 dictated that UofL run the ball, take time off the clock and make FSU use timeouts. Easy decision.


But Petrino ignored conventional wisdom and called a pass play. Jawon Pass's throw was intercepted and one minute later FSU had gone 81 yards in just five plays to score the game-winner on quarterback Deondre Francois' 58-yard touchdown pass.


The bitter 28-24 defeat was the beginning of the end for UofL, the start of an eight-game losing streak leading to a 2-10 season, an 0-8 ACC mark and the firing of Petrino with two games remaining.


Once again, opportunity awaits the Cards in the sequel because the Noles (1-2) are off to another shaky start and the game looks winnable for UofL, which is only a one-touchdown underdog on the road.

 
A win would give first-year coach Scott Satterfield's team a huge boost and indicate that progress in his first season is even more advanced than it appeared in the first three games. And a defeat certainly wouldn't be as devastating as last year's setback proved to be.


"Coach Satterfield has done a great job with his team," Taggart said during his press conference this week. "Offensively, they are doing a good job running the football. I think whenever you can run the football, it always gives you a chance to win ballgames. They know who they are and what they want to be."


FSU has lost to No. 20 Boise State (36-31) at home and No. 21 Virginia (31-24) on the road, sandwiched between a 45-44 overtime victory at home over Louisiana Monroe.


The Noles are one of the most penalized teams in the country, committing an average of 8.67 penalties per game, which is tied for 116th in the 130-team FBS. Their secondary has been generous, with foes averaging 314.3 yards per game in the air, last in the ACC. And the Cards should never feel they're out of the game since FSU has been outscored by a staggering 69-31 in the second half.


Nevertheless, the talent gap between the Noles and Cards is still a large one, as Satterfield noted this week after referring to FSU's struggles.


"They're still Florida State," he said. "I saw a stat the other day that they have 45 four- and five-star guys. They still have a lot of great players and when you turn on the film you can see it -- great size, really good speed. For whatever reason, they haven't closed it out in the second half of games, but they obviously have a lot of potential to be really good."


FSU's up-tempo offense will challenge UofL's defense and the Noles' own defense showed some improvement last week after Taggart added defensive specialist and former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt as quality control coach.


The Noles feature the ACC's leading rusher in Cam Akers, who will be by far the best running back UofL has faced so far. Akers has run for 387 yards and three touchdowns, and also has 76 receiving yards with two TDs.


"He's a good all-around back," UofL defensive coordinator Bryan Brown says. "If we don't stop the run, it's going to be a long day because now you are guessing as a play-caller."


"He's just a dynamic runner," UofL nose tackle G.G. Robinson says. "If they don't even block, he can make something out of nothing, he's that good."


FSU also has a capable passer in redshirt sophomore quarterback Justin Blackman (6-5, 195), who has completed 68 percent of his passes for 843 yards and nine touchdowns, with just two interceptions.


However, the Noles' offensive line has had protection problems, giving up nine sacks. UofL  already has already recorded nine sacks, just two shy of last year's total.


"That's big, we always want to stop the run so we can pin our ears back and get after them," Robinson said.


Just like a bunch of sharks.


Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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