How Louisville’s defense dominated the Florida State Seminoles

Lamar Jackson was the biggest story in college football this weekend. Louisville’s sophomore QB absolutely shredded FSU’s defense in a 63-20 rout. Jackson made one big play after another, and as I said on our FOX pre-game show Saturday night, he made a very athletic Noles D look like he was playing against Syracuse. Last year, FSU allowed only one rush of 30 yards or longer in 13 games. On Saturday, Jackson broke off two such runs against FSU.

But we found out that Louisville is a lot more than just its dazzling young quarterback. The Cards’ defense looks legit now, too. Todd Grantham’s defense held the Seminoles to just 2-for-13 on third downs. For the year, Louisville has held its opponents to only 12-for-49 (.245) on third-down conversions. The Cardinals also bottled up FSU star RB Dalvin Cook, who managed just 54 rushing yards on 16 carries. That was priority No. 1 for the Cardinals’ defense.

"A lot of preparation went into it,” Grantham, Louisville’s DC, told FOX Sports Sunday afternoon. "Cook is tremendous. You gotta set the edge of the defense and build a wall inside to create less seams, because he can burst through and really accelerate and take it to the house.”

Grantham’s plan for short-circuiting FSU QB Deondre Francois also worked well. Grantham said Francois is very talented, but added that he’s also still a freshman. The key to slowing Francois was giving him pre-snap looks that changed significantly to his post-snap read, especially since Grantham made a point of mixing up coverages so Francois could never get comfortable between all the single-high safety and split safeties looks, where he never had a great feel for where Louisville’s pressure was coming from. It also helped that DT DeAngelo Brown is one of the strongest men in college football and typically commands double teams. Brown collapsed the pocket, getting in the 6-foot-1 QB’s face most of the afternoon.

The Cardinals sacked Francois five times and limited the FSU passing attack to just 8-for-24 for 113 yards. Louisville also stopped FSU from hitting any big plays through the air with the longest going for only 23 yards.

Studying the game film Sunday morning, Grantham noted just how big a game edge rusher Devonte Fields had for Louisville. The 6-4, 242-pound senior was credited with only four tackles and a sack in the game stats, but it doesn’t reflect how well Fields played, Grantham said.

He really had a great game playing the run and playing the pass,” Grantham said of Fields. “He had five quarterback pressures and a sack. He was just really disruptive.”

Former five-star recruit Josh Harvey-Clemons, who followed Grantham from Georgia, also really showed up well on film. “He played very physical and his ability to tackle Cook in space and keep a two-yard gain a two-yard gain was so impressive,” Grantham said of the 6-5, 233-pounder, who the coach is able to use as an X-factor for his defense.

Harvey-Clemons plays as a strong safety in the Cards’ base package, but he’s also able to play nickel and their “money” backer spot.  “I love the guy," Grantham said. "He is a tremendous player and has a really bright future."

"Finish the game” was something they’d also harped on all week leading up to the game. Grantham said they’d held FSU to 13 total points in the first half of the two previous matchups but weren’t able to close out the Noles.

In 2015, the Noles rolled up 35 points in the second half to win 41-21. In 2014, they also scored 35 in the second half and won that meeting in Louisville 42-31. This time, the Cards were determined it’d be different, and it was, as FSU went into the half down 35-10 and could respond with only 10 points in the second half. Those points also came with under six minutes left in the game and the Noles trailing by 53. Grantham credits the leadership in the locker room from LB Keith Kelsey and Brown for solving that and building off a lot of positives they had after a slow start in 2015 where they opened 0-3.

Next up is a tricky game at the nation’s No. 6 offense in Marshall, which is sandwiched in between the FSU game and the Oct. 1 showdown at Clemson against Deshaun Watson and the explosive Tigers attack. Grantham likes the way his D has developed. He also knows his team has a pretty special talent leading the offense in Jackson.

"I’m just glad he’s on my side."

Ohio State put on a special performance at OU

Ohio State put on an awesome display at Oklahoma. Urban Meyer hasn’t just recruited extremely well, but he and his staff also had what is such a young and inexperienced team (only six returning starters) so well-prepared. To me the best way to underscore just how special this Buckeyes group is this: All 443 yards of offense, six touchdowns, 69 tackles, seven TFLs, three sacks and two INTs were produced by underclassmen. All of it. That should be a scary stat for the rest of college football. The Buckeyes are loaded, and they’re probably only going to keep getting better.

North Dakota State deserves to be ranked

North Dakota State, the five-time defending FCS champs, took down No. 13 Iowa on the road Saturday, and there was nothing fluky about it. They out-rushed a team that prides itself on being physical and tougher than everyone they play, yet the Bison out-rushed Iowa 239-34, holding the Hawkeyes to 1.4 yards per carry and minus-seven yards in the second half. The Bison received 74 points in this week’s AP Top 25 poll and were essentially No. 28. I’d have slotted them somewhere in the top 20. Maybe top 15.

Gus Malzahn’s nightmare is playing out

Texas A&M cruised past Auburn on the road. If the Tigers drop Saturday’s game against LSU, they’d move to 1-3 with all three losses coming at home. This is a scenario I wrote about before the season, and it doesn’t bode well for coach Gus Malzahn. Just a couple of seasons ago he had Auburn in the national title game and now he is 2-10 in his last 12 SEC games.

USC looks like a mess 

Stat That Made Me Do a Double-Take: Washington State (122) is averaging more rushing yards per game than USC (120). Tailback U looks like a mess right now. The Trojans are now 1-4 since Clay Helton was named head coach. Stanford radio announcer Todd Husak, a former NFL QB, made a pretty strong statement during the call of the USC-Stanford game, observing that in his nine years on the air, he’d never seen such a big coaching discrepancy as he did between David Shaw and his staff and the one led by Helton. He added that the Trojans didn’t look prepared or made any in-game adjustments.

Michigan State’s defense has a new star

Much of the spotlight on the Michigan State defense these days often goes to dominant D-lineman Malik McDowell. The 6-6, 280-pound deserves the hype. He’s so powerful and athletic and causes so many problems for rival offenses. The Spartans got the best of Notre Dame Saturday night in the trenches, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, which was more than double what ND produced, and McDowell was a big reason why the Irish had so many problems.

However, the Spartans also have one of the nation’s most underrated LBs in Jon Reschke, a heady linebacker with some terrific toughness and wheels. Reschke was a beast against ND, leading MSU with eight tackles, an INT, a forced fumble and a tackle for loss. It’s even more impressive when you consider that was Reschke’s first game playing at the SAM linebacker spot. He played last season at the WIL and played both WIL and SAM Saturday night, and also dominated Irish receivers on the perimeter whenever they tried to run bubble screens.

Speaking of the Spartans, standout linebacker Ed Davis, who was just cleared a few days ago for his sixth season, did get in for two plays against ND and figures to get a lot more action as he continues to work himself back into playing shape coming off a knee injury.

San Diego State’s star RB is tearing it up

San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is averaging over 53 rushing yards per game more than the nation’s next most prolific running back. (Louisville QB Lamar Jackson is actually second in rushing at 155 yards per game, 45 yards behind the Aztecs star.)

Peppers enters the Heisman race

Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is, as we expected, fitting in very nicely with new DC Don Brown’s scheme. Peppers is up to No. 4 on my latest Heisman list thanks in part to him pulling off a very rare statistical double right now: He leads the nation in TFLs (9.5) and also is tops in punt return yardage (173 on a 21.6-yard average).

Stat of the Week

As Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami pointed out, Stanford’s David Shaw is now a combined 16-2 against USC, UCLA and Cal. I went back and looked at what Stanford had done against those three in the previous six seasons: 7-11.