TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State has its hands full going up against Louisville dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, and that was before the second-ranked Seminoles lost one of their most versatile defensive players.
Coach Jimbo Fisher said during Monday’s press conference that defensive back Derwin James was having surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. The injury occurred during the second half of last Saturday’s win over Charleston Southern .
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound sophomore has emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive players due to his versatility. Besides playing safety, James can be a corner in nickel packages and an edge rusher in certain passing situations.
Fisher said there was no structural damage to James’ knee but the timetable for his return is anywhere from 4-10 weeks. The absence leaves a huge void as the 2-0 Seminoles hit the road to face the No. 10 Cardinals (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).
James has been very effective against mobile quarterbacks. He led the defense with eight tackles and an interception in the Sept. 5 win against then-No. 11 Mississippi.
“I think on the field they’ll miss him with his physical abilities and leadership,” Fisher said. “But I think his presence on the sideline he’ll have those guys mentally ready to play too.”
Sophomore A.J. Westbrook or senior Nate Andrews are in the mix to start in place of James.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said James is “as good a player as there is in the country.” James first career start came in last year’s game against Louisville as he had six tackles, a sack and forced fumble in a 20-point win.
Petrino also noted that James got better as last season went along. The same thing can be said about Jackson.
Jackson comes into this week’s game leading the nation in total offense, averaging 507 yards per game. In last Friday’s win at Syracuse , the sophomore became the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for over 400 yards and rush for over 175 in a game. His 610 yards from scrimmage set a conference single-game record.
In last year’s game in Tallahassee, Jackson had his first 300-yard passing game with 307 yards and three touchdowns. On designed runs, he had 59 yards on 14 carries, including six runs of 6 yards or more.
“In my opinion he’s the fastest quarterback I’ve ever played against. Even at ACC media day, I told him, ‘Don’t do all that scrambling,'” defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “His throwing motion has gotten better since we faced him. I can see he’s worked on that. For us preparation is going to be key.”
In the 27 drives that Jackson has played in the first two games, he has led the Cardinals to points on 18. Eight of those possessions have been three plays or fewer.
The Seminoles were effective last year against Jackson in getting pressure. They had five sacks and also had an interception.
This season Florida State already has nine sacks, which is tied for third in the nation. The one area where they have struggled though is limiting big plays. The Seminoles have already allowed 11 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which is tied for third most in the nation.
“We’re going to have to do a good job in our pass protection, we’re going to have to good job being exactly where we’re supposed to be on our routes, and then we have to be accurate throwing the ball,” Petrino said. “There’s going to be tight, close coverage, and we’ve got to be able to run and pass.”
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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