LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The eye-popping statistics No. 10 Louisville put up in its first two games of the season doesn’t mean there aren’t areas the Cardinals can and need to improve on.
And they’ll need to play better as the competition will step up this week.
Gaining big yardage and putting up a lot of points will be much harder for the Cardinals (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) in Saturday’s nationally televised showdown against No. 2 Florida State (2-0, 0-0). Louisville knows that and is working to correct the flaws masked by those gaudy numbers against Charlotte and Syracuse.
Despite gaining a school-record 845 yards and scoring at least 60 points for the second straight game, Louisville left last Friday’s 62-28 throttling of Syracuse with room for improvement. The Cardinals dropped passes, lost two of six fumbles and allowed some big plays along with 426 yards.
Coach Bobby Petrino blamed some of the drops on a lack of concentration and others on the receivers’ ongoing process of developing timing with dual-threat sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson. The coach also lamented some defensive lapses but noted how the unit made key plays when needed to against the Orange.
The Cardinals may not have to be perfect against the Seminoles, but Petrino said there’s little room for errors.
“We do have to limit our turnovers, we have to take care of the football and we have to not hurt ourselves,” Petrino said Monday. “I think that’s the biggest thing, to not hurt ourselves.”
Fortunately for Louisville, mistakes have been minimal while winning its first two games by a 132-42 margin. High scoring has always been one of Petrino’s priorities, so lighting up the scoreboard hasn’t been a shock.
“We want to wear you out as much as we can and we’re having fun doing it,” said wide receiver Jamari Staples, who leads Louisville with 219 yards but is still looking for his first touchdown. “It’s not arrogance, it’s just something we like doing.”
The Cardinals’ want to keep rolling in one of the program’s biggest games that could help establish an early favorite in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Both the Cardinals and Florida State still have to face No. 5 Clemson — the preseason favorite to repeat as conference champions — with Louisville visiting the Tigers on Oct. 1.
Offensively, the Cardinals believe they’re just getting started.
That’s saying something considering Louisville’s offense averages a nation-leading 754 yards per game and ranks third in yards per play at 9.9. Jackson has already rushed and passed for 1,025 yards and 13 touchdowns — including his much-celebrated hurdle over a Syracuse defender en route to a TD.
Dangerous as Jackson has been with his arm, quick feet and athleticism, Petrino has been pleased with the QB’s decision-making and inclusion of multiple targets.
“Lamar is smart with the ball,” said Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, adding that Jackson is faster than Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly. “When there are times he has to make a play he is going to carry it. Chasing him down is more like a running back. Last year he was more in the pocket.”
As Louisville looks to Jackson to gain an edge against the Seminoles, the trick will be holding it after losing halftime leads versus Florida State the past two years. The Seminoles recently showed their knack for comebacks as they rallied from a 28-6 hole to beat Ole Miss 45-34 on Labor Day.
If they can get on top of Florida State, the Cardinals don’t plan to let them up again.
“We always start off good in the first half and then kind of slip up in the second half and don’t do what we normally do,” senior linebacker Keith Kelsey said. “We’re not going to let that happen this year.”
AP Writer Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
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