LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher walked off the field Saturday from the worst loss of his seven-year tenure, he got a hand on the shoulder and a pat on the back from athletic director Stan Wilcox.
But make no mistake. There was no consoling the Seminoles — not after the humiliation No. 2 FSU suffered in a 63-20 demolition by Louisville that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
"We definitely are a better team than that," center Alec Eberle said.
Eberle might be right. Although the result — a road loss to the No. 10 team in the country in front of a Cardinal Stadium-record crowd of 55,632 — wasn't a major upset, the gory details were a shock. The 63 points allowed were the most in FSU history, topping Oregon's Rose Bowl blowout. The 43-point margin of defeat was the Seminoles' fourth-biggest ever.
But the factors that led FSU (2-1, 0-1 ACC) to take the program's largest conference loss were far too predictable, and they have the potential to make a season that began with national championship expectations spiral out of control.
Start with the kind of slow start that began festering during the Jameis Winston era.
FSU either missed tackles or blew coverages on five of its first six defensive plays and allowed 35 points by halftime — the most in 39 years. The Cardinals (3-0, 2-0) scored touchdowns on six of their first eight possessions and missed a field goal on one of the other two.
"You play with fire when you let teams get ahead of you," Fisher said.
The inferno spread as a defense expected to be one of the best in the country got torched by another mobile quarterback. Mississippi's Chad Kelly lit up the 'Noles in the first half of the season opener before they recovered. They never could Saturday.
Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson produced 362 total yards and five touchdowns. He could have had more, but Louisville pulled him two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"Got to make sure to bring him to the ground," defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. "We just didn't."
With dual-threat quarterbacks looming next week at USF (Quinton Flowers) and next month against Clemson (Deshaun Watson), the Seminoles could be in for more trouble if they don't start soon.
Then there's an offensive line that continues to leak, even with the return of starting guard Kareem Are from a concussion.
"We didn't block anybody," Fisher said.
They hadn't in either of the first two games. FSU entered Saturday ranked No. 101 nationally with sacks allowed, even with one game against Division I-AA Charleston Southern.
That was nothing like what Louisville did; the Cardinals blew up the Seminoles' front for five sacks by five players. Running back Dalvin Cook was held to 54 yards because he had no room to run.
"They found the inches that we didn't find," Fisher said.
Except FSU and Louisville seemed miles and miles apart. The Cardinals acted like a team gunning for a conference title and, perhaps, a trip to Tampa for the Jan. 9 national title game. The 'Noles looked like an ACC afterthought.
The loss, as embarrassing as it was, won't technically eliminate a talented FSU team from the College Football Playoff picture. Louisville still must play at Clemson, and the Tigers come to Tallahassee on Oct. 29. With enough help in a season that's shaking up to be unpredictable, the Seminoles could still win the ACC Atlantic Division and challenge for a playoff berth.
But all of that seems unthinkable now. After Saturday's humiliation, there is no consolation.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.