Louisville is set to take on LSU in the Citrus Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Cardinals ahead of the game.
Louisville will battle LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL.
The Cardinals (9-3, 7-1 ACC) rode the arm and legs of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who accounted for 51 total touchdowns en route to claiming the prestigious award, as well as a tough defense coordinated by Todd Grantham.
While Bobby Petrino’s squad failed to reach the ACC title game and was knocked out of the College Football Playoff race, it was a season in which Louisville football was put on the national map.
Striking the pose
It was a sterling record-setting season for Jackson, as he recorded 3,390 passing yards and 1,538 rushing yards, making him the only quarterback in the country to rank in the national top 25 in both rushing and passing. He was the third player in FBS history to have 30 passing touchdowns and 20 or more rushing scores in one season, joining fellow Heisman winners Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, and he averaged 410 total yards per game. When we think of the 2016 college football season, we’re going to think of Jackson and whichever team wins the CFP national title. Jackson will face resistance from this LSU defense, but he will put up plenty of yards. The question is how often the Cardinals offense can find the end zone.
Playing in the Citrus Bowl could be looked at as a disappointment for the Cardinals considering their success throughout most of the season, as they finished the year on a two-game skid and fell out of College Football Playoff consideration. Add in the Heisman Trophy media blitz that Jackson has had to endure, and one could wonder if focus will be an issue for this team. Don’t buy it. Petrino will have his squad focused for a showdown against LSU—a brand-name program with a nasty defense. This game can still be considered a litmus test because the Tigers have as talented of a roster as any team in the country.
Louisville’s offense is one of the most explosive units in the country, but it will be going up against an LSU defense that can prevent big plays. The Cardinals are the nation’s highest-scoring team (45.3 points per game), rank No. 2 in total offense (558.8 yards per game) and are first nationally in plays of 20-plus yards (97).
Dave Aranda’s Tigers defense has surrendered the second-fewest touchdowns to opposing offenses this year (Alabama gave up the least), but they will have to deal with the offensive onslaught of the Cards without All-American inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who will miss the game with a knee injury. LSU allowed five offensive touchdowns to a spread Texas A&M attack in a 54-39 win on Thanksgiving night, so Jackson will be able to connect on some big plays against a spread-out Tigers defense.
Protecting the football
Louisville’s offense has been a joy to watch all season, but protecting the football has been an issue. Petrino and Co. have given the ball up 31 times, which has made its turnover margin at minus-7—a ranking of No. 108 nationally. However, LSU is shockingly ranked 90th in turnovers gained (just 16). Louisville turned it over a combined 10 times against Clemson, Houston and Kentucky, so expect at least two turnovers by the Cards in this one. Can LSU’s offense turn them into points though?
The Cardinals will be going up against a passing offense that ranks 101st in the FBS at 187.6 yards per game and does not feature a player with 500 receiving yards, which is ridiculous because Malachi Dupre (454 yards) could easily have a minimum of 800 yards in most any other offense. While the Tigers have a run-first mentality, things have opened up a bit since Ed Orgeron took over for Les Miles.
The Bayou Bengals will need to have some semblance of a passing attack in this one, though, because Louisville has been better against the run than pass. Keep in mind that the Cardinals allowed a season-worst 352 passing yards to Kentucky in their last game, including touchdown passes of 75 and 63 yards. Expect the Tigers to hit on a big play or two down the field, but I fully expect Grantham’s secondary to play much better against the Tigers.