Take a look at one of the most highly anticipated game of the 2016 bowl season.
In what may be the best non-Playoff matchup of this bowl season, #13 Louisville (9-3, ACC) and #20 LSU (7-4, SEC) will face off in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31 at 11:00 AM on ABC. This will be the first time these teams have ever met.
Storylines Heading Into the Game
Jackson’s Heisman - In a rare wire-to-wire victory, Lamar Jackson of Louisville capped off his impressive season by hoisting the Heisman trophy. Jackson was unquestionably the most electric player in college football, posting insane stat lines each week. He scored 51 total touchdowns this season, averaging 2.5 passing and 1.75 rushing scores per game. He also averaged an incredible 411 yards of offense per game. All this propelled Jackson to the first Heisman trophy in Louisville’s history.
Orgeron Hired - After the firing of Les Miles just four weeks into the season, Ed Orgeron was appointed the interim coach of LSU football. A true character on and off the field, Orgeron would win the hearts of football fans everywhere en route to a 6-2 record as interim coach. On Nov. 26, he was officially hired as the next head coach of the Tigers. The LSU community has shown a lot of excitement over the hire, and a major win in the Citrus Bowl would only fuel the fire.
Fournette Sitting Out - Leonard Fournette’s decision to sit out the bowl game (along with Christian McCaffrey of Stanford) has been one of the top storylines of this bowl season. Citing concerns over injuries and draft preparation, Fournette sparked a nationwide controversy by announcing that he would sit out this game. While many support his decision as “good business,” many others are upset at his lack of loyalty to LSU. In reality, LSU will likely not miss Fournette much in this game. Derrius Guice has taken over as the lead back for the Tigers, and Fournette has only rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns this season while missing four games.
LF: This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, not playing in the bowl, but it’s best for me and my future.— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) December 16, 2016
308 - Total points accounted for by Lamar Jackson. Second only to Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech, Jackson finished the season with three games of at least seven touchdowns, with 30 passing scores and 21 rushing. If there was one certainty in college football this season, it was that Lamar Jackson would find the end zone and he would do so often. His season-opening eight touchdowns against Charlotte wasn’t a fluke, and he ended the season with the 13th-highest season touchdown total in NCAA history.
Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign was so fun to watch.— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 11, 2016
Here’s the highlight reel. pic.twitter.com/pDDWNSC8cH
16.4 - Points per game allowed by LSU. Once again, LSU has a very strong defensive unit. While they don’t particularly excel in any one defense category, the Tiger defense has been all-around impressive. They’ve held many strong offenses like Missouri, Southern Miss, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Auburn to under 22 points. Their biggest strength has been keeping opponents out of the red zone, allowing just 30 attempts all season. When teams do get into the red zone, they’ve been largely held to field goals. Against a strong dual-threat quarterback in Lamar Jackson, LSU will need to rely on their defense to keep them in this game.
240 - Passing attempts by LSU QB Danny Etling, 99th in the country. It’s no secret that LSU is a run-based team. They haven’t asked much of Etling, instead putting him in a game-managing role. Louisville has a good defense in their own right, and they should be able to focus all their energy on stopping the run of the one-dimensional Tigers. If LSU gets behind in this game, Etling likely won’t be able to make enough plays with his arm to pull them back. He will need to play very efficiently in order to keep the Tiger offense on the field and limit possession time for the Cardinals.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville - This one is painfully obvious. Louisville’s offense lives and dies by Jackson, and they’ve lived quite a lot this season. Still, two of their losses have come in two of Jackson’s worst games. The Cardinals will need to rely heavily on Jackson’s offensive production. Even against a stout LSU defense, it’s almost a guarantee that Jackson will go for multiple touchdowns. If he manages a great game like his early-season ones, LSU’s offense will have plenty of trouble keeping pace. Jackson has an incredible ability to control and dominate games, and that will have to happen for Louisville to come away with a win here.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU - LSU’s offense is entirely reliant on the run game, and Guice is the lead man. Win an impressive eight yards per carry, Guice has rushed for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns as the Tiger’s main back. Especially with Fournette sitting out, Guice may very well get 40 touches in this game. Quarterback Danny Etling will likely not be much of a factor in the passing game, so Guice has to be able to control the game for LSU. Similarly to Jackson for Louisville, LSU’s offense will live or die on the shoulders of Guice.
Why Louisville Wins
Two words: Lamar Jackson. No other player this season has shown the ability to completely dominate a game like Jackson has. Jackson has scored seven touchdowns in three separate games this season, and has only been held to less than four on four occasions. If Jackson can put together a solid performance, LSU’s one-dimensional offense won’t have a chance at keeping up with him. The Louisville defense will be able to effectively hold the LSU run game and prevent Etling from making any big plays with his arm. After two uncharacteristic late season losses, Jackson will be able to right the ship and finish the season with a bang.
Why LSU Wins
LSU will win on the strength of their fifth-ranked defense. The Tigers have given up just 323 yards and 16.4 points per game this season. If their defensive front can contain Jackson, their strong run game will be able to pace the game and keep the Cardinals at bay. While Louisville has been rather disappointing down the stretch after challenging for a Playoff spot early in the season, LSU has finished strong, going 5-2 over the final stretch with their only two losses being heartbreakers to Alabama and Florida (this game ended in a fourth down goal-line stand by the Gators). In contrast, Louisville was ready to push for a Playoff spot before playing two awful and sloppy final games. Orgeron has lit a fire under the Tigers, and they look ready to finish the season on a high note and enter 2017 as Playoff contenders.
When the chips are down, my money is on Lamar Jackson. His impact on games cannot be understated. After two disappointing losses against Houston and Kentucky, Jackson is surely fired up for one last chance to put his mark on the 2016 season. It’s tough to bet against a player like him. If the Cardinals can get an early lead, LSU simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up. Lamar Jackson will be able to solve the Tiger defense and cause them fits all afternoon. Louisville will win as Jackson puts together another electric performance and turns this game into an instant classic.
Louisville Wins 38 - 35
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