Location: Camping World Stadium (65,000)
Surface:  GameDay 3D Grass (Field Turf)
Forecast: 65 Degrees (at Kickoff) 73 Degrees (at game’s end). Sunny, 0% chance for rain, 6-10 wind MPH
Game Time:  11:00 am, 12-31-2016
Line:  LSU -3.5
TV: ABC (Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill)
Radio: Louisville Sports Properties with Paul Rogers, Alex Kupper & Jody Demling. Sirius & XM Channel 81 with Jason Benetti, Kelly Stouffer, and Paul Carcaterra.

Series History: First Meeting
Last Time: First Meeting
Petrino Bowl Record: 5-4
Petrino vs. LSU: 2-2
Petrino vs. SEC: 25-19
Louisville Bowl Record: 10-9-1
Louisville Bowl Record vs. SEC: 3-1
Louisville’s 1st Appearance in Citrus Bowl
LSU Bowl Record: 24-22-1
LSU Bowl Record vs ACC: 8-2
LSU Citrus Bowl Record: 1-2

Game Thoughts & My Prediction

This is going to be a tough game for both teams to win.  LSU hasn’t faced an offense quite like Louisville’s and the Cards have struggled against similar defensive fronts like LSU (Clemson, Houston).

LSU plays man defense.  In previous media opportunities Bobby Petrino has said conceptually that playing man-to-man defense against Lamar Jackson is a bad idea.  Defenders turn their backs and when Lamar gets outside there are a few moments of recognition required….. and Lamar only needs a few moments.  However, LSU’s defensive backs are different…… they are big and they can really tackle.  And that’s really LSU’s defense.  Big, fast, and can really tackle.

We’ve seen what Clemson & Houston’s Front 7 have done to Louisville’s offensive line and we can expect that LSU will really push the pocket and attempt to contain Lamar Jackson between the tackles and force him to run between the hashes OR throw without setting his feet.  When Lamar sets his foot at the back of his drop OR if he’s given a lane to run….that the danger.  So LSU’s front is going to really come after Jackson.  The Tigers are also very disciplined so there won’t be a lot of lanes created by over-pursuit that Louisville has seen by a few teams this year.

Here is some good news.  In the games that Louisville has lost this year, fumbles have been at the heart of the cause.  LSU is 87th in forcing fumbles and 81st in fumbles recovered.  That’s a good thing for Louisville who has an unprecedented number of Fumbles Lost for a 9-win team.  If the Cards hope to beat LSU, it will have to protect the football.

Defensively, LSU has been a much different team under Ed Orgeron than it was at the beginning of the season under Les Miles, but they have still struggled against some of the more stout defenses (Florida & Alabama). Louisville gives up 18 more yards per game than Florida and 69 more yards per game than Alabama so we’ll have to see if the Cardinal Defense can live up to its reputation as a Top Defensive Unit against a LSU team that will really pound the UofL Front 7.

UofL will be without the services of outside linebackers James Hearns and Henry Famurewa who were shot on December 10th at a party. Hearns has been a defensive dynamo for Louisville this year and the Cards have also played all season without the services of Trevon Young at OLB who broke his hip during last season’s bowl game vs. Texas A&M.  That leaves a pretty thing OLB unit for the Cards who will have to play Devonte Fields and Jonathan Greenard almost exclusively.  The coaching staff has mentioned Stacy Thomas playing some OLB (as he began his career at Louisville at OLB), but we also expect that Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will also play some OLB as well.  Bottom line, Louisville has OPTIONS……. but they really can’t give up a lot of size on defense against LSU.  If UofL was playing Clemson on the flip side, this wouldn’t be as big of an issue because the Cards might be adding an additional Defensive Back to the mix anyway……but that won’t be the case vs. LSU.

The Tigers run the ball.  LSU may be without Leonard Fournette but Derrius Guice was the main option on the ground anyway averaging 7.96(!) yards per carry.  Guice has compiled 1249 yards and 14 touchdowns thus far in 2016 in just 11 games.  But without Fournette LSU doesn’t have a back that has gotten a ton of work, Darrel Williams is likely to get an increased role and he rushed for 130 yards and 3 touchdowns earlier this season vs. Missouri but has done much in another game this season.

Quarterback Danny Etling is a safe option for LSU.  He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and he can hand the ball off like a mad man.  So he’s perfect for the Tiger offense.  To be fair he had a standout game vs. Texas A&M in the season finale.  LSU has talent at receiver so when the Tigers need to make a play, Etling has guys who can compete for the ball.  Malachi Dupre, DJ Chark are two BIG Wide Receivers and the Tigers also have Tight Ends that can also be effective….. there just isn’t a ton of production offensively in the passing game for the LSU skill players.  The Tigers run the ball…… and if Louisville can stop that then Etling is going to have to make plays.

That being said this is a game for Jaire Alexander and Trumaine Washington on the outside.  Shaq Wiggins has sometimes been allergic to tackling and Louisville just can’t have that in this game because LSU isn’t going to be a tremendous challenge in coverage….but they will be a challenge in physicality.

LSU is going to challenge Louisville at the Line of Scrimmage and they are going to challenge Louisville’s depth.  Louisville is going to throw out the Ferrari of college football and test it against a defense that is going to stubbornly try to play a style that shouldn’t be possible against Lamar Jackson.  Can Louisville run the ball on LSU?  Can Lamar Jackson get settled at the back of his drop?  Can the Cardinal receivers WIN vs. the LSU DBs?  Will LSU contain Lamar with it’s Front?  Can LSU run the ball against the Cardinal Defense?  Will Louisville turn the ball over at an anemic pace for the 4th consecutive game?

The answers to the above questions will determine the outcome of this game.  A loss would send Louisville into the off-season with a Heisman Trophy winner losing his final 3 games of the season.  A win would erase some of the negative vibes from the last two regular season games and catapult UofL into some really interesting off-season discussions.

In the end, this game is going to be difficult for Louisville to win.  The Cards have to avoid the big mistake and they have to TACKLE LSU consistently throughout the game.  Louisville has Lamar Jackson and an explosive offense they must remain poised and put pressure on LSU.  If Louisville is healthy and plays with purpose they should be able to beat LSU, and the same goes for LSU.

I think turnovers will doom the Cards again and I think UofL’s personnel problems really take a toll in the 4th quarter when Louisville really needs a stop.  I have LSU winning this game with Derrius Guice playing the Nick Chubb role in the 2014 Belk Bowl, but Louisville keeps it much closer because of its offense.

LSU 23, Louisville 17

Team Stats

Louisville LSU
Strength of Schedule 66th 11th
Scoring Offense (ppg) 45.3 (2nd) 28.3 (68th)
Total Offense (ypg) 558.8 (2nd) 425.7 (60th)
Passing Offense (ypg) 302.0 (15th) 187.6 (101st)
Rushing Offense (ypg) 256.75 (11th) 238.09 (19th)
Scoring Defense (ppg) 23.3 (31st) 16.4 (6th)
Total Defense (ypg) 316.3 (12th) 323.0 (14th)
Passing Defense (ypg) 206.3 (38th) 201.2 (29th)
Rushing Defense (ypg) 110.0 (9th) 121.82 (19th)
Punt Returns (ypr) 8.96 (48th) 7.05 (79th)
Kickoff Returns (ypr) 21.14 (60th) 18.00 (117th)
Opponent Punt Returns (ypr) 9.20 (85th) 4.67 (25th)
Opponent Kickoff Return (ypr) 20.64 (65th) 19.00 (31st)
Punting (ypp) 42.74 (29th) 41.92 (43rd)
Field Goal % 72.7% (72nd) 75.00% (55th)
Opponent FG % 73.3% (56th) 95.7% (126th)
First Downs (per game) 26.2 (5th) 19.5 (97th)
Opponent First Downs (per game) 17.3 (16th) 16.5 (12th)
Penalties (ypg) 71.9 (123rd) 40.4 (14th)
Turnover Margin (season) -7 (111th) EVEN (68th)
Time of Possession 29:08.83 (78th) 30:43.18 (53rd)
Sacks (Per Game) 2.42 (37th) 2.55 (30th)
Tackles for Loss (Per Game) 7.00 (27th) 6.18 (47th)
Sacks Allowed (Per Game) 3.25 (121st) 1.64 (38th)
Tackles for Loss Allowed (Per Game) 6.08 (81st) 5.46 (51st)
Interceptions (season) 14 (27th) 9 (79th)
Passes Defended (per game) 4.42 (59th) 5.27 (22nd)
Fumbles Recovered (season) 10 (39th) 7 (81st)
Fumbles Forced (season) 12 (36th) 8 (87th)
Fumbles Lost (season) 21 (128th) 10 (91st)
Kick/Punts Blocked (season) 2 (44th) NA
3rd Down Conversion % 44.17% (34th) 39.29% (76th)
4th Down Conversion % 71.43% (6th) 12.50% (128th)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversion % 30.65% (8th) 34.30% (20th)
Opponent 4th Down Conversion % 47.37% (54th) 52.94% (70th)
Red Zone Conversion % 83.56% (70th) 81.08% (88th)
Red Zone TD Conversion % 64.38% (46th) 62.16% (58th)
Opponent Red Zone Conversion % 87.50% (89th) 83.33% (57th)
Opponent Red Zone TD Conversion % 62.50% (75th) 26.67% (1st)
Kickoffs (ypk) 59.52 (95th) 60.92 (69th)
Plays 899 (59th) 687 (128th)
Yards Per Play 7.46 (4th) 6.82 (11th)
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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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