How to Watch: 11:00 a.m. on ABC
Odds: LSU -3 (Bovada), O/U 59.5 (consensus)
This will be the first-ever meeting between U of L and LSU. The Cardinals are 19-35-1 all-time against SEC opponents, but only have five wins total against SEC schools not named Kentucky. However, Louisville is 2-2 since 2012 against SEC schools not named Kentucky, and 3-1 against the conference in bowl games.
About the LSU Tigers
When you think of SEC football, one of the first schools you generally think of is LSU. Who wouldn’t, after multiple national titles under both Nick Saban and Les Miles? The Bayou Bengals from Baton Rouge are a certified name to be reckoned with, in the college football landscape.
Unfortunately, LSU had early losses to Wisconsin and Auburn, and Les Miles was fired immediately. While the losses weren’t necessarily bad in hindsight, Miles’ job was on the hot seat multiple times and AD Joe Alleva had enough. Since then, former interim (and now permanent) head coach Ed Orgeron got the Tigers back on track. LSU went from veteran QB Brandon Harris to Purdue transfer Danny Etling, and relied on speedster Derrius Guice to get the Tigers to bowl eligibility after Fournette missed multiple games with injuries. LSU also has a great defense, ranked 14th in total defense and featuring four players on the All-SEC team.
Players to Watch
- RB Derrius Guice: One good thing for Louisville is that star running back Leonard Fournette is sitting out of the Citrus Bowl to focus on his draft preparation. However, Guice is just as talented and even preferred by some NFL scouts over Fournette. Guice averages a whopping eight yards a carry, and him splitting reps with Fournette for stretches of the season he will be fresher than most on Saturday. While Fournette was more known for his strength and ability to run between the tackles, Guice is an explosive back that can take runs the distance, and has incredible effort on every touch. Additionally, LSU has two All-SEC offensive linemen that can give Guice big holes to run through, which Louisville showed signs of struggling against Kentucky.
- WR Malachi Dupre: If Louisville loads the box and tries to keep Guice under control, Dupre is a receiver that can stretch the field vertically and blow the top off of defenses. LSU can follow what Kentucky did to win the game — run the ball successfully, and then follow-up with a big play action pass down the field if the defense leans towards playing the run.
- CB Tre’Davious White: Plain and simple, White is one of the most coveted cornerbacks on virtually everyone’s draft boards for 2017. LSU has had a knack for producing elite defensive backs in recent years (looking at you, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu), and White is perhaps the next NFL cornerback from Baton Rouge. White is an excellent man-to-man cover, perhaps better than any that Louisville has already faced. On top of that, he’s proven to be a capable run stopper and has great natural instincts as a cover corner. His presence on special teams also adds a wrinkle Louisville will have to prepare for, as he is a threat to take it the distance every time, and having an all-conference DB next to him (CB Jamal Adams) also prevents teams from avoiding his side of the field.
Keys to the Game
- Don’t get bit on play action. For Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the main focus is trying to contain the first-team All-SEC back. However, the defense was bitten in the last two games by effective play-action games that Houston and Kentucky brought to the table. LSU could do the same thing against Louisville and find a lot of success, especially if Louisville cannot generate any pressure.
- Take care of the football. On offense, Louisville needs to take care of the football. They have been doomed by turnovers in their losses this season, and with a team that has two tremendous defensive backs, they cannot afford to give LSU chances with an explosive back and potentially lethal play-action pass. Ball security should also be a point of emphasis, as Louisville has lost nine fumbles in the last four games (including three to Wake Forest and Houston).
- Will Hikutini be the X-factor? With receivers Jaylen Smith and Jamari Staples likely going to be blanketed by White and Adams, tight end Cole Hikutini needs to come up big to relieve pressure off of Lamar Jackson. Hikutini has proven to be a match up nightmare against virtually every team this season, and it should be no different tomorrow. If Hikutini can get a statline of six catches for 80 yards, expect LSU to adjust and perhaps give Jackson an opportunity to take shots down field with his outside threats.
Justin Krueger: 28-23 Louisville. There’s a lot of bad mojo associated with this game, especially given that LSU has shown great improvement in protecting the quarterback and Louisville has played extremely careless football to close the regular season. LSU has a very strong running game, especially given that they (A) replaced Fournette and (B) are working with one of the most underrated coaches in football. I’ve flip-flopped on this game in the four weeks leading up to tomorrow, but something tells me Louisville will turn it around. LSU’s defense will contain Lamar Jackson for stretches, but LSU’s lack of a strong passing game will allow the Cardinals to make enough stops to win the game late.