Updated: 12/27/2017: Injury Update
Bulldogs linebacker Dezmond Harris (57 tackles) is expected to suit up, and Bulldogs’ leading receiver Keith Mixon (275 receiving yards) will also play. Bulldogs QB Nick Fitzgerald will be out, and freshman QB Keytaon Thompson will get the start in his place. The Rebels rely on their running game to do most of their damage offensively, and rank 15th in the Country with 249.6 rushing yards per game.
Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander (19 tackles, 1 INT) will be sitting out in preparation for the NFL draft.
Louisville Cardinals (8-4; 5-7 ATS; 6-6 O/U) vs. #23 Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4; 7-5 ATS; 4-8 O/U)
The Mississippi State Bulldogs will do battle with the Louisville Cardinals in the Taxslayer Bowl on Saturday, December 30th from EverBank Field in Jacksonville. The Cardinals went 8-4 on the season and recorded a 4-4 record in ACC play, while the Bulldogs finished the regular season with an 8-4 record and posted a 4-4 record in SEC action. The Bulldogs hired Joe Moorhead as their new head coach after Dan Mullen took the coaching vacancy in Florida. Moorhead was the offensive coordinator in Penn State the last two seasons.
All Eyes on Cardinals Star Lamar Jackson
The Louisville Cardinals head into their eighth consecutive bowl game as favorites against 23rd ranked Mississippi State. They finished the season off with three straight wins which included a 44-17 win over Kentucky in their season finale. Star quarterback Lamar Jackson had another spectacular season, recording 3489 passing yards with a 25:6 TD to INT ratio, and led the Cardinals with 1443 rushing yards with 17 rushing TD’s. Jackson posted a 7:0 TD to INT ratio in his last three games, and rushed for over 100 yards in his final six regular-season games. Louisville’s dangerous running game also features two solid running backs highlighted by Malik Williams who averaged a dazzling 8.4 yards per carry on 518 rushing yards. Cardinals’ top receiver Jaylen Smith would have posted 100 receiving yards if he did not miss three games. The 6-foot-4 junior accumulated 873 receiving yards in nine games played. Louisville’s offense will face a tough task against a talented Bulldogs’ defense, however, they are more than capable of putting up points. They are averaging 560 total yards and 39 points per game.
The Cardinals defense was outstanding in their final three regular season games, however, they were inconsistent at times over the course of the season. They are effective against the run but have struggled against the pass. Louisville has won four of their last five games and went 0-2 against ranked teams this season which included a 47-21 loss to Clemson.
Bulldogs Aiming for Third Consecutive Bowl Victory
The 23rd ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs will be targeting their third straight bowl win against a powerhouse Louisville offense. Bulldogs’ QB Nick Fitzgerald injured his ankle in the regular season finale and is out for the season. He only collected 1782 passing yards with a 15:11 TD to INT ratio, however, he notched 984 rushing yards. Freshman QB Keytaon Thompson will get the nod in this one. He tallied 195 passing yards and added 121 rushing yards in the Bulldogs’ 31-28 loss in their regular season finale. The Bulldogs rely heavily on their productive running game to generate offense. Aeris Williams will be a key factor in this matchup. The junior running back recorded 1019 rushing yards this season and eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times. Bulldogs’ leading receiver Keith Mixon missed the last two games with a foot injury and is questionable for this one. Mississippi State averaged 32.1 points this season, ranking them 37th in the Country. They managed to score 24 points against Alabama’s number one ranked offense.
The Mississippi State defense is their greatest strength as a team, and they are battled-tested. They faced several powerhouse offensive opponents in the tough SEC, so they will be ready for Louisville. They are outstanding against the pass and are only allowing 302 total yards per game, good for tenth in the Country. The Bulldogs went 1-3 against ranked teams this season which included a close 31-24 loss to number one ranked Alabama.
The Louisville Cardinals are:
- 1-6-1 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games.
- 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games after recording more than 450 total yards in their previous game.
- 1-6-1 ATS in their last 8 games following a straight up win of more than 20 points.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are:
- 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog of 3.5 to 10 points.
- 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games against a team with a winning record.
I am taking the points with Mississippi State in this matchup. Mississippi State is one of the stronger defensive teams in the Country, and they are effective against both the pass and run. They are holding opponents to an average of 127 rushing yards per game, and they were able to contain several strong offensive teams this season. Furthermore, Louisville is below average defensively, and they had some terrible defensive performance this season. They allowed 41 points to Clemson, and 42 points to Wake Forest, and I am confident the Bulldogs offense can solve this defense as well. Mississippi State only lost by seven points to Alabama, so I am confident taking the points with them in this matchup.
Pick: Mississippi State
Mississippi State should have a big game offensively against a subpar defense, and the Louisville offense is strong enough to do some damage. I expect the Bulldogs to run the ball with success, against a Louisville team allowing an average of 27 points per game, plus the over is 4-1 in their last five games against ACC opponents. While I do expect the Bulldogs to at least contain the Cardinals, Lamar Jackson is a great talent and he will still do some damage, and the over is 11-4 in the Bulldogs’s last 15 games following a straight up loss.