LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (9-3, 5-3) vs. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (9-3, 6-2)
Game Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Bank of America Stadium: Charlotte, N.C.
Announcers: Anish Shroff (play-by-play), Kelly Stouffer (analyst) and Cara Capuano (sideline)
Favorite: Georgia by 7
All-Time Series: First meeting
Louisville's Bowl History:
|Louisville Bowl Results (9-8-1)|
|2010||Beef 'O' Brady's||Southern Miss||31-28||W|
|2013||Russell Athletic||Miami (Fla.)||36-9||W|
Louisville Depth Chart:
Georgia won't light the world on fire with their passing game, but one thing that Hutson Mason does well is protect the football. All season long Louisville has faced teams with quarterbacks that don't value the football. That won't be the case this game against Mason. Georgia doesn't ask him to do much but Mason is completing nearly 70% of his passes and he's only thrown four interceptions. Georgia likes to keep the passing game within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Mason only has to make one read and get rid of the ball. They also do a lot of quick screens, bubble screens, running back swing passes, running back screens, and middle screens. It's pretty much the way you would pass the ball in a video game if you had a bunch of fast guys outside. Georgia doesn't have amazing speed at the skill positions, but they do an outstanding job of using their passing game as an extension of the run. I've watched a lot of Georgia games and highlights over the lat week and I've yet to see Hutson Mason throw the football more than 20 yards down the field. If Mason doesn't have that ability it could be a major issue against a defense that has been very good at stopping the run overall.
Here's how good I think Nick Chubb is: Barring injury, he will be a perennial All-Pro in the NFL. Chubb became the starter six games into the season and the only time he's been held under 129 yards was in a game that he only carried the ball 9 times. He still finished with 113 yards. Chubb is the best running back that Louisville will face this year and he has the system and offensive line to make him that much better. What separates Chubb from some of the other backs we've seen this year is his ability to break tackles. Brandon Radcliff has become a fan favorite this year as he has shown his determination and grit when carrying the ball. Chubb isn't as quick or fast as Radcliff, but he is much better at running through defenders. He doesn't break a tackle and slow down. He just runs through guys which makes you gang tackle. If everyone isn't bringing it when he has the ball in his hands he will get a lot of chunk runs. It will be interesting to see how much Georgia uses backup running back Sony Michel. Michel is more of a scatback or speed back that Richt could use to try to gash Louisville on the edge.
The Bulldog's lack of diversity in the passing game has turned a fairly talented group of receivers into a group that seems more like Boston College's receivers. Malcolm Mitchell leads the team in catches per game, but he is only averaging around 9 yard per catch. Michael Bennett is a lanky receiver that tends to do a little of everything. He's a threat down the sideline because of his size, but he's also a guy that can beat you on a slant route. Chris Conley is the best of the group. He's made the biggest plays in the passing game this year and he's the biggest receiver of the group. Conley leads the team with 7 touchdowns catches and he also averages 18 yards per catch. Louisville will have to account for all three as well as tight end Jeb Blezavich but they haven't shown this year that they can really take over a game.
Georgia's offensive line is an unsung group of guys. Greg Pyke and David Andrews were both named second team All-Sec performers but the rest of the group probably deserved some notoriety. Georgia has only given up 15 sacks this season while also only allowing 5.33 tackles for loss a game. When you combine that with the fact that the running game averages 6 yards per carry it's hard to discount the role the line has in the success of the offense. Georgia has faced seven teams this year that have what I would consider good pass rushes. To only surrender around one sack a game is extremely impressive.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Nick Chubb, WR Chris Conley, C David Andrews, RG Greg Pyke
Georgia lost Todd Grantham last season and some felt they upgraded with the addition of former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It's impossible to know if that's true but Pruitt has done a pretty good job with a solid group of players leftover by his predecessor. Pruitt is running what I call a 2-5-4 defense at Georgia. Ray Drew and and Mike Thornton are the two down linemen in his scheme. Drew has been a steady performer in his career at Georgia. He does a great job of getting penetration when needed as well as holding up blockers to free up linebackers behind him. Thornton is a big body that is responsible for keeping backers clean and plugging interior run lanes. Both are big keys to the defense as a whole as they give the second level players room to run.
The group of linebackers at Georgia are arguably the best in the nation. Led by Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson in the middle with Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter on the outside, the linebackers accounted for the vast majority of the sacks and tackles for loss for the team. Star outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is out with a shoulder injury so I'm not totally sure how the defense will adjust without him. (He missed the UK game this year but I honestly couldn't find any video of the game online). Carter started in place of Floyd in that game so that leads me to believe that they adjusted the defense to a 3-4 alignment. Kentucky went on to put up the third highest point total UGA allowed this year including 24 points in the second quarter. Floyd is a major loss for this defense as he's the most active and disruptive pass rusher. Carter played unbelievably well against UK but he's not yet the player that Floyd is. This group isn't an overly fast or shifty group of players so without a solid pass rush the underneath out routes that Kyle Bolin killed UK with should be open again.
The secondary was thought to be the weak spot of the defense coming into the season but that hasn't been the case at all. Georgia is only allowing 10 yards per completion and they are are second in the nation in yards allowed per game. The 106.36 opponent rating is 11th in the nation and the list goes on. UGA has a secondary that is filled with freshmen and sophomores but senior Damien Swann is the leader of the group. Swann mans the "star" position and lines up all over the field. He will match up as a corner one play and the next as an extra linebacker. Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman man the corner spots when Swann is in a different role. Both have the size and speed to matchup with Louisville's receivers and they have both played well against pretty good receivers. Quincy Maugerlooks to have been the odd man out when Georgia adjusted things against UK. He leads the team in interceptions and is somewhat of an enforcer in the middle of the field so I expect him to get plenty of snaps no matter what. The deep safety for Georgia is Dominick Sanders. He is one of two freshmen in the secondary and he is also one of the five players on defense that have scored a touchdown this year.
KEY PLAYERS: OLB Jordan Jenkins, MLB Amarlo Herrera, MLB Ramik Wilson, OLB Lorenzo Carter, DB Damien Swann
Excitement Level: 9.6
One of the only negatives about playing a high-level schedule for the first time in recent memory is that I feel like it's made the excitement for this game much lower than it would have been in recent memory. This a 13th-ranked perennial power from the SEC, and a potential win that I think you'd have to slot somewhere in the top 20 of U of L's all-time list. This is a big opportunity and a big deal.
Game Attire: Red Cardinal bird shoes, black Louisville track jacket, red Titleist Cardinal bird hat.
The outfit is 4-0 this season, including 3-0 away from PJCS. Easy call.
Pregame Meal: Pizza, beer.
Classic bowl watch party.
Bold Prediction: The game goes into overtime.
This is it. It's all on the line here. If this game does not go into overtime, then I will successfully complete an imperfect 0-13 season on bold predictions.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Mulberry (yet again, not lookin' good)
Predicted Star of the Game: DeVante Parker
At this point it feels borderline irresponsible to consider anyone else.
I promise to leave my heart and soul on that field today with my brothers, why? Because their victory means the world to me!!! #DESTROYuga— LoZo Mauldin IV (@Lozo_Mauldin_IV) December 30, 2014
GAMEDAY!!!!— DeVante Parker (@TalentedYoung9) December 30, 2014
GAMEDAY! pic.twitter.com/gxQlpnVpXj— Reggie L. Bonnafon (@RegSoSpiffy1) December 30, 2014
Here's To One Last Time— Lj Scott II (@ljscII_27) December 30, 2014
Last go round http://t.co/nRCC5Rk5CK— Stacy Thomas (@diosprimero32) December 30, 2014
--Louisville is 9-8-1 all-time in bowl games, and has won in four of its last five postseason appearances. It's only loss over that span was in the 2011 Belk Bowl.
--Georgia will be making its 50th bowl game appearance tonight. The Bulldogs are 27-19-3 all-time in bowl games.
--Georgia's 27 bowl wins and 50 bowl appearances both rank fourth college football's all-time lists.
--Louisville will be wearing its black uniforms for tonight's game.
--Georgia's streak of 18 consecutive seasons with a bowl game appearance is tied for the third longest in the country.
--Louisville has won five consecutive games against teams from the SEC, a streak which includes the team's 2013 Sugar Bowl win over Florida. The streak against the SEC is the second longest in the country.
--Georgia's running backs are averaging a school-record 6.1 yards per carry.
--Georgia has the No. 12 rushing offense in the country, averaging 255 yards per game on the ground.
--Georgia has 35 rushing touchdowns, which ranks second in the UGA history trailing only the 1971 team (39), and stands at the 12th spot nationally in Rushing Offense at 255.0/game. The Bulldogs rank eighth nationally in scoring at 41.7 points/game and are on pace to set a school record in that category (37.8, 2012).
--Gerod Holliman needs one interception to set a new FBS single-season record.
--Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker has compiled more than 100 yards in four of the five games he's played this season.
--A victory would give Louisville back-to-back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins for the first time in program history.
--Georgia is fourth nationally in Turnover Margin at +15 or 1.25 per game.
--Louisville ranks second in the nation in interceptions with 25.
--Louisville has won 15 consecutive non-conference games, a streak which dates back to the 2011 Belk Bowl loss.
--Louisville is 22-1 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The lone loss came earlier this season at Clemson.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 184 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind Virginia Tech (253) and Georgia Tech (219).
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 150-16 when scoring 30 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-100 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points, something which happened in the Cards' 44-40 victory over Kentucky last month.
--Louisville is 10-5 against ranked opponents since 2006.
--At No. 13, Georgia will be the fourth highest-ranked team Louisville has ever played in a bowl game. Only Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, Virginia Tech in the 2006 Gator Bowl and Boise State in the 2004 Liberty Bowl were ranked higher.
--This will be the first Belk Bowl game to ever feature a pair of top 20 teams.
--"When you watch them on film, they're a very good football team. They've got a really good offensive line, big running backs, the quarterback has completed 69 percent of his passes and doesn't throw a lot of picks. Defensively, they've got a great pass rusher, and they run and tackle well. So it's a great challenge for us." --Bobby Petrino
--"It's not fun to lose any game. But it's part of the business, and that's why we worked so hard in this game, knowing it's gonna be the last little taste in our mouth that we're gonna have. That's why I wanna take care of business this week." --Georgia head coach Mark Richt
--"I don't want to give them comparisons to any team in our conference. They're not one of the teams in our conference. They're a team in their own conference, and we've gotta treat 'em like that." --Georgia CB Damian Swann
--"The name speaks for itself. Hearing names like Georgia or Florida pop up on the screen, it gives us chills. No one thought we could compete on that level." --Sheldon Rankins
--"There's a lot of teams you have to sit up here and blow smoke up 'em because it's got to be politically correct, but I don't need to blow these guys up. Their statistics and who they are as a defense speak for themselves." --Georgia QB Huston Mason
--"I've got a lot of respect for the people there, both the coaches and the players. This is not the first time a coach has faced a team he was coaching the year before. That's par for this business." --Todd Grantham
--"Coach Grantham is always juiced. Nothing has changed. He's keeping it the same, the way he's been doing it all season." --Keith Kelsey
--"Let's go 10-3, not 9-4, and finish this thing off right. It's been a heck of a season for the offense. Those are things when you're looking back - even though you didn't accomplish the goals you wanted to accomplish - no one can take away that you were part of the best offense in Georgia history." --Georgia QB Huston Mason
--"(Nick Chubb)'s one man, and one man can't beat you. They've got other guys on that team we've got to worry about. We can't just worry about him and forget about other guys." --Terrell Floyd
--"Yeah, we want to get to 10 wins. That's certainly something our seniors would be very proud of so they can look back at their career and see the double-digit winning seasons they've had." --Bobby Petrino
--"Finishing in the top 10 alone is something to really cherish for the rest of your life, and we have that opportunity. I just want to spend New Year's Eve with a good feeling." --Georgia QB Huston Mason
--"Being a part of Louisville is my foundation. Louisville is what built me. Basically the fans, the coaches, the players, friends, they've all given me an opportunity to be a part of their lives and be able to blossom as I did, and all I can do is cherish all of that and help as much as I can, wherever I can." --Lorenzo Mauldin
--"We're trying to put a stamp on the program. We're trying to get the program in the talk with those elite programs out there. Any opportunity we have to play one of those elite teams, like Florida, Miami and now Georgia, we try to make sure that we do everything and anything possible to get ready for that game." --Jamon Brown
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 34, Georgia 28 (2 OT)