LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (7-5, 5-3) vs. TEXAS A&M AGGIES (8-4, 4-4)
Game Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Nissan Stadium: Nashville, Tenn.
Announcers: Mike Corey (play-by-play), Rene Ingoglia (analyst) and Ian Fitzsimmons (sidelines)
Favorite: Louisville by 3.5
All-Time Series: Texas A&M leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Texas A&M won 26-10 at Old Cardinal Stadium in 1994
Louisville Bowl History:
Louisville Depth Chart:
How does Jake Hubenak handle his first start?
The Aggies found themselves in a ridiculous situation after Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray decided to transfer a few weeks before the bowl game. Allen was the starter who had a big arm and the experience all coaches want. Murray was the true freshman that had the running ability that Johnny Manziel had and had shown signs of his potential when he saw the field. But, who is Jake Hubenak?
Hubenak was a player of the year in Texas as a Senior but he wasn't recruited by any division one schools so he walked on at Oklahoma State. His senior year of high school he threw for 4,000+ yards and he did the same at Blinn junior college last year. The latter led the NJCAA. Hubenak is very much an unknown but judging by the Auburn and Ole Miss games where he saw extended time, I think the Aggie offense could be fine with their third stringer. Hubenak showed that he can complete short passes accurately and that he can stand confidently in the pocket. Those are two things that guys tend to struggle with when they're untested. The read option would likely be off the table as Hubenak isn't a quick player but neither was Kyle Allen and they still ran it. I don't think that Hubenak playing helps TAMU or hurts UofL at all. The offense will be similar and unless a quarterback is a runner, not having film on him doesn't really mean much.
How does Louisville go about keeping Christian Kirk at bay?
Louisville has had a knack of letting the opposing team's best receiver have a big game.Kermit Whitfield, Steve Ishmael, Canaan Severin, Tyler Boyd, and DeMarcus Ayers all had solid or big games against Louisville even though everyone knew they were key players on their respective offenses. Whitfield, Boyd, and Ayers killed Louisville from the slot while Severin and Ishmael did their damage as outside receivers. Louisville hasn't adjusted their defense to compensate for a specific player all year but will they have to change that philosophy with the talent the Aggies have at receiver?
Christian Kirk was named the SEC freshman of the year and no matter how you might feel about the SEC being overrated or being overvalued, that's an impressive honor. Kirk gets about 14 touches a game for the Aggies and Louisville needs to try to cut that number in half. The first thing that they need to do is not kick to him on kickoffs and punts. John Wallace can kick the ball deep into the endzone so I would think that would be the strategy. on punts I think Louisville would be best served giving up a some field position by punting the ball higher and shorter or punting the ball out of bounds.
The TAMU offense will struggle more than it did with Kyle Allen and Louisville cannot give up easy points on a punt return to Kirk. Let's not forget that the Aggie offense wasn't all that great even with Allen playing so there's no guarantee that they play well at all against a good UofL defense. So why not give up 10 yards or so on special teams when there's a good chance it won't impact your defense?
When the Aggies do have the ball on offense I think that Louisville needs to put Jaire Alexander in the game as the nickel corner. He has a much better chance of hanging with a player like Kirk. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams are perfectly good players but they can't run in coverage like they've been forced to. Texas A&M will spread the field to get matchups and they will exploit them. If they don't want to change the personnel, they could at least move Jermaine Reve to the nickel spot. He at least has experience as a cornerback. Christian Kirk is the best guy they have on offense and Todd Grantham needs to adjust to make sure that they don't let the best receiver beat them again.
Texas A&M's focus with all of the distractions
Texas A&M has been an absolute circus since the end of the regular season. Kyle Allen decided to transfer, which is unbelievably rare for a starting quarterback. Kyler Murray was undoubtedly the next guy in line to be the starter and he decided to leave as well. After that, Chip Brown decided to add to the drama by reporting that the school president was looking for ways to get rid of Kevin Sumlin. It should be pointed out that this would be the equivalent to Matt Jones or Justin Rowland reporting the same about a UofL coach, but still. The report had to be refuted which is enough to cause a distraction. Players typically handle these types of things better than fans but one has to wonder if it's a factor.
What happens if the Aggies get down early? Do guys start to question the coaches just like the media is? Their defense played with a ton of fire and energy early on this year but as the losses built up you saw less and less of guys celebrating after big plays. If the offense struggles with Jake Hubenak I wouldn't be surprised to see guys start to show frustration. And then you have the very talented group of receivers. Playing with an quarterback that is struggling is a very hard thing to handle. We've seen it at times this year from Louisville's receivers. I think TAMU needs to have a really good start in this game or they're at risk of quitting on their coaches.
Louisville is looking for their first win against a "name" opponent since Notre Dame
You could ask fifty UofL fans whether this season has been a disappointment or a success and you'd probably get a split response. Some fans are pleased that the team responded to such a poor start and finished the regular season with seven wins. Others will point out that the team lost all of the "big" games except NC State. I wrote a long post about the need for the expectations for the program to be raised before the season started, so you can imagine what side of the vote I'm on. No matter how you slice it, UofL hasn't beaten a big name opponent since their road win at Notre Dame last year but they have the opportunity to change that. TAMU is starting their third string quarterback and Kevin Sumlin is (falsely, it seems) reportedly on the way out, but that doesn't change the fact that Texas A&M is one of the top programs in the country. They're not a traditional powerhouse like Texas in their own state or Alabama in their own division but Sumlin did have a Heisman trophy winner and a 12-win season. The Aggies have also been able to recruit at an extremely high level and they have multiple All-Americans on their roster right now.
The move to the ACC meant that Louisville would have more opportunities to play high level competition. FSU (2), Clemson (2), Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, Auburn, and A&M are all programs that are nationally known and Louisville can only claim two victories. Throw in losses to Houston and Pitt this year and the reality is that UofL has mostly only beaten the teams they're supposed to. With Tom Jurich being willing to put literally any big time school on the schedule, that needs to change. A win in the Music City Bowl would be a good start.
Excitement Level: 9.0
It's our last chance to watch Louisville play football for about nine months, and the Cards have an opportunity to notch what I think would easily be the biggest win of their 2015 season.
Game Attire: Jeans, red Louisville zip-up, black Louisville coat (potentially), grey Cardinal bird hat
It's been an interesting year for the game day wardrobe already, and the tweener weather for tonight should make it an appropriately interesting decision for the final game.
Pregame Meal: No idea, beer
We're doing the radio show from 3-6 (2-5 locally) from the pregame party at the Wildhorse Saloon, so I have no idea what my food options are going to be for kickoff.
Bold Prediction: Reggie Bonnafon throws a touchdown pass
I believe we are 1 for the last 2 seasons right now, but I feel good about this one.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Ultramarine blue (oddly pessimistic)
The alert level was overly confident for the Kentucky game and now I think it's overcompensating.
Predicted Star of the Game: Brandon Radcliff
If these game day posts have taught you anything in 2015, it's that Brandon Radcliff is going to the be the star of the 2015 Music City Bowl.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
--Louisville is 9-9-1 all-time in bowl games, and has won in four of its last six postseason appearances. It's only losses over that span have come in the 2011 and 2014 Belk Bowls.
--Louisville is 2-3 in bowl games under the direction of Bobby Petrino.
--Texas A&M will be seeking its fifth bowl win in the last five seasons, which would (momentarily) tie Michigan State for the longest streak in the nation.
--Texas A&M is 17-19 all-time in bowl games.
--Louisville is 28-2 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only two losses came last year at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Texas A&M has lost its two primary quarterbacks -- Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray -- to transfer in recent weeks, meaning Jake Hubenak will be making his first career start on Wednesday night.
--This is Louisville's first appearance in the Music City Bowl, but the Cardinals will be playing in the post-season in the state of Tennessee for the fifth time in school history. The Cardinals have played in the Liberty Bowl on four other occasions.
--Louisville is already guaranteed to finish 2015 with its sixth straight winning season.
--Texas A&M ranks third nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 8.6 per game.
--Louisville is 20-29 all-time against teams from the state of Texas.
--Texas A&M freshman WR Christian Kirk already owns the freshman school record with 1,659 all-purpose yardage and needs 127 all-purpose yards in the bowl game to match the overall school record of 1,806 set by Cyrus Gray in 2010.
--The Music City Bowl is Texas A&M's seventh straight bowl berth, which is the longest streak in school history.
--Bobby Petrino is 3-0 against Texas A&M, with all three wins coming when he was the head coach at Arkansas.
--Louisville has won 13 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, and has lost eight of its last 12 when receiving the opening kickoff.
--Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett leads the SEC in QB sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (18.5) and forced fumbles (5).
--A win would give Bobby Petrino his 100th victory as a college head coach.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 198 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 169-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-101 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"We go back a long way with Kevin and his philosophy and all of us have some patterns on what we like to do schematically and what we believe in. Then you try to mix them up on what your players' strengths are. One of the great challenges we have is they are very, very talented at the receiver and running back positions. It's really going to be more about how we defend that and how we defend the schemes that Kevin likes than just one person." --Bobby Petrino
--"I've been looking forward to this day for a very long time." --Lamar Jackson
--"Louisville is really athletic. Look at them, great team speed defensively, one of the top teams in the country defensively. Really, really big up front. They're used to playing in big games. It's going to be a heck of a game." --Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
--"When we're at things like the welcome party, you enjoy it. When we're given free time you go out and enjoy yourself. But we came here to win the game, and that's the most important thing." --Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett
--"Being a young team that we had this year, there were times when we weren't playing fast. We were hesitating and we weren't sure. But I do think that the last five games of the year, we got better at that. We improved, and maybe at times we cut back a little bit so that we could play faster." --Bobby Petrino
--"When you're inside the situation, I don't think you see any turmoil. What we see is we've had bowl practices and we've concentrated on the guys that are here, and there really has not been a distraction inside the program." --Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
--"When you have guys with skill and the athletic ability to get the ball on the perimeter, in space, they can turn a missed tackle into a double-digit gain. And they're sound in what they do. They like to run the ball more than most people think. They've always had good offensive linemen. So when you spread guys out and you're physical up front, you're going to have the ability to create seams for your runner or you can throw it outside to guys who can make plays one-on-one. I think it's a combination of all that that allows them to be effective." --Todd Grantham
--"The thing is you get to recruit a lot of them and we've got some good character kids around our quarterback now and Jake Hubenak is ready to roll." --Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital
--"We're playing against a very good opponent, a high-profile opponent. Our team will be really fired up and want to go out and represent our program, represent our university the right way so that everybody in the country can see we are one of those teams that everyone in should be thinking and talking about. So it's really important for us to represent ourselves and our school the right way." --Garrick McGee
--"We're used to what comes with playing in a bowl game. We've got a way we do things bowl game-wise, whether it is here or Houston. Our bowl record kind of speaks for itself. We like to enjoy the town, but we also like winning." --Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
--"I think it's great for us, for our team, for the fans. I think we should have the home field advantage and that always helps get us inspired. It's a night game, so our guys will be rowdy. I like that too. It's all been good. I'm excited to see our fans and have a great bowl game." --Bobby Petrino
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 28, Texas A&M 24