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TaxSlayer Bowl Game Day: Louisville vs. Mississippi State

Go Cards.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports


Game Time: 12:03 p.m.

Location: Everbank Field: Jacksonville, Fla.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Tom Hart (play-by-play), Jordan Rogers (analyst), and Cole Cubelic (reporter)

Favorite: Louisville by 7

Series: Tied 2-2

Last Meeting: Mississippi State won 30-21 on Sept. 18, 1976 in Starkville but the game was later forfeited

Series History:

Louisville Bowl History:


Louisville Uniforms:

Depth Chart:

About Mississippi State:

via Keith Wynne


For the first time since I started doing these breakdowns a handful of years ago, the opposing team doesn’t have a coach or coordinator that I can actually base anything off of. Dan Mullen took the Florida job after the regular season and he’s already brought his coordinators with him to start recruiting and evaluating. That leaves a handful of coaches behind to figure out what plays to call and what identity they will even have on both sides of the ball.

On offense, I would expect things to be a little more status quo because the system has been in place for a good while. Mullen has been pretty steady in his offensive style and Interim head coach Greg Knox should be able to at least mimic things as he was the run game coordinator.

Knox being tasked with the running game is fitting as he will be starting a true freshman at quarterback who hasn’t shown the ability to throw the ball extremely well as of yet. Keytaon Thompson will make his first start of the season after Nick Fitzgerald’s ankle was dislocated and/or broken in the Egg Bowl. The offense was centered around the quarterback before but I’m not so sure that the Bulldogs will rely on Thompson as much.

Thompson is a big quarterback that was compared to Cam Newton coming out of high school. He put up 72 total touchdowns last year for one of the best programs in Louisiana and was a big steal for MSU in the class. However, I don’t think anyone expected him to have to play this season. Mullen got him into nine games this season in ether garbage time or planned plays to get him experience, but his inexperience showed in their big rivalry game against Ole Miss. Thompson struggled to get comfortable in the pocket and he also struggled to make quick decisions when running the ball. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he is the prototype for a power spread type of offense that Mullen ran but he needs to show that he can create big plays like Fitzgerald did.

The running back spot for MSU is very strong in my opinion but they weren’t relied on all too much because of Fitzgerald’s running ability. Aeris Williams is a 1,000 yard rusher with Kylin Hill backing him up with over six yards per carry. Both backs are big guys who can rip off a big run at any minute. Hill is the more talented player, in my opinion, but Williams is a consistent performer who played very well in some of their bigger games this year. Louisville offer much resistance against the best backs on the schedule this year but they have to find a way to slow down the Dogs rushing attack in the bowl game.

MSU lost their top receiver from last year and they haven’t had a single player that has stepped up to even soften that blow. You can typically tell where a team struggles by looking at their incoming recruiting class. MSU’s top three signees are wide receivers and they’re all very good. The staff knew they didn’t have the horses at this spot and went hard after some top guys. This is an area where an aggressive approach by Peter Sirmon could pay off. There isn’t too much of a threat for the receivers to beat you.

The Bulldog offensive line is the strong point of the offense. Martinas Rankin is one of the best tackles in the country and should help Thompson avoid an improved pass rush. The line is a veteran group that has been really good from a run blocking standpoint while also doing well to keep Fitzgerald clean in the pocket. Ole Miss had a lot of success with pressure packages against this line so I could see Peter Sirmon trying to do the same with the lack of threats in the passing game to worry about.


Louisville fans typically have mixed feelings towards Todd Grantham but most learned this year that he wasn’t nearly as bad as the complaints about him made it seem. Gratham blitzed too often and it burned his defense a lot. But, the idea that his defense was bad on third downs was a myth. His defenses were also very good in pretty much any metric you could find.

This year Grantham was able to take a defense that performed very poorly under Peter Sirmon and turned them into a strong unit. Grantham had some help from new guys that were brought in from JUCO but he was also much better at utilizing the four and five star talent that he inherited. Those same guys that had a poor season a year ago helped the Bulldogs dominate some good offenses as well as hold their own against some really good ones.

Montez Sweat is a good example of one of the guys Grantham was able to take advantage of as a new member of the defense. Sweat led the SEC in sacks this year with 9.5. He manned the rush end/OLB spot that Grantham’s system needs to be successful. He’s also the prototype for a pass rusher at 6-6 and 240 pounds. MSU will likely use him as a constant pass rusher like NC State used Bradley Chubb in hopes that Lamar Jackson will get uncomfortable and make some mistakes.

The best player on the Bulldog defense is former five star Jeffery Simmons. Simmons was the 18th ranked player in the 2016 class but didn’t see the field all that much in his first year. That changed in his second year as he became a ridiculously disruptive force at nose guard. Simmons plays with a high motor and he can make plays once he gets through the line. That’s what sets him apart in my opinion. It’s one thing to beat a double team or beat your man. When you can also make the play, you can become a big player for your defense.

I don’t know that MSU will blitz as often with Grantham not calling the plays but I do think that the plan will be to use Simmons to crash the pocket while Sweat rushes from the outside. Clemson had success with that plan and the Bulldogs actually have the players that could at least try to do the same.

The group of linebackers for MSU are really good and pretty deep. Errol Thompson was a pretty highly rated middle linebacker out of high school that Grantham recruited to Louisville. Leo Lewis was the top rated inside linebacker in his class and Willie Gay was the third ranked outside linebacker in the class last season. The talent is obviously there and they have some experienced players who get some snaps, too. I don’t know that these guys can stop a guy like Lamar Jackson but they are definitely have the speed and athleticism that you need for me to at least consider they can.

If I were a betting man, I would expect MSU to blitz a good amount even without Grantham. It just makes more sense with Lamar Jackson being such a threat to run the ball. They also have the guys to run him down. Thompson can get downhill really quickly and with Simmons closing down the pocket, he is the kind of guy you need to take advantage of an uncomfortable quarterback.

The secondary for the Bulldogs is strong but they were exposed a few times this year against teams with good offenses. Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama all averaged over thirteen yards per attempt with UGA putting up a ridiculous 16.8 ypa. They faced the fifth least amount of passes in the country this year so some of their numbers are a bit misleading, but they do pretty well at limiting completions. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 51% of their passes and they were at their best against teams that didn’t have strong running games. It’s almost as if Grantham’s insanely aggressive system makes it easy to run play action against it.

Mark McLaurin leads the team in tackles from his safety spot while former UofL target Jonathan Abram is second. J.T. Gray wasn’t a beneficiary of the coordinator change but he has found a nice spot at safety and nickel in the new system. Gray has more tackles and tackles for loss than anyone on the roster and should matchup well in the slot against UofL.

The corners will likely be the question mark for the Bulldogs. They weren’t able to even stick with one corner this year and none of the four that they played were able to make any big plays for them. Jamal Peters was a highly rated guy coming out of high school but his move to corner hasn’t worked out very well. I think that Grantham kept him there because of the lack of depth at the position and it tells me just how poor they are there. This is where Louisville can really win in my opinion. They should be able to beat these corners if they bring a lot of pressure like I predict they will.

Excitement Level: 7.4

I hate that it’s this low for Lamar’s last game, but yeah, it’s been an exhausting ... well, like three years, but really exhausting these last couple months. Obviously we’re all cheering to go into the offseason with a W, but I don’t think is where any of us were hoping the 2017 campaign would end.

Game Attire: Jeans, black U of L pullover, grey Cardinal bird hat

Sticking with the outfit that helped get us on this winning streak.

Pregame Meal: Rumors wings, beer

It’s the last game of the year, I’ve had to work way more than anyone should have to work this week, Louisville lost to Kentucky by a billion in basketball; I’m gonna treat myself this afternoon. Diet starts Jan. 2.

Bold Prediction: Louisville runs multiple trick plays

We haven’t seen hardly any of this stuff in 2017, so here’s thinking Bobby busts out a handful of plays he hasn’t had an opportunity to use this year.

Zykiesis Cannon Interception Alert Level: Apricot (last chance to dance)

Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson

Once more. For old time’s sake.


—Louisville is 10-10-1 all-time in bowl games, and is appearing in a bowl game for the eighth straight season.

—Mississippi State is 12-8 all-time in bowl games.

—MSU is vying for its third nine-win season in the past four years and just the ninth nine-win season in the 118-year history of the program.

—Louisville is 3-4 in bowl games under the direction of Bobby Petrino, including 1-2 in Petrino’s second stint with the Cards.

—Mississippi State’s senior class has won 33 games, which is one shy of tying the school record of 34 set by the 2015 and 1942 senior classes.

—This is Louisville's second appearance in the TaxSlayer (formerly Gator) Bowl. The Cardinals were defeated by Virginia Tech in the 2006 Gator Bowl.

—This is the sixth time the Cardinals have played in a bowl game in the state of Florida. Louisville is 3-2 in those games, including a loss to LSU in the Citrus Bowl last season.

—This is MSU’s seventh all-time bowl appearance in the state of Florida (3-3) and fourth bowl in the Sunshine State in the past five years. The Bulldogs blocked a field goal attempt with five seconds remaining last season to prevail 17-16 in the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl against Miami (Ohio) last season at Tropicana Field.

—Mississippi State will be playing in the TaxSlayer Bowl for the third time. The Bulldogs are 1-1 in the bowl game all-time.

—Mississippi State is one of five SEC teams that have been to a bowl every season this decade (Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M the others). MSU's streak of eight straight bowls is currently the fifth-longest in the SEC.

—Louisville has one of the nation’s top offenses, averaging 560.5 yards per game, which ranks third in the country. Averaging 351.7 yards on the ground in the last three games, the Cardinals are 13th nationally in rushing with an average of 249.9 yards per game.

—Mississippi State is averaging 249.6 rushing yards per game, which is 14th nationally and third in the SEC (best ypg at MSU since school-record 280.5 in 1980).

—Louisville has scored over 30 points in six straight games and 10 times during the course of the 2017 season. The team ranks 13th nationally with an average of 39.0 points per game.

—Louisville is 3-2 against SEC opponents in bowl games. The combined scores of the five games is 117-117.

—Louisville has won seven of its last nine games in the state of Florida and three of its last four bowl games there.

—For Mississippi State, true freshman QB Keytaon Thompson will make his first career start in place of injured QB Nick Fitzgerald, who broke his right ankle in the first quarter of the Egg Bowl last month.

—Fitzgerald was second in the FBS behind Louisville's Lamar Jackson in games with 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing this season (6). Fitzgerald, Jackson and USF's Quinton Flowers were the only QBs nationally to throw for over 1,700 yards and rush for over 900 yards.

—The 8-year bowl streaks for both Louisville and Mississippi State are tied for the 13th-longest in the country.

—Louisville QB Lamar Jackson leads the nation in total offense with 4,932 yards (3,489 passing, 1,443 rushing) and is on pace to set ACC season and career records for total yards per game.

—If Jackson gets 26 yards rushing and 126 yards passing against Mississippi State, he will join Colin Kaepernick as the only players in NCAA history to run for 4,000 and pass for 9,000 yards in a career.

—Louisville is 10-4 in bowl games when no opposing player rushes for 110 yards and 0-6-1 when one does.

—MSU's defense ranked in the Top 25 nationally in six categories: total defense (10th - 302.0), passing defense (13th - 175.0), rushing defense (24th- 127.0), scoring defense (24th- 20.4), third down conversion (12th- 31.0) and first down defense (1st - 12.9). They forced 21 turnovers and produced an SEC-leading four defensive touchdowns.

—Mississippi State will be playing without the bulk of the coaching staff that guided the team in 2017. Most of that staff left with former head coach Dan Mullen, who accepted the same job at Florida earlier this month.

—Louisville defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon was Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator a season ago. The man Sirmon replaced, Todd Grantham, served as the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs this season before moving on to Florida with Mullen.

—Louisville is the only team in the nation ranked in the top 15 in both rushing offense and passing offense.

—Louisville is 19-36-1 all-time against teams from the SEC, but 3-2 against SEC opponents in bowl games.

—Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander and linebacker James Hearns will both sit out the bowl game to prepare for their professional careers.

—U of L has totaled 6,726 yards of offense, 200 shy of breaking the school mark for total offense in a season. Louisville needs 274 yards to become the first team in school history to register 7,000 yards of total offense for the year.

—Mississippi State has allowed just 11 sacks this season, the fewest by a Power 5 team.

—Louisville is 38-4 under Bobby Petrino when winning the turnover battle, and 13-1 in games where they commit zero turnovers. That mark includes the team’s last two games against Syracuse and Kentucky.

—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 224 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 183-12 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-106 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.


—”The reason I chose to play in it is because my teammates sat out throughout the year, you know, they had injuries but came back into games trying to help us out, make us come out with victories in big games. They didn’t have to. I just felt I owed that to them.” —Lamar Jackson

—“You stand on your foundation. That's what we've done as a team. The kids understand the situation they're in. But the foundation has helped them get through the adversity of this situation.” —Mississippi State interim head coach Greg Knox

—“Whenever a family experiences hard times, it can either break you down or bring you closer. I feel like throughout this whole process, we just got closer as a team.” —Mississippi State linebacker Dez Harris said

—“Scheme-wise, it's kind of up in the air a little bit because they're having two new playcallers on offense and defense. You always wonder how that's actually going to play out. But our preparation has been basically on what they've done throughout the year, how they've utilized their players, what we think they'll do because what they believe they can do.” —Bobby Petrino

—“I don’t know if you slow (Lamar Jackson) down. You just hope to contain him. He’s going to get his yards. It’s like playing Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was going to get his points every night. You hope to contain him, not let him get out of control, eliminate big plays. He’s a special player.” —Mississippi State interim head coach Greg Knox

—“I’m back home. I can’t wait to go and play for our Louisville fans.” —Lamar Jackson

Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 38, Mississippi State 28