LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (7-5) vs. CINCINNATI BEARCATS (9-3)
(Battle for the Keg of Nails)
Game Time: 11 a.m.
Location: Fenway Park: Boston, Mass.
Announcers: Chris Cotter (play-by-play), Mark Herzlich (analyst), and Kelsey Riggs (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 2
All-Time Series: Cincinnati leads, 30-22-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 31-24 (OT) on Dec. 5, 2013 in Cincinnati
Louisville Bowl History:
Louisville Depth Chart:
The 2022 Wasabi Fenway Bowl is going to have some of the most absurd subplots for a bowl game in history. Louisville’s head coach Scott Satterfield left the team to take the job at Cincinnatti the morning after the matchup was announced. UC had already lost their head coach and some assistants to Wisconsin and their offensive coordinator quit during the search for a new head coach. Add in a substantial amount of production that has opted out of the bowl and this could be a rough game for the offense.
Ben Bryant was lost for the season with an injury so the Bearcats will be relying on former 4-star Evan Prater to lead the offense. Prater has started the last two games with mixed results but he was a big-time win as a recruit and you can see the flashes of why that was. Prater completed 70% of his passes in his first start and ran for 83 yards in his second. The Bearcats haven’t opened things up much with Prater under center but that could change with a skeleton staff.
The running game is where UC was most impressive to me. Charles McClelland is the leading rusher with over 800 yards on the season and an average of nearly six yards per carry. The Bearcats use a rotation with Corey Kiner and Ryan Montgomery also splitting some of the carries but the McClelland is the focal point. UofL has to handle the inside/outside scheme that they run as they will stretch the field with speed pitches to the outside as well as inside counter runs and zone runs.
It can be very hard to keep up with which players are playing in bowl games and which ones are not but Cincy may only have a few receivers with game experience this weekend. Tyler Scott is the star of the offense and he will be suiting up for the game. Outside of him, however, no other receiver with more than 11 catches will be playing. Cincy is essentially down to Scott and Leonard Hamilton who is a blocking tight end.
Scott is an excellent receiver with the speed and ability to score on any catch. He is coming off of a game where he dropped a pass on fourth and fifteen that hit him right in the chest. He could have possibly scored on the play and won the game for his team. As he has not opted out of this game and hasn’t hit the transfer portal, I’d imagine he will be looking to atone for such a bad play.
The Cincy offensive line doesn’t stand out in any significant way. Their run blocking grades from PFF is solid but not outstanding. They do give up a lot of sacks as they are ranked 94th in the country. With the lack of receivers available, I expect the offense to be very run heavy with a reliance on this offensive line to open up running lanes for the backs.
Cincinnati football has been known as a blue-collar program for a while now and that has definitely been the case over the last few years. Luke Fickell always brought his defense and I fully expect Kerry Coombs to do the same as the interim head coach. The Bearcats handled most offenses this year with ease but they had some moments where they gave up explosive touchdowns. Coombs will likely bring an aggressive plan to the bowl game.
Cincy has great size up front with former Virginia standout Jowon Briggs manning the middle of the defensive line. Briggs surprised many when he transferred from UVA but Cincy is where he is from and he made the call to go back home. The 6-1/313 senior will be a handful for the offensive line.
Eric Phillips and Jabari Taylor man the defensive end spots and both have had solid seasons. UC doesn’t have a lot of length up front but all of these guys have good size and they have shown good quickness in the games that I’ve watched. Dontay Corleone is also a very nice player that has shown up in these games. He backs up Briggs on the inside.
The key to the defense is All-American Ivan Pace Jr. at the linebacker spot. Cincy runs a 3-3-5 look and Pace is in the thick of it on every play. He finished the regular season with 120 tackles, 19.5 for loss, and 9 sacks. The production is one thing but Pace is the most athletic and twitchy player on the field when you watch Cincy’s defense. He is just so quick with his movements and so active. Where I’ve seen teams have some success is when they have run misdirection as Pace can get out of position due to being so aggressive. Hopefully, UofL can find some success there.
UC plays a group of guys at linebacker but Jaheim Thomas is the player that stood out to me. He is a former high-level recruit that you can’t miss when you watch the games. He is 6-4/245 and he can run. With the defensive line eating up blocks, it works well for UC to have linebackers who can fit gaps and not be pushed around. One thing that has been noticeable in some of the games I’ve watched is running backs getting to the edge and finding space to run.
The Bearcat secondary lost two of the best corners in the entire country from last year’s team but they were able to hold their own without them. Unfortunately, Ja’quan Sheppard has opted out of the bowl and has transferred to Maryland for his final year. JQ Hardaway also hit the portal, so I’m not totally sure who UC will play at this spot.
Ja’Von Hicks and Arquan Bush are two of the better playmakers in the back end. Byron Threats also has two interceptions on the year. This group seems to be more solid in the scheme as opposed to being the outstanding talents Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant were last season. Overall, the secondary has some experience to work with but being down two guys can’t be helpful.
Excitement Level: 7.5
I don’t want to lose to Cincinnati and I don’t want to lose the Keg. If we win, I’ll be obnoxious. If we lose, I’ll act like I barely watched and bowl games don’t matter.
Game Attire: Red Louisville hoodie
I’ve been wearing it for every big win this week and I’m hoping to wear it for three on Saturday.
Pregame Meal: Bagel and coffee
Love a breakfast pregame meal.
Bold Prediction: A defensive player is named the game’s MVP
It feels like it’s either going to be that or a running back. We went 3-9 on bold predictions this season, so let’s try and go out on top here.
Rance Conner Interception Alert Level: Jungle Green (he is no longer on the team)
This is the second straight year the Alert Level has found itself in this situation for the bowl game.
Predicted Star of the Game: Yasir Abdullah
Would only be right.
—Louisville is 11-12-1 all-time in bowl games and are appearing in a bowl game for the third time in four years.
—Cincinnati is playing in its fifth consecutive bowl game and 22nd all-time. The program is 10-11 in bowl games.
—With a win, UC can reach 10 wins in a season for the fourth time in five years and only the 10th time in the 135-year history of the program.
—The Louisville defense has racked up 81.0 tackles for loss through 12 games. That number is the 11th-most in the FBS and third in the ACC. It’s also the second-most in school history, with the school record being 109 TFLs in 2000.
—Cincinnati ranks fourth the country with four defensive touchdowns this season. Louisville has three.
—Neither team will be playing this game with the head coach who guided them during the regular season. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell accepted the head coaching job at Wisconsin earlier this month, and Scott Satterfield left Louisville to take Fickell’s old job.
—Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch is serving as Louisville’s interim head coach. Kerry Coombs, who coached UC’s secondary this season, is serving as the interim head coach for the Bearcats.
—Cincinnati ranks fourth in the country in yards per play allowed (4.52).
—Fenway Park will be the eighth MLB stadium that Louisville has played a football game in.
—Louisville and Cincinnati previously made three times inside Riverfront Stadium, the former home of the Cincinnati Reds.
—Louisville is 3-0 this season when holding the opposition to less than 300 yards of total offense. The Cards have won 27 games in a row when holding teams to less than 300 yards of offense.
—Deion Branch will be the first former NFL player to coach the Louisville Cardinals in a game. Jeff Brohm, who was named Louisville’s new full-time head coach last week, will be the second.
—This will be Louisville’s second bowl game against a non-SEC team since the Cardinals joined the ACC in 2014.
—Louisville is a 2-point favorite in this game according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The Cards are 7-5 against the spread this season and 5-2 straight up as a favorite.
—Louisville is outscoring its opposition 170-102 in the second half of games this season, including 85-48 in the third quarter.
—Since 2019, Louisville is 19-4 when winning the turnover battle, and just 3-18 when losing it.
—The Cards have turned the football over 12 times in their five losses this season and seven times in their seven victories.
—Led by Ray Guy Award finalist Mason Fletcher, Cincinnati ranks second in the nation in net punting (44.69).
—Louisville is 11-5 in bowl games when no opposing player rushes for 110 yards and 0-7-1 when one does.
—Cincinnati football has the 12th-most wins in college football over the last 15 years (since 2008), winning 70% of its game with a record of 133-58 to go along with seven conference titles, seven 10-win seasons and 12 bowl appearances in that stretch. Only Oklahoma (9), Ohio State (8) and Alabama (8) have more league titles since 2008 than UC (7).
—Since 2019, Louisville is 8-0 when scoring 40-49 points, and 3-0 when scoring 50 or more.
—Since 2019, Louisville is 1-11 when being held to 21 points or fewer, with their lone win coming earlier this season in a 20-14 triumph over UCF.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 286 games dating back to a 31-0 loss to Florida State during the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the second longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech, and the 10th-longest nationally.
—Louisville is 197-14 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 6-121 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—“I told both teams that I am removing myself from the bowl game. I won’t be there, not going to be in that situation. I am staying away from that.” —Former Louisville and new Cincinnati head coach Scott Satterfield
—“We had the opportunity to play against UK. That’s our original rival. But this one here is even more. This one here, it’s even better for our guys. It dates back over 100 years and the last time we played was in 2013.” —Deion Branch
—“The fact that Deion (Branch) played in New England and we’re going to Boston, he’s our head coach - we want to bring back a win for him. We want to bring back a win for this team. Winning eight games isn’t easy. So we want to accomplish that and we just want to get ourselves in the right direction going forward, finishing with a W and send us off in the offseason with really positive momentum.” —Brock Domann
—“It’s one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to spend these two weeks with these guys. t’s an incredible group of young people. When adversity hits and things are tough, you find out really what you’re made of. These kids have demonstrated, regardless of the outcome of the game Saturday, and how they play, they have demonstrated to themselves and their teammates, what true toughness looks like... when the window of opportunity opens, you don’t pull the shade down, you go run right through it. That’s what our kids are doing. They’ve embraced it and I’m excited for them.” —Cincinnati interim head coach Kerry Coombs
—“(The Teddy Bridgewater GIF) was kind of like what sparked my interest in (the rivalry), and so just being a Cincinnati kid growing up hearing about the Keg of Nails and then finally getting the opportunity to play in it, I’m just extremely excited and never thought it would be at Fenway Park.” —Cincinnati QB Evan Prater
—”I’ve heard that this rivalry was just as big as UK at one point. It’s just an honor and a blessing to be able to get this game back going and in this type of situation in this bowl game so really looking forward to it.” —Caleb Chandler
—“It’s going to be interesting. Two teams on the same sideline makes me nervous as all get out, but we’re going to handle it. It’s different, it’s unique, it’s cool. I keep looking at the field, and one corner of the end zone about runs into something. There’s lots of things to think about. … But when you think about all of the great baseball players who have walked out of that tunnel, it ain’t all bad.” —Cincinnati interim head coach Kerry Coombs
—“It’s (both teams sharing a sideline) weird as hell, and I don’t think it’s going to work. I’m very interested and excited to see how it goes down.” —Cincinnati DL Jabari Taylor
—“It’s a wild ride. But, to be honest, that’s how college football is now.” —MoMo Sanogo
—“The whole conversation was about which team was tough as nails. That’s where the Keg of Nails came from, and it’s been around for a long time. We made sure they understood. If the contest is going to be who’s tough as nails, then let’s go find out. That’s what our kids pride themselves on. It’s a really cool rivalry.” —Cincinnati interim head coach Kerry Coombs
—“I think the most important thing (is that) we fight for this Keg of Nails. It’ll be great. These guys will have a lot of fun with it.” —Deion Branch
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 23, Cincinnati 19