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Holiday Bowl Game Day: Louisville vs. USC

Go Cards.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Notre Dame at Louisville Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (10-3, 7-1) vs. USC TROJANS (7-5, 5-4)

Holiday Bowl

Game Time: 8 p.m.

Location: Petco Park: San Diego, Calif.

Television: Fox

Announcers: Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst), and Jenny Taft (sideline)

Favorite: Louisville by 6.5

Series History: First Meeting

Louisville Bowl History:

Statistics:

Louisville Uniforms:

Louisville Depth Chart:

Not Released

Relevant Videos:

About USC:

via Keith Wynne

OFFENSE

Louisville will look to end the season on a high note against one of the most prestigious football programs in the country in USC. Lincoln Riley will be finishing off one of the worst seasons in his career but will also have an opportunity to jump-start the immediate future of his program in this bowl game. Riley will be without some important players but he has done a great job bringing in talent since his arrival and we will all get to see how he can utilize that talent.

Caleb Williams is the most well-known player for either program but will not be playing this week. Williams will be sitting out as he prepares for the NFL draft. After winning the Heisman last year, many expected another run at the award but the team’s struggles ended that possibility pretty quickly. Miller Moss will replace Williams under center.

Moss is an experienced backup with a full season of games under his belt over three seasons. Moss has mostly played in mop-up duty but when he has been in the game he has been effective and accurate. He hasn’t been put in a position to have to throw the ball down the field or make many decisions, he has shown just enough to lead me to expect a solid performance. Moss can run fairly well if things break down and he has looked comfortable when he’s gotten on the field going back to his freshman year.

Running back will be another position that will have some unknowns. Marshawn Lloyd is headed to the NFL so I expect Austin Jones to get the bulk of the carries. Jones has over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns since the start of last season and he has an opportunity to showcase what he can do for NFL scouts.

While he only weighs 200 pounds, Jones runs like a much bigger back. He routinely sheds tacklers and runs through arm tackles. I was also impressed by how he transitioned from being a tough runner to realizing that he needed to turn on the jets and outrun people.

Zachariah Branch. That’s it. That’s the entire section about USC’s receivers. One of the most explosive players in the country, Branch will get touches in every way possible and he can score any time he touches the ball. UofL will focus on him as there aren’t any other proven threats. Here’s to hoping that the plan to stop him succeeds.

USC is ranked 107th in sacks allowed but the fact that more than half of their tackles for loss on the year have been sacks says a lot about their performance on the offensive line. PFF ranks the line as one of the better groups in the country which makes it pretty obvious that a lot of the sacks that were given up should be attributed to the quarterback.

USC’s running backs all averaged over 5.5 yards per carry individually which would lead me to expect an even larger focus on the running game from Riley. He has an offense that will be missing key players but his line has blocked well in the run game and the reliance on Caleb Williams won’t be an issue. I think he will get Branch the ball often but his running backs will be the key to the offense behind this offensive line.

DEFENSE

Lincoln Riley has never been known for fielding a great defense but his 2023 USC defense is one of the worst units in the country. Riley finally moved on from his defensive coordinator late in the season but not much changed afterwards. Alex Grinch wasn’t a scapegoat, but the issues are much deeper than the guy leading the group. Riley has prioritized his offense and the talent on the defensive side of the ball has suffered. With most of the starters playing in this bowl game, we could see a group that wants to play well for their new coordinator.

Bear Alexander was one of the top defensive linemen in the portal last cycle and he has delivered for the Trojans. Alexander leads the team in quarterback pressures and he has 5.5 tackles for loss on the year. He has been one of the few consistent players up front though he hasn’t been able to help much with poor run defense.

The edges of the defense are where USC makes their plays. Jamil Muhammed and Solomon Byrd have been the only players on the defense that have made many havoc plays. Both have double-digit tackles for loss and they each have 6 sacks on the season. I was a little surprised by how much they stood out when I watched the games. USC’s defense has been gashed all year but these two guys are very athletic and talented.

It’s impossible to watch USC and not notice Eric Gentry. The 6-6/215 linebacker had a strong 2022 season but the numbers haven’t been as good this year. He still makes some big plays from time to time but he was a guy that was everywhere for this defense last year and it just hasn’t been that way this season. He teams up with Mason Cobb on the inside at linebacker and both players have been inconsistent, to say the least.

The USC secondary has been no better than the front seven this season. USC’s pass defense is one of the worst in the country. They have given up 31 touchdown passes and they allow teams to complete nearly 63% of their passes. I do think a lot of their issues are due to a lack of pressure and aggression up front but too many times this year, opposing receivers are just running wide open.

Domani Jackson won’t be playing in the game, so the Trojans will be without their best secondary player but they do have a few guys who can make plays. Jaylin Smith has looked good at times from what I’ve seen. The nickelback can play against the run as well as cover the slot. Max Williams is a veteran safety who can run with receivers in coverage and come downhill in run support.

The one player that did stand out to me was safety Calen Bullock. He consistently made big plays in pass coverage in important moments. I expect Jeff Brohm to be aggressive in this game and throw the ball down the field more than we’ve seen lately. Bullock is the guy to look out for when it comes to making plays down the field in coverage.

Motivational Tweets:

Excitement Level: 7.8

It’s a big name opponent in a big bowl game that I grew up loving to watch around this time of the year, but with the lack of buzz and the opt outs on both sides, it’s sort of impossible to ignore that non-playoff bowl games (especially outside of the New Year’s Six) just aren’t what they used to be.

I’m excited, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not nearly the same level of excitement that this same spot would have had me in 10 years ago.

Game Attire: Red Louisville Cardinals Football crewneck

One last time.

Pregame Meal: Leftover Taco City

Not fancy, but it’ll get the job done.

Bold Prediction: Chris Bell catches two touchdown passes

It’s been a good, not great year for the bold prediction. Let’s end on a high note.

Jeff Brohm Tick Play Alert Level: Neon Carrot (medium)

The alert level doesn’t have a good feel on just how loose Brohm is feeling coming into this game.

Predicted Star of the Game: Jack Plummer

Why not? Light ‘em up, Jack.

Notable:

—Louisville is 12-12-1 all-time in bowl games and is appearing in a bowl game for the fourth time in five years.

—The Cardinals, who won the Fenway Bowl last season, have not produced bowl wins in back-to-back seasons since Charlie Strong’s final two years of 2012 and 2013.

—Louisville is looking to win 11 games in a season for just the sixth time in program history, and for the first time since 2013.

—USC has an overall postseason record of 34-20 (not including 1 win and 1 loss later vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record 35-21).

—This will be USC 57th all-time bowl appearance. The Trojans have the nation’s tenth highest bowl winning percentage (.630) among the 98 schools that have made at least 10 bowl appearances.

—Wednesday night’s game will be the first ever meeting between Louisville and USC.

—Louisville is 5-1 this season in games decided by one touchdown or less. The Cardinals are one of 11 teams in all of FBS with five or more wins by one touchdown or less on the year.

—The five one possession wins for Louisville are its most in a season since 2015.

—USC has a 33-18-2 record since 1935 in stadiums in years that they also served as baseball fields.

—Louisville is 3-0 all-time in bowl games played inside baseball stadiums, and 5-6 inside MLB stadiums overall.

—Louisville is 3-2 all-time in games against current members of the Pac-12.

—USC is 24-12 all-time in games against current members of the ACC.

—USC is 3-5-1 all-time in games played in San Diego.

—This will be Louisville’s first bowl game in the state of California since a 24-24 tie with Long Beach State in the Pasadena Bowl on Dec. 19, 1970.

—Jeff Brohm is the first coach in NCAA history to take two different teams to power conference title games in back-to-back seasons. He took Purdue to the Big Ten title game last season and Louisville to the ACC title game this year.

—Brohm is also the first coach to ever win double-digit games in his first season at Louisville.

—USC has a 44-32-7 (.572) all-time record while playing in the month of December (not including 2 wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 46-32-7, .582).

—Louisville is a 6.5-point favorite in this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. It’s the 11th time in 14 games this season that the Cardinals will take the field as a favorite.

—USC freshman WR Zachariah Branch has been named a Sporting News First Team All-American as a punt returner, USA Today First Team All-American as a returner and a PFF First Team All-American as a return specialist.

—Branch is USC’s first-ever true freshman First Team All-American. USC now has 176 First Team AllAmericans.

—USC QB Miller Moss has assumed the role of QB1 as 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams has elected to sit out of this game. This will be Moss’ first-ever start as a Trojan. Moss has seen action in 11 games throughout the last 3 years in his USC career. He is 43-of-59 for 542 yards and 3 TDs with no INTs.

—Louisville’s leading rusher (Jawhar Jordan) and wide receiver (Jamari Thrash) have both opted out of this game.

—Louisville has held each of its last 16 opponents scoreless on their first offensive drive of the game. The Cards have scored on their opening drive nine times in that span, eight times with a touchdown.

—Louisville has outscored its opponents 90-21 in the first quarter so far this season. Pitt and Miami are the only two Cardinal opponents to score in the opening frame.

—The winning coach of Wednesday night’s game will be showered with egg nog following the contest.

—Louisville head coach Jeff Brohm is 5-1 in bowl games

—USC has zero players on its roster from Kentucky, while the Cardinals have 6 players from California: DB Aaron Williams (Moreno Valley), QB Pierce Clarkson (Bellflower), TE Jamari Johnson (Inglewood), WR Jahlil McClain (Bellflower), DL Jermayne Lole (Long Beach) and K Nick Lopez (Huntington Beach).

—USC is 192-80-4 (.703) at night, including 114-36-4 in the Coliseum, 63-35 on the road and 15-9 at neutral sites (does not include 5 wins and 1 loss vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 197-81-4, .706 overall, 117-35-4 in the Coliseum, 17-10 at neutral sites).

—USC hasn’t won a bowl game since the thrilling Sam Darnold-led Rose Bowl in 2017.

—Louisville is 2-0 all-time in games played on FOX. The Cardinals defeated Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl on the network, and also opened the 2017 season with a win over Jeff Brohm’s Purdue Boilermakers on FOX.

—Louisville is 19-2 over the past five seasons when shutting out its opponent in the first quarter.

—Louisville has held six of its last nine opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

—Louisville has won 32 of its last 35 games when holding teams to less than 300 yards of offense. Its only losses in said situation have come this year against Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Florida State.

—Wednesday night’s bowl game will mark USC’s final contest playing as a member of the Pac-12. The Trojans will join the Big Ten before next season.

—Louisville is 84-31 all-time and 5-3 this season when playing as a team ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.

—Louisville has won 14 straight games when holding its opponent scoreless in the first half.

—Louisville has won the coin toss in 10 of its 13 games so far this season. The Cardinals have deferred and gotten a defensive stop after all 10 coin toss victories.

—Since 2019, Louisville is 26-4 when winning the turnover battle, and just 4-21 when losing it. The Cardinals have lost the turnover battle four times this season, and three of those times have resulted in their only losses of the season.

—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 300 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 201-14 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.

Quotable:

—“We’re definitely excited to play (USC) in the Holiday Bowl. I think our team understands you play a brand team like that, that it’ll be an exciting game and they have a ton of talent and (are) well coached and I think our guys be fired up to go out there and play.” —Jeff Brohm

—“I’m excited to play in the bowl game. You know, I’m going to give it my all one last time.” —USC S Max Williams

—“Obviously, we didn’t really end the season the way we wanted to, and that’s kind of stuck with everyone through the last couple of weeks, month or so. It’s kind of brought a little more sense of urgency to bowl prep, because it is a little different. You get some time off, and then you’re kind of a little bit back into camp mode. You got a lot of time off to prepare for one game, so it’s kind of built up that sense of urgency - especially in our room - to finish the season out right, to send guys out the right way and to set this program up the right way going into next season.” —Eric Miller

—“(QB Miller Moss) has had a unique journey in his time … he’s a guy that has really hung in there [and] he has continued to put in work, even though he wasn’t the starter. He’s learned our offense as good as any player on a roster and I think really earned the respect of the team. … You could argue he’s been waiting three years for an opportunity like this.” —USC head coach Lincoln Riley

—“What a terrific matchup for the DIRECTV Holiday Bowl. USC and Louisville are tremendous football programs and to have them square off right here in San Diego on Dec.27 is outstanding. Petco Park is going to be rocking. I’m happy for the DIRECTV Holiday Bowl. I’m happy for San Diego.” —Mark Neville, CEO of Sports San Diego

—“I love this program. I love football, and any time I get the opportunity to play, I’m going to play.” —USC WR Tahj Washington

—“I know those guys, that loss from Tulane was on their mind all offseason. So I definitely don’t want to go through that with them again. It’s all about finishing strong and going off to the offseason.” —USC DE Jamil Muhammad

—“It’s a one-game season, but one thing that I think we are trying to emphasize to the guys is, going into the offseason with the with the losses, it changes how you look on the offseason. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you lose a few, but you’re able to come out on top against a good team in a bowl game at a good site, you go into the offseason with a little bit- still that chip on your shoulder, but a little bit of a smile on your face, and understand that you guys still have what it takes.” —Stephen Herron

—“I’m doing this to make sure that the tone is set for the beginning of next year. I’ve taken pride in that … leaving that legacy on a high note for this team going into the 2024 year.” —USC C Justin Dedich

—“I think we’re gonna play the game to win like always try do and that’ll be the philosophy. We want to play the game to win. The roster will be slightly different. Without question, you could see some younger and new guys emerge with playing time and we’re definitely open to that.” —Jeff Brohm

Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 39, USC 33

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.