Everything you need to know about LSU's bowl opponent: Louisville
With LSU headed to the Citrus Bowl, the College Football Playoff committee had two choices:
Send Louisville to the Orange Bowl and set up a showdown between LSU and the coach that turned it down, Jimbo Fisher of Florida State.
Or, send Florida State to the Orange and match LSU’s defense, one of the nation’s best under coordinator Dave Aranda, with the likely Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
We got the latter matchup.
LSU (7-4) will have to be up bright and early on New Year’s Eve for the 10 a.m. (Central Time) kickoff against 9-3 Louisville.
Here’s everything LSU fans need to know about the Cardinals:
Season in review
It’s been the Lamar Jackson show. The Heisman Trophy favorite has passed for 3,390 yards and rushed for 1,538 while making the Cardinals an ACC and playoff contender.
But to dismiss this team as just being about Jackson misses this key fact: Louisville also has a heck of a defense. The Cardinals allow just 316.3 yards per game, statistically better than LSU’s 323 yards per game allowed.
So how does a team that’s so dominant on both sides of the ball lose three games? It’s a theme LSU is familiar with: The Cardinals either dominated games, or lost them. Of the Cardinals’ nine wins, only one (32-25 over Virginia) was a one-score game. Seven of the wins were by at least four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were 1-2 in one-score games and, notably, lost their last two — 36-10 to Houston and 41-38 to Kentucky, their only game against an SEC team. Before that, the Cardinals were in serious contention to be a New Year’s Six team and possibly a Playoff team.
What they do best
LSU has not seen a quarterback quite like Jackson.
While Jalen Hurts of Alabama and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly were true dual threats, Hurts was not the downfield passing threat Jackson is and Kelly was not the explosive running threat Jackson is. LSU’s challenge will be to both contain Jackson in the running game and avoid the chunk passing plays.
Want to see what Jackson’s capable of against a talented defense? Check out what he did to Florida State in what’s still Louisville’s best win, a 63-20 trouncing of the Seminoles on Sept. 20.
Louisville is also pretty good on defense, led by James Hearns (11 tackles for loss and eight sacks) and Chucky Williams (66 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries).
Louisville’s best offensive player
It’s a strange year in the Heisman Trophy race when a player can fumble the ball away in the closing minutes of a 41-38 loss to Kentucky that likely cost his team a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl and still come out of it as the odds-on favorite to win the award.
But the entire resume has simply been that good for Jackson, whose ability to spread the ball around — seven receivers have at least 13 receptions — while still being a threat with his feet make him a unique talent.
Louisville’s best defensive player
While other Louisville players have put up bigger numbers, nobody has made offenses worry more than outside linebacker Devonte Fields. While his 42 tackles (8 for loss) and five sacks might not seem like huge numbers, the fact that he was the Cardinals’ lone first-team all-ACC defensive player speaks volumes.
The former TCU star, who was dismissed in Fort Worth but found a rebirth in Louisville, had eight quarterback hurries, broke up three passes and intercepted one. LSU will have to be aware of where he is because the Cardinals may drop him in coverage as often as they bring him in the rush.
Louisville’s bowl history
This will be the Cardinals’ 21st bowl game and they will come in with a 10-9-1 bowl record. But the record has become more impressive lately with seven straight bowl appearances, four under Charlie Strong and three more in the second tour of duty at Louisville for current head coach Bobby Petrino.
In the current streak, Louisville is 4-2, including last season’s 27-21 win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. The Cardinals are 3-1 all-time against the SEC in bowl games, losing to Georgia 37-14 in the 2014 Belk Bowl and beating Alabama, 34-7 in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl, and Florida, 33-20 in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
The Cardinals have been to three New Year’s Six bowls, as they are now called, going 3-0. Aside the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl wins, Louisville beat Wake Forest 24-13 in the 2006 Orange Bowl.
Of course, LSU fans know Petrino well. He went 34-17 as Arkansas’ head coach from 2008-2011. The Tigers and Razorbacks split four meetings before Petrino was fired after it was revealed he was having an affair with a worker in the football office. … Petrino was mentioned by many outlets as a potential candidate for the LSU job this year, but that talk never went beyond speculation. … This will be the first meeting between Louisville and LSU in football. The most notable meeting between the schools was in the 1986 Final Four when the “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison-led Cards beat a Cinderella LSU team 88-77 in the semifinals en route to the national championship.