The Sunshine State is becoming a familiar holiday destination for Mississippi State football fans.
The Bulldogs (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC) were invited to the TaxSlayer Bowl on Sunday for their fifth bowl in Florida in the past eight seasons. It’s the third time in that span that MSU will play at Jacksonville’s Everbank Field, this time against Louisville (8-4, 4-4 ACC) at noon on Dec. 30.
Here are 5 things to know about Louisville:
1. Lamar Jackson is good
Perhaps you have heard of him. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy last season as a sophomore, the first player in Louisville history to claim the award.
This season Jackson has been just as impressive, but the Cardinals lost three of four in the middle of the season and as a result Jackson has not had nearly as much Heisman buzz. Check out his numbers, though, and remember that last year’s totals include a bowl game:
2016: 3,543 passing yards (8.7 per attempt), 30 TDs, 9 INTs, 148.8 rating; 1,571 rushing yards (6.0 per carry), 21 rushing TDs
2017: 3,489 passing yards (8.7 per attempt), 25 TDs, 6 INTs, 151.5 rating; 1,443 rushing yards (6.9 per carry), 17 rushing TDs
Jackson tops the ACC in both passing and rushing yards and leads the nation in total yards at 4,932. And that was with every defense knowing that its primary focus needed to be on stopping him.
2. It has been a while
Mississippi State and Louisville have met before, but Bulldogs fans will need a long memory to recall those games.
The teams played each other in four straight seasons from 1973-76, so long ago that the Cardinals were in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first two and an independent for the last two. MSU won all four meetings, by an average of 20.75 points.
In 1974, MSU defeated Louisville 56-7. That was the most points the Bulldogs scored in any game in the 1970s … or 1980s. In fact, that 1974 game was tied for the most points the Bulldogs scored in a game between 1950 (a 67-0 win over Arkansas State) and 1994 (a 66-22 victory over Tulane).
3. Bobby Petrino is on opposite sideline …
Bulldogs fans will recognize the head coach on the other sideline.
Bobby Petrino was the coach at SEC West rival Arkansas from 2008-11 and went 3-1 against Mississippi State in that span. Petrino left the Razorbacks in a cloud of controversy and it took him three years to get back into the Power 5 as a head coach.
Petrino, in the fourth year of his second stint as Cardinals coach, is 75-26 in eight total seasons at Louisville and owns the school record for most victories and best winning percentage (.743).
4. … and so is Peter Sirmon
Louisville’s defensive coordinator, Peter Sirmon, held the same post last season at MSU.
The former NFL linebacker also has had stints as an assistant at USC, Washington and Tennessee. His Cardinals are 71st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed per game (27.1) and 58th in yards allowed per game (386.8).
5. More on offense than just Jackson
Sure, Lamar Jackson is the player all Bulldogs fans will, and should, keep their eyes on.
But wide receiver Jaylen Smith joined his quarterback as a member of the All-ACC first team. The junior is fifth in the ACC this season in receiving yards with 873, including a career-high 183 on nine catches against North Carolina on Sept. 9. He averages 16.5 per catch, fifth in the ACC, and is one of three Cardinals in the league’s top 10 in that category, joining No. 8 Dez Fitzpatrick (15.53) and No. 9 Seth Dawkins (15.48). Fitzpatrick is tied for the league lead with nine touchdown catches.