College football “bowl season” reaches it zenith this New Year’s Weekend, and the LSU Tigers are a part of the reason why. Aside from the College Football Playoffs this Saturday, the Citrus Bowl match-up between LSU and the Louisville Cardinals (11ET at Camping World Stadium in Orlando Florida, on ESPN) should prove to be just as intriguing for college football enthusiasts.
Now let’s be perfectly honest: unless you are cheering for the winners of Saturday’s games among Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson or Washington, fans are gearing up to watch their favorite team play what will be the final game of the season.
And to be even more blunt: The Citrus Bowl is great, but the Tiger Nation faithful were hoping for something more along the lines of a playoff berth.
Nevertheless, this will be the 17th straight bowl bid for LSU.
But yet, LSU fans had lofty expectations for a team that started the season ranked in the Top 10. A 2-2 start saw those expectations falter and long time head coach Les Miles lose his job.
Enter Ed Orgeron.
Oct 1, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers interim head coach Ed Orgeron during the fourth quarter of a game against the Missouri Tigers at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Missouri 42-7. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
His fiery speeches and player friendly attitude turned around the Tiger’s season. LSU finished the season on a 5-2 run; and even though Coach O couldn’t beat Alabama as well as lost a very winnable game against Florida, the Tigers finished the season strong by blowing the doors off an accomplished Texas A&M squad.
I’ll circle back around to that game against the Aggies last month, in just a minute.
LSU faces one of its toughest challenges in Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense.
The 2nd ranked Cardinal offense is high powered, and Jackson has a myriad of weapons at his disposal — the biggest being himself.
Nov 26, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) tries to evade the tackle of Kentucky Wildcats cornerback J.D. Harmon (11) during the second half at Papa John
Jackson has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season, with only 9 interceptions.
In comparison, LSU Quarterback Danny Etling has only thrown 10 touchdowns on the season with 4 interceptions. That number is extremely low even with the fact that the Tigers have Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice in the backfield. Add in Lamar Jackson’s 21 rushing touchdowns and the numbers speak for themselves.
Alabama Quarterback Jalen Hurts is about as close a comparison athletically as LSU has seen this season. Still, Jackson is on another level.
On the flip side, Jackson has not seen a defense the likes of LSU.
Players like Arden Key, Davon Godchaux and Duke Riley will put pressure on Jackson to make plays from the pocket; and that’s not even mentioning the studs in the Tiger secondary, Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams.
There will be little room for error as this group will capitalize on the slightest mistakes. As I mentioned in a previous article, the LSU defense vs Lamar Jackson will be the match-up to watch.
Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers defensive end Arden Key (49) and safety John Battle (26) celebrate after a defensive stop against the Mississippi Rebels during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
We all know that the Danny Etling led LSU offense isn’t even in the same stratosphere with Louisville, but lets take a look at that game against Texas A&M I mentioned earlier.
LSU’s offense put up a whopping 622 yards against a pretty good SEC defense. The Tigers possessed the ball for 35 minutes and put up 54 points.
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Where was this team all year, you ask? That’s a legitimate question.
Regardless, it is well known that Leonard Fournette will not be playing in this game, so the focus of the offense will be on Derrius Guice.
Guice ran for 285 yards in his last outing and is putting defenses everywhere on notice for 2017.
Leonard Fournette who?
I’m kidding of course, but what other team in the country can put away a Lamborghini and pull out a Ferrari?
The Cardinals boast a pretty confident bunch on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Ranked 12th in the country, Louisville has 7 players with at least one interception. Cornerback Jaire Alexander has five interceptions and Safety Chucky Williams has three.
Add to the fact that they are Top 10 in the country against the run, and this sets up an intriguing matchup against Etling and Guice.
Nov 26, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals tight end Cole Hikutini (18) runs the ball against Louisville Cardinals safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) and safety Chucky Williams (22) during the second quarter at Papa John
Etling is known as a game manager and doesn’t turn the ball over at an alarming rate, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of airing it out (again, another reference to the Texas A&M game).
Etling went 20-28 for 324 yards and two touchdowns. I still fully expect a healthy dose of Guice , Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette.
One little side note on a piece of this game that not too many people are talking about: the kicking game for Louisville. Blanton Creque has been pretty solid for the Cardinals all year but he has missed three kicks and one extra point.
He has also failed to make a kick beyond 40 yards. In a game against a formidable defense, points will be at a premium — and I am pretty sure Creque will be called upon to make kicks of 40+ yards.
Additionally: the head coaching advantage is clearly in favor of Bobby Petrino.
He may be a snake in the grass, but he is also a winner. He knows how to prepare his team and his quarterback. Losing to Kentucky is a huge blemish on his record, but I am sure that is more motivation now than anything.
He has the best player in the country on his sideline, now he has to prove that his offense can defeat top tier defenses.
Oct 1, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers interim head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates following a win in his first game against the Missouri Tigers at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Missouri 42-7. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Now that Ed Orgeron is the head Tiger in charge for the foreseeable future in Baton Rouge, the pressure is on.
LSU needs to win this bowl game to have everybody feeling good about making him the head coach. There are still many out there who feel that LSU “settled” for Orgeron after failing to land Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher.
The players love Orgeron and seem to play hard for him. But — being likeable doesn’t win you games, just ask Nick Saban.
Louisville may be ranked higher, but this LSU team is loaded with “next level, Sunday-caliber” talent.
There will be no shortage of talent on both sides of the field Saturday when these two teams clash in Orlando — but in the end, it’s the Tigers who will prevail……
LSU 37 Louisville 30