LSU Tigers (7-4 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Louisville Cardinals (9-3 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Saturday, December 31, 2017 at 11AM EST
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: LSU -3/LOU +3
Over/Under Total: 59.5
The LSU Tigers take on the Louisville Cardinals in the Citrus Bowl from Orlando on December 31. LSU didn't have the season they would have liked, but with two close losses in a 5-2 run to end the season, they showed some good life late in the season and look for a strong finish against Louisville. The Cardinals in many ways had a huge season, thrusted back into national prominence of the strength of a prolific offense led by Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. The season, however, ended on a sour note with consecutive losses to Houston and Kentucky and one would be within their rights of asking what Louisville has left at this point.
Nothing against the Citrus Bowl, but it's important to gauge the mental levels of both teams heading into what is less-than a premier bowl game. LSU ended the season on a more-positive note and their interim coach Ed Orgeron was signed to a deal to become the head coach and there is more to be happy about for Louisiana State. Meanwhile, Louisville, at one time ranked very highly, ended the season with two upset losses where they missed covering the spread by a combined 74.5 points! It just ended so anticlimactically for the Cardinals, despite a season that was a success on an overall basis.
The Cardinals hit a wall in a 36-10 loss to a Houston team that was looking ragged. It's just that whatever mojo Louisville had came whooshing out of them suddenly in the last few games. With their last game having been on November 26 in a loss to Kentucky, can they come back all these weeks later and deliver in a spot like this? It's a fair question to ask. And when a team that once had their sights set on big things that ends the season so miserably and winds up in the Citrus Bowl, it's not always a good sign.
Still, the LSU defense should still see some of the things that made Louisville such a menace for most of the season. Lamar Jackson had one of the more-impressive statistical seasons in recent memory, basically cramming the production of a top quarterback and a premier running back into one player. Through the air, he threw for 3390 yards with 30 touchdowns. On the ground, he ran for 1538 yards and 21 touchdowns. That's awfully-impressive. On the ground, he gets help from Brandon Radcliff and Jeremy Smith, while his big aerial producers are James Quick, Cole Hikutini, James Quick, and Jamari Staples (questionable). All told, they were second in the entire nation in total offense and points, with an average of over 45 per game.
Unfortunately, the other side of the ball hasn't gotten better over the course of the season. There were times this season when they showed some nice balance. For much of the season, the front was very adept at getting after the quarterback, while being robust against the opposing run-game. Late in the season, it wasn't as evident. They gave up a combined 77 points in their last 2 games and generally just looked much more-ragged.
LSU's two losses in November were close—a 10-0 loss to the best team in the country in Alabama and a 16-10 loss to Florida. The Tigers ended the season with a shootout that a lot of people didn't see coming in a 54-39 win over Texas A&M. On one hand, they should be feeling pretty good about their coaching situation and the way they hung in there after a rough start to make something happen this season. At the same time, Leonard Fournette sitting the game out with the NFL draft up ahead deprived them of their prime offensive weapon. And for a team that didn't have a lot of offense in most spots this season, that could be a problem.
The general impression of LSU this season is one of disappointment. In a bottom-line sense, that's accurate, being that more was projected than the Citrus Bowl. At the same time, with Les Miles getting canned midseason and Louisiana State disappearing off most people's radar, reality not be as bad as perception in this case. Sure, quarterback play has been a problem and the offense struggled massively against the better defenses they faced. But in four losses, only Alabama was able to beat them by more than a score and that was just a 10-0 loss.
The LSU offense continues to struggle, at least aerially. Danny Etling ended the season with some big numbers against A&M, but the air-attack was not much of a concern for most of the campaign. Still, Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, and DJ Clark can make some things happen aerially. Without Fournette, the responsibility of the run-game falls into Derrius Guice's hands and he was big this season with 1249 yards and 14 touchdowns with a robust 8.0 rushing average. Look for guys like Darrel Williams to step up in Fournette's absence.
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Only five teams allowed fewer points than the Tigers did per game this season, as they allowed an average of just 16.4 points a game. The middle has been pretty solid with Kendell Beckwith (out) and Duke Riley. Also, Arden Key, Devon Gaudchaux, and Lewis Neal have been adept at getting after quarterbacks. Seven times this season, opponents were held to 18 or fewer points. And watching them handle some good offenses this season suggests they might be one of those defenses that gives an offense like Louisville's a lot of problems.
The point spread of LSU -3 reflects a lot of what we mentioned already in relation to Louisville's poor form at the end of the season, in addition to a potential letdown factor. Not that LSU losing their top-dog on offense is anything to take lightly. Still, a team's overall spirit is more important that one player. And with that in mind, I see LSU's defense playing hard enough to keep Louisville in check, as Etling and Guice led the offense to another good game against a dispirited Louisville defense. I'm taking the Tigers.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the LSU Tigers minus 3 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the LSU vs. Louisville game from the comfort of your own home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!