St. Petersburg, FL – Tropicana Field
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Has there ever been a bowl with a better name? If the on-field play is as good as the sponsored moniker, I don’t see how this game can go wrong. “Beef” is a good football word in general, and for this game specifically. The matchup between Southern Miss and Louisville features a powerful Golden Eagles offense going up against a stingy Louisville defense, and the big eaters on the lines will help determine the outcome. On the offensive side of the ball, Southern Miss is a juggernaut. Ranked #15 in the nation in total yardage, the team is led by junior QB Austin Davis, who is a Top 50 quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. The Eagles have a solid ground game, averaging better than 200 yards per game, and post nearly 38 points per week. The success at the skill positions starts up front with an offensive line that has done an excellent job of keeping Davis upright. Southern Miss ranks 25th in the nation in sacks allowed, and that blocking has turned into points. But the USM defense has been victimized this season, especially through the air. And that could be bad news.
Southern Miss gives up nearly 30 points per game, and Louisville expects QB Adam Froman to be back under center this week. Froman has had some injury trouble this season, but when healthy he can be effective. And if he stumbles, the team can turn to the nation’s 10th-ranked tailback, the talented Bilal Powell. Powell averages better than 120 yards per game and should play a major role on Tuesday.
Then there’s the Louisville defense. Remember that head coach Charlie Strong is the former Flroida defensive coordinator; he’s worked wonders with the Cardinals’ stop unit. Lousiville ranks 12th in the nation in total defense and 9th in passing defense- bad news for Austin Davis. And the meaty defensive line is 5th in sacks with more than 3 per game.
- Southern Miss: Quarterback Austin Davis will need to play a strong game if he hopes to succeed against Charlie Strong’s excellent pass defense. Because his defense has struggled to stop opponents, Davis needs to plan on scoring. Lousiville gives up fewer than 19 points per game; Will Davis be able to find the endzone enough to keep his team close?
- Louisville: If Bilal Powell is able to run on the Eagles’ 13th-ranked rush defense, then Southern Miss will be in trouble. USM ranks 103rd against the pass, which suggests that whoever ends up playing QB for the Cards will have plenty of opportunities to go down the field. Therefore, Powell becomes the game-changer. If he can find success on the ground and keep the Southern Miss offense on the sidelines, Lousiville will be in good shape.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
When it comes to the Southern Miss passing game, we’ll be seeing strength against strength. The #9 pass defense versus Austin Davis will be a critical matchup. But the key positional battle is the Eagles’ by-committee running game against Louisville’s 52nd-ranked rush defense. We know what to expect from each team when it comes to the passing attack, and if the UL secondary is able to limit what Davis can do, USM will have to turn to the run. Kendrick Hardy, Desmond Johnson and company will be responsible for moving the ball when Davis falters, but if the Cards’ defensive line can be effective agains the run, that couldn be easier said than done.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Whose line is beefier? These are 2 teams that have flashed some talent this year, but that have also suffered some major inconsistency through the season. The more balanced offense will probably come out on top, but the X-Factor is who will control the line of scrimmage. If the Lousiville front seven can get into the USM backfield, the Cardinals will win. But if Austin Davis’ o-line can keep him safe, the Eagles may have the upper hand.
Louisville is playing well, and getting Froman back should give Charlie Strong more options offensively. With a few extra weeks to prepare, Strong should have his defense ready to shut down the USM passing game. If USM struggles to throw, then Lousiville should be able to control the flow of the game. Expect big things from Powell as the Cardinals roll to victory.
PREDICTION: Lousiville 31, Southern Miss 20