Louisville Cardinals vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Date – Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Location – Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida
Time – 8:00 pm
TV – ESPN Rece Davis (play-by-play), Mark May (color analyst), Lou Holtz (senile), Rob Stone (sideline)
Radio – Paul Rogers (play-by-play), Stefan LeFors (color analyst), Doug Ormay (sideline)
Series – Southern Miss leads 18-9-1
The Cards return to a bowl game after a three year hiatus and look to give UofL fans everywhere a nice Christmas gift with a win in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. To do so, they must defeat a familiar foe in Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles and Cardinals met last year in a regular season game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in which the Cards won 25-23 on a late field goal by Ryan Payne, aka that damn barefoot kicker.
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Most Cardinal fans remember some of the classic match-ups between Louisville and Southern Miss.
There was the famous Brett Favre hail-mary in 1989, the game in 1999 in which Southern Miss converted a fake punt despite committing five separate infractions (none flagged) leading to a USM victory, and the double overtime game in 2002 won by the Cardinals. These two have a knack for close games and this year could very well be another one.
Even though these teams met a year ago, both are very much different teams than the two that met last season. In the 2009 game, Southern Mississippi faced the Cardinals without starting quarterback Austin Davis. Not only were the Golden Eagles facing Louisville without their starting quarterback, it was their first game without him. Davis is only 231 yards shy of breaking Brett Favre’s school mark for passing yards. I’d say losing a player of his caliber would make it difficult for any team to win.
From the UofL perspective, the hiring of Charlie Strong has changed everything. We all know the impact Charlie has made at Louisville, so I think it’s fair to say what happened between the two teams last year can be largely thrown out. Having said that, let’s take a look at this year’s Southern Mississippi squad.
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Larry Fedora’s Golden Eagles went 8-4 and finished 5-3 in Conference USA. USM last played November 26 in a 56-50 loss to Tulsa. Southern Miss opened the year at South Carolina, a tough opener for anyone, and lost 41-13. They scored a big home win over Kansas 31-16 in September and entered conference play 3-1.
During conference play, the Golden Eagles erupted offensively. USM runs the spread offense and it is very efficient. Their point totals in C-USA games are strait out of a video game. They scored 50 or more points three times, over 40 points seven times. Their lowest point total was a paltry 31 points in a win over Central Florida.
For the season, USM ranks 15th in total and scoring offense, 21st in rushing offense, and 31st in passing offense. They show good balance offensively. The Golden Eagles rush for an average of 203 yards per game and 254 yards through the air.
Quarterback Austin Davis leads them offensively. He has thrown for over 2890 yards, completes 63% of his passes, and has 18 touchdown passes to only 6 interceptions. Davis also has 571 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He’s an extremely talented player and the Cards will have to keep him in check somehow.
The Golden Eagles leading rusher Kendrick Hardy. He has gained 855 yards on 127 carries and scored 7 touchdowns. Hardy splits the carries with his quarterback and fellow running back Desmond Johnson. Johnson rushed for 509 yards on 105 carries and also scored 7 touchdowns.
Southern Mississippi utilizes many different receivers. They have over 15 players who have recorded receptions on the year. Their leading receiver, in terms of receptions, is Johdrick Morris. Morris caught 46 passes for 663 yards and 4 scores. In terms of yardage, their top pass catcher is Kelvin Bolden with 667 yards and 6 touchdowns.
As dynamic as the USM offense is, their defense is very equally suspect.
The Golden Eagles give up 29.4 points per game, 113 yards per game on the ground, and 248 yards per game passing. In C-USA play, USM gave up point totals of over 40 points on four occasions, which constituted half their conference games.
Based on what I’ve been able to find, the Golden Eagles do not really stop anyone. In all of their games I would deem against decent competition, the defense has been non-existent. They gave up 41 points to South Carolina, 44 points to East Carolina, 50 to UAB in double overtime, 41 to Houston, and 56 points to Tulsa.
So what do the Cards need to do to win this game?
On offense, I don’t think they need to do anything special. The strength of this Cardinal team is their offensive line and running game. While Southern Miss gives up a bunch of passing yards, you cannot get away from what you do best. I’d give the Golden Eagles a steady diet of Bilal Powell, Jeremy Wright, and Victor Anderson until they prove they can stop them.
Also, with Justin Burke getting the start at quarterback, a solid running game will open up the play-action fake, something Burke does extremely well. Burke is not the type of quarterback I want throwing the ball 30+ times a game. He needs a running game to help him out. Plus, if you run the ball effectively, you keep the Southern Miss offense off the field.
Defensively, I would like to a see a heavy pressure scheme. Austin Davis is a very good quarterback and I would rather take my chances with him having to make plays under duress, rather than sit in the pocket with time to scan the field. Davis is also a threat on his feet, so I imagine we’ll see a spy on him in most situations.
Additionally, it will be critical for the defense to not give up big plays. I know it’s a total cliche to say, but you need to make USM grind out drives if they’re going to score. They are used to scoring quickly and as Charlie Strong has said many times, when teams are used to scoring easily and you force them to work, they tend to get impatient and that’s when mistakes happen.
At the end of the day, I think USM will score some points, but I also think they will not stop Louisville at all. I think the Cards run all over the Golden Eagles and look for Bilal Powell to have a huge game. I think the Cards take this one 38-24 and secure Charlie Strong’s first bowl victory as a head coach.