The 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl has the ACC, in Louisville, and the SEC, in Mississippi State, going head to head. This game features two of the best rushing offenses in the country, but the Bulldogs will be without some key pieces. Here is the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl preview:
Louisville Cardinals (8-4)
The Cardinals went 8-4 in the regular season for the second straight season. This year, after only losing to bowl eligible teams, the Cardinals beat Purdue, Florida State, Virginia and Kentucky for their solid wins. They were unable to beat any top quality teams, but had a solid season.
Lamar Jackson leads one of the best offenses in college football that averages 39 points per game. The running game is great, averaging 249.9 rushing yards per game. Jackson is their leading rusher with 1,443 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Malik Williams and Reggie Bonnafon are the other primary rushers and both have over 400 yards. When in doubt Jackson is able to pick up key first downs with his legs.
Jackson has really improved his accuracy this season, which has led to a good season as more than a runner. He has 3,489 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions on 60.4% completion. Although he didn’t have the hype this year that he had last season, he is still an elite player in college football. Jackson’s top targets are Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins. Smith leads the way with 873 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
The defense has been just below average, allowing 27.1 points per game. They rank 53rd against the run and 78th against the pass. Linebacker Jonathan Greenard and defensive back James Hearns have combined to get pressure on the quarterback with seven sacks each.
23 Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4)
Mississippi State at times looked like one of the best teams in the country, but were inconsistent. They won eight games, including four games over bowl eligible teams. These big wins included victories over LSU, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Their head coach, Dan Mullen, decided to leave the school for Florida and will not be coaching the bowl game.
The offense scores 32.1 points per game, but is losing its best player in Nick Fitzgerald. He was a key part of the running game that averaged 249.6 rushing yards per game. Running back Aeris Williams is the teams leading rusher, but fed off of having Fitzgerald in the backfield as a running threat. Williams has 1,019 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the season. Backup quarterback Keytaon Thompson has shown he can run the ball with 299 yards and three touchdowns. More will be expected out of him in this game.
Thompson has had struggles completing passes at just 45.7% completion. With that, he only has 261 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. The passing game will likely not do too much damage in this game. There isn’t a go-to-guy in the receiving core, but five receivers have over 200 yards, but less than 300 on the season, with Keith Mixon having the most.
Their defense allows 20.4 points per game this season and has been good. They rank 23rd against the run and 12th against the pass. Defensive lineman Montez Sweat has been one of the best pass rushers in the country with 9.5 sacks.
This would’ve been a really interesting game if Fitzgerald had been healthy. Without him, Mississippi State’s offense will be lost. While their defense is good, going up against Lamar Jackson will not be easy. Jackson will carry his team to victory.
Louisville Cardinals 33 Mississippi State Bulldogs 18
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