ESPN is calling Lamar Jackson a “forgotten man” in the 2017-18 college football season. In the words of Bill Lumbergh, yeah, we’re gonna have to go ahead and…”disagree” with that.
The junior hasn’t gone unnoticed – he’ll be playing on Sundays soon – and if he’s lost in the mix this season, it doesn’t have to do with Baker Mayfield’s sideline antics or any loss of interest in the NFL Draft. No, it’s more about the 1-3 slump the Cardinals suffered in autumn which killed their ACC chances.
There’s a saying in prep football, don’t schedule too many cupcakes in a row. It’s like swinging with a wiffle-ball bat. UL thought it had recovered from a whippin’ vs Clemson after easy wins over Kent State and Murray State. A road trip to a “State” named after an actual state, namely North Carolina State, brought a cruel dose of reality the following weekend. Jackson was struggling with mental mistakes, and the team went on to lose to Boston College and Wake Forest.
That might give Mississippi State hope going into the TaxSlayer Bowl on New Year’s Eve. But bookies don’t see a whole lot of hope for the Bulldogs, as Jackson’s team is favored to win by a touchdown.
Who: Louisville Cardinals vs Mississippi State Bulldogs
When: Saturday, December 31st, 12 PM EST
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Lines: UL (-7) vs MsSt (+7) / O/U Total: (63)
Nick Fitzgerald is out for the year, leaving freshman backup Keytaon Thompson to take snaps for Mississippi State. It’s a shame, because the offense had been growing under the former starter. The Bulldog defense has clang-a-clanged its way to a highly consistent, competitive season, but the passing game was helpless against Georgia and Auburn early-on. A few weeks later, and Mississippi State was drilling A&M and scaring the pants off Alabama. A brutal QB injury and a loss to Ole Miss soon dampened the good vibes. Dan Mullen would leave the program.
Thompson showed flashes of dual-threat excellence in the state rivalry game despite losing 31-28. His stats looked bad because of a nervous 1st half, but in the 4th quarter Thompson led 3 straight touchdown drives. The Bulldogs finished with almost 300 rushing yards. The Rebels were playing for a bowl berth, and 4 turnovers helped Mississippi State give up 31. The team can still play, and Thompson is a change of pace.
Lamar Jackson only struggles at the college level when his defense is porous. When that happens, he plays like a solo act trying to drown out an entire band. But how has the Louisville ‘D fared against swift running QBs?
There’s no big sample-size. But against Boston College, the Cardinals loaded up to try to stop Anthony Brown on the read-option…only to allow the rest of the BC backfield 300+ rushing yards. The fact that Louisville has faced mostly pedestrian runners at QB since then is a net negative.
Louisville’s offense has been running smoothly, and it will hit a couple of speed bumps on Saturday. The key is whether Thompson can play a solid 4 quarters and protect the ball – if he can, the Bulldogs can run the type of offense that will give the favorite a few problems…and help keep Jackson behind the 8-ball.
Recommendation? A live-bet in the 1st quarter on whichever team looks less exciting. Not kidding! Say Louisville falls behind 7-3 but the running game is clicking. That means they’ll protect their NFL quarterback…which is all you need to know.
On the other hand, if the Read-O is working for Thompson then the Bulldogs have a fine chance to hang in there late and beat the point spread…even if Jackson is prancing in the end zone after his first drive.
And on the O/U? BetFirm’s lean is under. If the SEC side is able to exert game-control, this could be a slower-paced contest than fans think.