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St. Petersburg Bowl
Teams: Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Louisville (6-6)
Date: Dec. 21, 8:00 ET
Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
This game features two old Conference USA rivals, and the potent offense of Southern Miss against the tough defense of Louisville. Southern Miss is 1-3 vs. bowl teams, while Louisville is 2-4. We last saw the Cardinals in a bowl In Miami at the end of the 2006 season as they defeated Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl. After three years and a 15-21 record, first-year head coach Charlie Strong has Louisville back in a bowl. The two teams met in Louisville last season with the Cardinals winning 25-23.
When Southern Miss has the ball
When the Golden Eagles have the ball excitement happens. They scored 109 points in their final two games — and split them. The Southern Miss offense is not afraid to score in bunches. In their eight conference games, the Eagles averaged more than 25 first downs. In conference play, the Eagles faced some porous defenses, but over the last six games Southern Miss gained 105 yards a game above the average allowed by their opponents. The powerful offense has many weapons, but the trigger man is junior quarterback Austin Davis who passed for 2,898 yards and ran for 436 and 10 touchdowns. Running back Kendrick Hardy totaled 855 yards rushing, and 676 of those yards came in last six games. Kelvin Bolden hauled in 41 passes to lead the team 667 yards. All-conference tight end Johdrick Morris caught 46 passes for 663 yards. The defensive minded Strong made an impact on that side of the ball immediately. In one season Louisville improved dramatically in total defense (371.1 ypg to 304.7) and scoring defense (26.3 ppg to 18.7). One reason for the improvement is getting pressure on the quarterback. Louisville was fifth in the nation with 38 sacks, led by Rodney Gnat who finished with nine. All-Big East cornerback Johnny Patrick had five picks to lead the Cardinals’ defense. Redshirt freshman Hakeem Smith led the team in tackles was named the Big East Newcomer of the Year.
When Louisville has the ball
Louisville is a run-first team featuring senior Bilal Powell. Ranked 10th in the nation, Powell ran for 1,330 yards and 10 scores on 211 carries. The quarterback position is not quite as solid. Potentially three QBs could take snaps in the bowl game with senior Justin Burke the likely starter. It’s almost certain that Adam Froman will play as well. Froman led the Cardinals with 1,633 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Burke was consistent as the starter in the final four games of the season throwing for 143, 146, 145 and 138 yards with seven scores and just two picks. Froman started the first eight games of the season, before an injury forced him out of the lineup. Defense is not Southern Miss’ forte, but they had three players make second team all-conference: linemen Anthony Gray and Cordarro Law and safety Justin Wilson. Middle linebacker Korey Williams led the team with 80 total tackles.
The Golden Eagles have Groza Award finalist Danny Hrapmann, who converted 26 of 30 field-goal attempts. The third-team All-American was eight of 11 from 40 yards or more. Both teams have kick returners among the best in the nation and neither team covers kicks well.
Southern Miss NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 203.4 (21)
Pass Offense: 254.8 (31)
Scoring Offense: 37.6 (15)
Rush Defense: 113.3 (13)
Pass Defense: 248.8 (103)
Scoring Defense: 29.4 (81)
Turnover Margin: +0.75 (18t)
Louisville NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 180.5 (30)
Pass Offense: 195.3 (78)
Scoring Offense: 26.0 (71)
Rush Defense: 142.2 (51)
Pass Defense: 162.5 (9)
Scoring Defense: 18.7 (15)
Turnover Margin: +0.25 (39t)
Prediction: Stingy defense stops powerful offense.
Louisville by 6