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Louisville Cardinals vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs, Preview, and Odds
NCAAF: Monday, December 30, 2019, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee, 4:00 pm EDT
The Louisville Cardinals couldn’t end the regular season with three consecutive wins as the Kentucky Wildcats beat them 45-13. Louisville finished the regular campaign with a 7-5 record (5-3 in conference play) and in the 2nd place in the ACC Atlantic behind the Clemson Tigers.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs won three of the previous four games to finish the regular season. The Bulldogs edged the Ole Miss in a close encounter at home and improved to a 6-6 record (3-5 in conference play), to end the regular campaign in the 5th place in the SEC West.
This is going to be the second appearance at Music City Bowl for both sides. Mississippi State won the bowl in 2011 as they beat Wake Forest 23-17, while Louisville was better than Texas A&M in 2015, 27-21. Last year, Auburn destroyed Purdue 63-14.
Louisville to exploit the air against the Mississippi State’s secondaryThe Louisville Cardinals have a top 30 rushing offense that averages 214.1 yards per contest, but they are facing Mississippi State’s sturdy D against the run. The Bulldogs are allowing 148.6 yards per game to the opposing runners, which means the Cards might find it hard to move the ball on the ground.
However, in case the running games don’t work, Louisville can always turn to sophomore quarterback Micale Cunningham and passing offense. The Cardinals are averaging 228.0 yards per game, while the Bulldogs are letting 241.3 yards to the opposing receivers.
Cunningham completed 96 of 156 passes for 1,786 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only five interceptions this year. He was sacked 21 times, which is 1.75 sacks per game. Cunningham is 16/26 for 225 yards with three TDs and one INT against the non-conference teams.
Sophomore wideout Tutu Atwell is Cunningham’s favorite target this season. Atwell recorded 61 receptions for 1,129 yards with 12 touchdowns. He added 16 catches for 302 yards and five scores against the non-conference rivals. Atwell could turn out to be a key man in this duel with the Bulldogs.
Freshman running back Javian Hawkins leads the Cardinals this season with 1,420 yards and eight touchdowns on 241 carries. Hawkins has 480 yards and two TDs on 71 attempts against the non-conference opponents.
Mississippi State to stick with Kylin Hill and running gameThe Mississippi State Bulldogs have even better rushing offense than Louisville. It is actually in the top 20 in college football as the Bulldogs are averaging 226.9 yards per game. Considering the Cardinals have one of the worst defenses against the run in the country that allows 211.0 yards per contest, the Bulldogs will have to keep the ball on the ground.
They are not that efficient when it comes to passing, though. The Bulldogs are not even in the top 100 in that category with 176.0 passing yards per outing. Louisville is letting 235.3 yards to the opposing receivers, so we can expect freshman QB Garrett Shrader to get up to 200 yards in this one.
Shrader has 88 completions on 153 attempts for 1,170 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions this season. He was sacked 15 times, which is 1.25 sacks per game. Shrader is 14/26 for 162 yards with one TD and none interceptions against the non-conference teams.
The 3rd year runner Kylin Hill could be a game-decider in Nashville. Hill is having an excellent year as he reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He has 1,347 yards with ten touchdowns on 235 attempts. Hill recorded 584 yards with a pair of scores on 81 attempts against the non-conference rivals, and also added eight receptions for 133 yards and a TD.
Senior receiver Deddrick Thomas is not efficient as Louisville’s top wideout Tutu Atwell. Thomas leads the Bulldogs with 390 yards and two scores on 29 receptions. He has 91 yards and a touchdown on eight catches against the none-conference opponents.
- 1-4 ATS last 5 after an ATS win.
- 1-4 ATS last 5 neutral site games as a favorite.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Unlike the last year’s Music City Bowl, which was rather uninteresting as Auburn dismantled Purdue, this one is going to be much closer. Mississippi State will focus on running the ball against one of the weakest defenses against the run in the country. Although the Bulldogs have a stronger defense that allows 28.1 points per game opposite to Louisville’s 33.8, I am backing the Cardinals in this one. They do have more offensive weapons and are scoring around five points per contest more than the Bulldogs. Cunningham, Atwell, and Hawkins have what it takes to take the Music City Bowl home, and I am backing them to do it.
Prediction: Louisville Cardinals +4 (-110)
Full-Game Total Pick
I expect to see a lot of running from Mississippi State as the Bulldogs will try to control the clock and set up the tempo in order to give fewer opportunities to Micale Cunningham and Tutu Atwell to hurt them in the air. That being said, I believe the clock will run faster with the ball in the Bulldogs’ hands. Considering these rivals are combining for around 60 points per contest, I am going with Under because the total is set at 63.5, which is a bit too high for me.
Prediction: Under 63.5