Date: December 31, 2016
Time: 11:00 AM ET
Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
This year’s Citrus Bowl will feature two ranked teams in #20 LSU and #13 Louisville. The game will also showcase this year’s Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson has thrown for almost 3,400 yards this season including 30 TDs. Unfortunately for LSU, star running back Leonard Fournette announced he is skipping the Citrus Bowl due to a lingering left ankle injury and so that he could prepare for the NFL Draft.
Players to Watch (Louisville)
- QB Lamar Jackson was responsible for 51 touchdowns, 30 passing and 21 rushing. He’s thrown for more than 400 yards twice in 2016, and set the school’s single-season rushing record. That said, teams lately have had success by pressuring him while forcing him to stay in the pocket. If he breaks free of the initial attack, however, few are capable of chasing him down.
- LB Keith Kelsey isn’t as flashy as some of his teammates, but he’s the most reliable performer. The three-year starter led the team with 81 tackles, and will be looking to end his college career on a positive note.
- LB Devonte Fields was an All-ACC First Team selection, with five sacks and 42 tackles in his senior season. Fields can be as dominant as anyone in football, but he also has games where he’s been neutralized with relative ease. If Fields is at his best in the Citrus Bowl, LSU will have a hard time keeping him out of its backfield.
- S Josh Harvey-Clemons finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles despite missing two games to injury. He’s an aggressive defensive back who’s strong both in run support and pass defense.
Players to watch (LSU)
- LSU has its own senior star at linebacker in Kendell Beckwith who is sure to have a tremendous impact in the Citrus Bowl. Beckwith leads LSU with 91 total tackles despite playing in just 10 games, and he combines with Duke Riley to give the Tigers one of the top linebacker groups in the country. He will be responsible for checking Louisville’s read-option attack from his inside linebacker spot, and he is rangy enough to track down Jackson on the perimeter. Expect to hear Beckwith‘s name called all afternoon.
- There may not be a bigger X-factor in this matchup than QB Danny Etling. If he plays well, LSU will be nearly impossible to beat, but he is more than capable of laying an egg and putting the Tigers in an uphill battle. Etling has great weapons at his disposal in D.J. Chark, Malachi Dupre, and Travin Dural to go with the excellent running game, so the pieces are all there for Etling to succeed. He was great against the Aggies‘ terrific defense, but can he do the same against an athletic Louisville unit?
- Tre’Davious White could have bolted for the NFL after last season, been a fringe first-round pick and nobody would have batted an eyelash. But he came back to lead this secondary with another phenomenal season. On the year, White has 31 total tackles, four tackles for loss and two picks. He returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown against Wisconsin, and he also has a touchdown returning punts for LSU. White makes an impact in so many ways, and he will likely be matched up with speedy receivers Jamari Staples and James Quick on the boundary. In his final collegiate game, look for White to possibly make a special play in crunch time.
This is the type of team Louisville needed to avoid in a bowl game, since LSU can exploit its weaknesses and match the Cardinals’ athleticism. It will not be pretty, but look for the defense to ball out and Etling to make just enough plays to put LSU over the top in the Citrus Bowl.
A weakened LSU offense deprived of its run game turns the Tigers one-dimensional. If Jackson’s receivers can make the plays they need to against Beckwith and White’s defense, I say they pull it out.