InsideTheACC: Previewing The Belk Bowl

The Bulldogs (9-3) look to rally from a loss to the ACC in their season finale against the Cardinals (9-3) in the Belk Bowl. Who comes out on top?

Louisville Offense

  • Scoring offense: 32.6 PPG (43rd nationally)
  • Passing offense: 246.8 YPG (50th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 149.4 YPG (85th nationally)
  • Total offense: 396.3 YPG (72nd nationally)

Louisville will be without sophomore quarterback Will Gardner who is out with injury. The Cardinals are undecided who will see the majority of the snaps in the Belk Bowl. Freshman Reggie Bonnafon is also recovering from injury, and if healthy will likely see action against Georgia. Bonnafon completed 60 passes this season for 850 yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Should Bonnafon not be in game shape fellow freshman Kyle Bolin will step into the spotlight. Bolin saw limited action in 2014, but lead the Cardinals to a win over rival Kentucky in the season finale by throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Bolin may also see the majority of the action, with a special series of plays designed for Bonnafon, according to head coach Bobby Petrino who has been generally tight-lipped about his quarterback situation heading into the bowl game.

Louisville’s receiving corps had opportunities evenly distributed to them this season, with five players catching at least 25 passes. Eli Rogers (40), DeVante Parker (35), James Quick (34), Gerald Christian (30) and Kai De La Cruz (25) were all in the top group, and all caught at least two touchdowns. Parker was the Cardinals top all-around receivers this season leading the team with five touchdowns and 735 receiving yards.

Sophomore Brandon Radcliff lead the team in all major rushing categories in 2014. He was tops for Louisville with 125 rushing attempts, 648 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Senior duo Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown were also effective, despite taking less handoffs than Radcliff. Dyer rushed for 481 yards and five touchdowns, while Brown finished with 378 yards and four scores.

 

Louisville Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 20.5 PPG (19th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 199.6 YPG (32nd nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 93.7 YPG (3rd nationally)
  • Total defense: 293.3 YPG (6th nationally)

Louisville fit right into a defensive oriented ACC in their first season in the conference, putting out one of the best defensive units in 2014. Sophomore linebacker Keith Kelsey made great strides in his sophomore season, increasing his tackle total to a team-leading 78, up from 24 a season ago. He also had six quarterback sacks trailing only linemen Sheldon Rankins (7) and Lorenzo Mauldin (6.5), a duo that also added 93 combined tackles in 2014. The Cardinals’ other linemen, seniors Deiontrez Mount and B.J. Dubose rounded out a stellar front line by combining for nine sacks this season. Junior linebacker James Burgess was one of the team’s best all around defenders with 61 tackles, three interceptions and three sacks.

The Louisville pass defense wasn’t as strong as their run defense, but was still an above average unit. James Sample recorded the most tackles for a defensive back with 76, which was also second on the team. Sample grabbed four interceptions, but was overshadowed in that category by sophomore Gerod Holliman. Holliman had a team-leading 14 interceptions, one for a pick six, while also adding 37 tackles.

Brandon Radcliff took the most kickoff returns on the team with 12, but junior Corvin Lamb was more effective, despite only returning six kicks. Lamb had a 31.1 return average and one touchdown. Sophomore James Quick returned 20 punts this season, finishing with a 7.4 average while senior Eli Rodgers had a 10.2 average on 11 returns. Junior John Wallace converted all his 48 extra point attempts, but missed four of his 19 field goal tries. Senior Ryan Johnson was used frequently on punt duty (60 punts) and finished with a 40.5 net.

Georgia Offense

  • Scoring offense: 41.7 PPG (8th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 199.9 YPG (88th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 255 YPG (13th nationally)
  • Total offense: 454.9 YPG (30th nationally)

The Georgia offense took a major hit when junior Todd Gurley went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Gurley finished with 911 yards and nine touchdowns, despite missing time due to NCAA sanctions and injury. Freshman Nick Chubb stepped up in a big way in his first season in Athens to fill the void. Chubb finished with team-highs in rushing yards (1,281), and touchdowns (12), making the Bulldogs rushing attack one of the most formidable in college football even without Gurley.

Senior quarterback Hutson Mason was solid behind center in 2014. Mason completed 67.9% of his passes for 2,019 yards, and a 5:1 touchdown to interception ratio (20 TDs, 4 INTs). Mason also had four rushing touchdowns, despite only having 14 rushing yards on 40 attempts. Mason dispersed the ball evenly to his receiving corps, but senior receiver Chris Conley was his favorite target. Conley’s 577 receiving yards and seven touchdowns were team-highs. Michael Bennett lead the team in receptions with 35, and the senior was second in touchdowns with four. Junior Malcolm Mitchell was an above average third option for Mason finishing with 28 receptions and three scores.

Georgia Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 21.3 PPG (25th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 158.4 YPG (2nd nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 175.6 YPG (77th nationally)
  • Total defense: 334 YPG (18th nationally)

Senior linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson both broke the 100-tackle mark for Georgia in 2014. Herrera finished with 112 tackles, three sacks and an interception while Wilson collected 102 tackles and one sack. Four Bulldog linebackers accumulated at least three sacks this season. That group included sophomore Leonard Floyd (6 sacks), junior Jordan Jenkins (4.5), Lorenzo Carter (3.5) and Herrera. Jenkins and Floyd also had 35 and 34 tackles respectively.

The Georgia secondary contributed to the team’s second ranked pass defense in the nation, lead by Quincy Mauger and Damian Swann. Mauger had a standout sophomore season, finishing with a team-high four interceptions and 48 tackles. Meanwhile, Swann finished 2014 with 62 tackles (most in the team’s secondary) and three interceptions. Junior defensive back Devin Bowman only had one interception, but it went for a pick six, the only one for Georgia this season.

Isaiah McKenzie is a dangerous kickoff and punt returner for the Bulldogs. He finished 2014 with a 28-yard kickoff return average and one touchdown. He also returned two punts for touchdowns. Junior Marshall Morgan was called on by Georgia for 18 field goal attempts and converted 13 of them, but only missed one of his 64 extra point tries. Junior Colin Barber had a 39.2 net average over 32 punts for the Bulldogs this season.

Outlook and Prediction

Georgia looks to be a slightly better side on paper, but there are usually a couple of surprises during bowl season, and this could be one of them. Both offenses can move the ball, and both defenses are stout in their own right, but Louisville should be just a little better on this day to close out a solid first ACC season.

Louisville 30 Georgia 27

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