Finished EverBank Field
TAXSLAYER BOWL STORYLINES
1. Mississippi State will begin the post-Dan Mullen era in earnest on Dec. 30 when it meets Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs went 69-46 under Mullen before he accepted a six-year deal worth $36 million to fill the head coaching vacancy at Florida on Nov. 26. Running backs and special teams coach Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach before former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead takes over the program in 2018.
2. Lamar Jackson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2017 after winning it as a sophomore, and his Cardinals will face a SEC opponent in a bowl game for a second straight year after getting routed 29-9 by LSU in the Citrus Bowl at the end of last season. The record-breaking junior quarterback is the only player in school history to rush for over 1,300 yards in consecutive seasons and has topped the century mark in six straight games. Jackson's 411 yards of total offense per game is more than the average of 76 FBS teams.
3. In addition to being without Mullen, the Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald with a dislocated ankle early in their regular-season finale 31-28 loss to Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. The 6-5, 230-pound junior was within striking distance of becoming the first player in SEC history with multiple seasons of 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. Freshman Keytaon Thompson amassed 316 total yards and two touchdowns in relief, although much of that production came after the Bulldogs fell into an 18-point hole after three quarters.
TV: Noon ET, ESPN. LINE: Louisville -6.5
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (8-4, 4-4 ACC): While Jackson played the same critical role he usually does, the return of cornerback Jaire Alexander from injury sparked the Cardinals' strong November, as the defense allowed an average of 233.3 yards and 16 points during the three-game winning streak (410.1 and 30.8 prior). Malik Williams (518 yards rushing, four touchdowns) and Reggie Bonnafon (446, seven) have combined for three 100-yard rushing performances, and Williams' 180 yards on nine carries against Syracuse on Nov. 18 were the most by a Louisville running back since Bilal Powell had 209 against Cincinnati in 2010. Dez Fitzpatrick (45 catches for 699 yards) needs four more receptions and 99 receiving yards to set the school's freshman records; he already holds the freshman mark with nine receiving scores.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4, 4-4 SEC): Aeris Williams became the Bulldogs' first 1,000-yard rusher at running back since Josh Robinson in 2014; although the 217-pound junior is averaging a career-low 4.5 yards per carry, he has at least 19 rushing attempts in each of the last seven contests. Defensive end Montez Sweat was named to the all-conference team after posting a SEC-best 10 sacks and ranks fourth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons also landed on the All-SEC first team after posting 57 tackles and 11 tackles for loss, and the 6-4, 301-pound became the first Bulldog defender since 2009 to score two touchdowns in the same game, recovering a block punt in the end zone and returning a fumble 90 yards for a score on Sept. 9.
PREDICTION: Louisville 41, Mississippi State 21
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