Belk Bowl breakdown: No. 13 Georgia-No. 20 Louisville
Louisville’s DeVante Parker has been incredibly productive no matter who his quarterback is, and he alone has turned Louisville’s passing offense from pedestrian into dangerous. But Louisville’s pass attack is still far from a finished product, as the Notre Dame game showed (8 of 21 for 180 yards), and as the Cardinals showed at times against Kentucky.
The health of their quarterbacks will be a big question mark, too, as Reggie Bonnafon — already the backup quarterback — went down against the Wildcats, and Louisville was down to its third-string quarterback. If Bonnafon returns, his legs are going to be a weapon against a Georgia pass defense that is second in the nation, allowing just 158.4 yards per game.
Louisville will have to establish the run to make Georgia respect the pass, and you can run on Georgia, but if the Cardinals do pass, Georgia is no doubt going to be ready.
Hutson Mason vs. Gerod Holliman
Obviously it’s not a completely one-on-one matchup, but Georgia’s quarterback Mason has thrown 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions all season and Louisville safety Gerod Holliman — winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back — tied an NCAA record this year with 14 interceptions. Mason hasn’t had to throw a ton this year, just because Georgia’s running game has been so dominant. But against Louisville’s front, which is allowing a scant 2.94 yards per rush, the Bulldogs may have to throw a little more.
Holliman has a knack for finding the football, and Mason is going to have to be aware of him at all times and avoid mistakes. He’s been a big reason why Louisville has one of the best defenses in the nation, just as Mason has been a big reason why Georgia’s offense is one of the most dangerous. Oh, and you’d better believe former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be eager to show off his excellent defense agains his old team.
6.3: Against Power 5 teams with DeVante Parker in the lineup (five games), Louisville averaged 271.8 passing yards per game and 8.8 yards per attempt, completing 57.1 percent of its passes. In five Power 5 games without him, it averaged 195.4 yards and 6.3 per attempt (49 percent completion rate).
3.62: Georgia’s season-low in yards per carry was 3.62, and the Bulldogs have been over five yards per carry in nine of their 12 games. Louisville’s rushing defense has allowed over four yards per carry just twice this season and over three just five times. Only four opponents went over 3.62 against Louisville.
64: Only two teams that played just 12 games have made more trips to the red zone than Georgia this year (64).
38.9: Louisville’s is fourth nationally in opponent touchdown percentage in the red zone, allowing 14 red-zone touchdowns in just 36 opponent red-zone trips.
23: As in only 23 teams in college football have more interceptions as a team than Gerod Holliman did by himself this year. He had double the number of interceptions or more of 24 teams, all of which had seven or fewer.
Louisville is plenty flawed, but it’s hard to call what they had anything other than a great season. They pushed Florida State to the brink, were a play away from winning at Clemson and had just one so-called bad loss — at Virginia, a team that was playing well at the time.
The Cardinals defense is spectacular and the offense is coming along. Georgia was fortunate enough to have its best defense in years, avoid the meat of the SEC (Alabama and the two Mississippi schools) — and still took three losses, two of which came to teams that finished unranked, including getting throttled by a bad Florida team. There’s no telling where they are mentally after losing to rival Georgia Tech for the first time in forever, and Louisville will be more than ready to continue proving itself.