Posted on December 26, 2023
The Pac-12 has gone 1-2 in the opening salvo of games after UCLA beat Boise State but California was dispatched by Texas Tech and Utah lost to Northwestern.
The Holiday Bowl is up next. I preview the game here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.
USC vs No. 15 Louisville
Wednesday, December 27
5:00 pm PT, FOX
San Diego, CA
USC’s second-leading receiver, Brenden Rice has opted out, too. And it’s unclear whether or not starting running back MarShawn Lloyd will play.
That leaves redshirt sophomore quarterback Miller Moss to operate Lincoln Riley’s depleted offense. Theoretically, the Trojans have the depth on offense to overcome player unavailability at every position.
The Holiday Bowl matchup against Louisville could present substantial opportunities for wide receiver Dorian Singer and running back Austin Jones.
The Cardinals are 10-3 with wins over Notre Dame, Duke, and Miami. Playing in their 12th bowl game since 2010, Louisville is no stranger to the postseason.
But this is the first time the program has made the Holiday Bowl, arguably the team’s highest-profile postseason game since appearing in the Sugar Bowl in 2012.
Featuring a one-two punch in the backfield, the runners-up from the ACC operate a run-leaning offense.
Jawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo are the stars in the backfield. The duo have combined for 1,777 yards rushing and 22 total touchdowns.
Each can catch the ball, too. With 38 combined receptions and 438 combined yards receiving, the running back room is variable and multifaceted.
Jordan, however, has declared for the 2024 NFL Draft and is not expected to play in the bowl game.
At receiver, the Cardinals have one primary threat. Jamari Thrash is the main contributor and has 63 receptions for 858 yards and six receiving touchdowns. But Thrash has declared for the NFL, too, and opted out of the game.
The second-closest receiver is Chris Bell, who has just 26 receptions. With Thrash out, look for Bell to step up to become Option No. 1.
In other words, the offense is missing its main weapons but has capable backups to stay effective..
Jack Plummer is the quarterback and he enters the game with over 3,000 yards passing. He’s turnover-prone, though, with 12 interceptions on the year compared to his 21 touchdowns.
That’s not an ideal touchdown-to-interception ratio and is an area on which USC could capitalize.
It may not be comforting for the Trojan defense, however. The secondary has generated just seven picks all seasons and enters the game 104th nationally in interceptions forced.
That would put USC tied for dead-last in the ACC and likely doesn’t worry the Louisville coaching staff.
The result could be aggressive playcalling featuring shots downfield in an attempt to loosen up the Trojan front seven.
Any downfield completions could cause the USC linebackers to play softer off the line of scrimmage, which could produce the running room Guerendo needs to take advantage.
If successful, the Louisville offense could roll and have no issues putting up points.
That’s going to be tough to overcome for a USC offense without its former Heisman-winning quarterback. A shootout dramatically favors Louisville.
It’s a bit of a perfect storm forming against the Trojans. The strength of the program has been its offense, which has acted to cover up the gaping problems on defense.
Yet, without Williams to run the show, the offense could be ground to a halt without any corresponding improvements to the defense.
In other words, the strength of Riley’s team could be negated while the weakness is exploited.
It’s always possible that Moss has a strong game and the multiple playmakers at the skill positions make up for the inexperienced quarterback.
Yet, this is a strong Louisville team heading to San Diego that trots out a respectable offense. The Cardinals are 43rd nationally in points per game which would put the program seventh in the Pac-12.
And on defense, Louisville enters the game No. 20 in points allowed per game which would put it third in the Conference of Champions.
The ACC program has the country’s No. 12 rushing defense and the No. 37 passing defense.
That’s not a favorable analytical matchup. And it screams blowout potential considering the player availability issues.
Unless the USC defense can force turnovers and Moss can consistently convert drives into points, it might be a long night in San Diego.
Game Picks from Our Senior Writers and Broadcasters
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