2017 Bowl Game Previews – December 31st, Part One

Mike Valverde

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Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

Louisville vs. LSU

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida

11 a.m., ABC

Louisville (9-3) is an explosive offense. They score more than 45 points per game, and their defense is tough as well, allowing just over 23 points a contest. Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson leads the Cardinals offense. The Heisman Trophy winner finished the season with 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is a supreme athlete, and his rushing numbers show that. He rushed for 1538 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had four or more scores eight times and rushed for over 100 yards in eight games.   

Jackson’s favorite receiver is senior James Quick (great name for a wide receiver). He finished the season with 42 receptions for 688 yards and six touchdowns. He had two different seasons in 2016. In the first half, he had two 100 yard games in his first four, and scored in four of the five games played. However in the last five games of the year he he only caught ten more passes and scored just twice.

Keep your eye on sophomore receiver Jaylen Smith. He had a strong 2016 season and is capable of growing with Lamar Jackson. Smith caught 27 receptions for 599 yards and six touchdowns. He had one stretch of games where he scored in six of seven contests and averaged 22.7 yards per reception.

Jamari Staples had a disappointing 2016 season. He only caught 35 passes for 593 yards and two touchdowns. He has shown every bit worthy of becoming an NFL receiver. He has the body size 6’4 and 195 pounds. He is a solid route runner who eats up the space between him and the corner. Staples can track the ball over his shoulder and has good hands. He will need to grow into his frame. Being just 195 pounds he will get folded up by physical cornerbacks in the NFL.

Senior tight end Cole Hikutini is Jackson’s favorite target. He caught 49 balls for 656 yards and eight touchdowns, and at least one touchdown in seven of 12 games. He has great hands and long arms that he uses to his advantage. He glides when he runs and gets into his routes quickly. Hikutini has shown the ability to stay in-line as an extra tackle. He shows good knee bend and ability to wall off defenders. His weakness comes in all lines of his game. He shows good ability to do everything. However, he has not shown to be great at any of it. He is a multi-talented athlete who should find a home in the NFL as an early day three pick.

LSU (7-4) has a strong offense scoring 28.3 per game, and they show outstanding defense allowing just 16.4 points per game. The Tigers offensive engine are running backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.

Fournette injured his ankle and could never get back to full strength or so it seems. He missed four games total and would have missed a fifth if not for a pregame altercation against Florida. He finished the season rushing for 843 yards and eight touchdowns on 129 attempts. He rushed over 100 yards in the first four games he played.

He plays the game hard and runs over people with ease. He loves to block and doesn’t fumble. He has the agility, balance, and quickness to make defenders miss at consistency. He has the quick one-cut and loose hips to allow him to get himself out of tight spaces. Even though Fournette has been working on improving his vision and patience, it still needs work. He can show a tendency to get on the heels of the defender and miss open holes. He will also fail to be decisive at times or cut unnecessarily instead of barging through the hole. These are just nitpicking, as Fournette should be the number one running back off the board in the NFL draft.

Sophomore running back Guice filled in amazingly for Fournette when he missed time. He put his name in the stockpile for future athletes in the upcoming 2017 college season. Guice finished the year with 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 157 attempts. He did miss one game this season and split time in the four that Fournette started. In those four games, he had 89 carries for 764 yards and ten touchdowns. That’s a 191-yard average per game and an 8.5-yard average per carry. In the last three games, he ran for 620 yards and scored seven times. The future is bright for Guice, and he should continue to thrive through his junior season.

Junior receiver Malachi Dupre (6’2 and 190 pounds) caught 34 balls for 454 yards and three touchdowns this season. He had three or more catches in eight of 11 contests. Dupre has strong and reliable hands who rarely allows the ball into his frame. He needs to be more explosive and show more top-end speed as he has a lot of contested catches on tape.

Dupre has quick hands to pluck the ball out of the air and can track over his shoulder. He is good in the red zone as he can display the size, leaping ability and focus on creating matchup problems. He can play the wing or slot position and is competitive over the middle and is a solid run blocker. He has played in all 24 games and started ten. Dupre has not yet declared for the NFL draft.

Senior Travin Dural (6’2 and 207 pounds) had 28 receptions for 280 yards and one touchdown. He caught four or more balls in five of ten games. He is a legitimate deep threat with the ability to get over the top of coverage, and shows a clear second gear when he hits daylight. His issues become getting separation from the defenders. Mostly due to his lean frame and lack of strength.

Dural isn’t afraid to mix it up, however, and will do his best to block. He will make all the catches even though he has smaller hands than desired (8 ¾ inches). He can fight off defenders but will struggle when it comes to the more physical corners. Don’t be fooled by his numbers; LSU is a running team. If Dural can showcase his abilities in the combine, he could be a day two selection and if not, an early day three pick.

Junior receiver D.J. Chark is another athlete who may declare his attention to go pro. He could use another season, however. He caught 24 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns. He will most likely return for his senior season, but he has great size (6’3 and weighs 187 pounds). He has 4.46 speed and can get from 0-60 quickly. Has long strides and can take the top off a defense. He will win the foot race almost every time and blows by corners trying to defend him. He is lean and doesn’t take proper routes and become stronger.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky

EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

11 a.m., ESPN

Georgia Tech (8-4) scores 27.8 points per game and allow just 25.  Freshman running back Dedrick Mills is the player I like the most on the Yellow Jackets. He rushed for 602 yards on 121 attempts and scored 11 touchdowns. Mills has good size and bulk, weighing in at 217 pounds and 5’7. He shared time with sophomore back Marcus Marshall, which is the reason why Marshall transferred to James Madison.

Kentucky (7-5) scores 31 points per game and allow 31.2 per contest. The Wildcats offense drives from their running game. Both sophomore Stanley Williams and freshman Benny Snell share time and cause havoc.

Williams (5’9 and 196 pounds) rushed for 1135 yards and seven touchdowns on 160 carries. He finished with four 100 yard games and had over 60 in nine of 12 contests. He also scored in six of 12 games. He has great speed and the ability to make cuts. He also has a solid vision. Williams is on the special teams as a kick returner. His size is a major drawback, but he has the gears and explosion to blow by defenders.

Snell (5’11 and 220 pounds) finished the season with 1,057 yards and 13 touchdowns on 179 attempts. He is a bowling ball type runner and the thunder to Williams lightning. He played a lot in the Wildcat formation and is a steam roller going north and south. He will need to learn how to use his hips better, and cutting is also a limitation. He is hard to tackle and has some good speed when running straight ahead.


mike valverde
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