Location: TDECU Stadium in Houston, TX
Game Time: 8:00 p.m. E.T.
Spread: Louisville -13.5
At the end of September, the college football world could not wait for the matchup between the Louisville Cardinals and the Houston Cougars. The Cougars stunned the Oklahoma Sooners in week one and Louisville blew out the Florida State Seminoles in week three. This Houston squad now plays with nothing else to lose after their season took a turn, but a playoff spot is on the line for Louisville.
The Cougars started the season 5-0 and being in the American Conference, knew that a win over Louisville late in the season could be a play-in game to the college football playoff. The team hit a mid-season slump with a six-point loss at Navy and a loss a few weeks later at SMU by 22. Houston is coming off back-to-back sloppy wins over UCF and Tulane and has an 8-2 overall record. The Cougars may not have a playoff spot to play for, but they can still play spoiler to a top five team and go for a potential 10 win season.
The Cardinals find themselves in quite a different situation . Louisville is looking to be a college football dark horse after drumming Florida State, but after a close loss at Clemson, Louisville has been fighting to prove themselves to the playoff selection committee. Bobby Petrino's squad has been inconsistent with some blowout conference wins, but also close wins over Duke and Virginia. Louisville also came back to beat a Wake Forest team last week that led the Cardinals 12-10 heading into the fourth quarter. The Cardinals were snubbed from a college football playoff top four spot in the recent poll with a 9-1 overall record landing the Cardinals at no. 5, even after no. 2 Clemson fell at home to Pitt, and no. 3 Michigan fell at Iowa.
The Cougars do have one similarity to Louisville and that is the quarterback position. Senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. leads the team in passing and rushing yards. The senior will have his hands full with a skilled Louisville defense that is 16th in the nation in points allowed per game (20.3), sixth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (102.7), and 11th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (182.5).
Statistically, there are few areas that Houston is better than Louisville, but defensively Houston could keep it close. Houston is ranked third in the nation in rushing yards allowed at 92.8 yards per game. The Cougars will need to make Louisville a one-dimensional offense and keep the mobile Heisman candidate, Lamar Jackson, in the pocket. Houston is also third in the nation in defensive touchdowns. This could play a major factor against a Louisville team that is tied for fourth in the nation for most turnovers lost.
How can you talk about the Louisville Cardinals getting this far without mentioning Heisman candidate Lamar Jackson? The sophomore quarterback has 2,898 passing yards, 1,334 rushing yards, and 46 total touchdowns. The Cardinals have a speedy wide receiving group led by James Quick and Jamari Staples, who combined have close to 1,200 yards receiving. The Cardinals can't afford to let Houston hang around and have a potentially devastating loss to their season. Louisville will need to win confidently to avoid any doubt for them to sneak into the playoff top four.
The strong Cardinal defense is led by sophomore defensive back Jaire Alexander, who is fifth in the nation with five total interceptions. The goal will be simple for the Louisville defense, if they stop Greg Ward Jr. they will shut down Houston. This task is easier than stopping Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals are sixth in the nation in opponents 3rd down conversion percentage allowing only 27%. If Louisville can play disciplined defense and keep Houston's offense off the field, it will be an easy win for the Cardinals.