R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Jacksonville State vs Louisiana
By Rory Daniels
Welcome to Bowl Season! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl:
Where and When
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Location: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Date: 16th December 2023
Time: 2:15pm (ET)
Story so far…
Technically speaking Jacksonville State shouldn’t be competing in College Football’s bowl season. An NCAA rule forbidding teams who move up to the FBS from the FCS from being eligible meant they should have been at home. Without enough qualifying teams, the Gamecocks get a shot. That said, they are more than deserving. Under the guidance of experienced head coach Rich Rodriquez they have hit the ground running, managing an impressive 8-4 record. That included a spirited 38-28 loss to SEC powerhouse South Carolina. A New Orleans Bowl win would be quite the cherry on top.
Billy Napier had Louisiana rolling. Losing him to Florida was a major blow, and his successor, Michael Desormeaux, hasn’t managed to reach those heights yet. This is his second 6-6 season (last year ended with a bowl loss to give them a final record of 6-7). The results have been particularly disappointing in conference play, where the Ragin’ Cajuns lost five matchups. With a drop in recruiting also occurring, Desormeaux needs a bowl win and a winning season next year to prevent him from becoming a hot-seat candidate.
Seventh-year starter Zion Webb had to battle incoming transfer Logan Smothers for snaps this season, but his experience won out, and he should start the bowl game. Webb is a dual-threat QB, running over 100 yards in four outings this season. In the passing game, Webb has only five TDs and six interceptions. Louisiana will need to keep him in the pocket and throwing, hoping to force an error.
It has been an injury-hit season at the QB position for Louisiana. Starter Chandler Fields went down early in the year, as did replacement Ben Wooldridge. Redshirt freshman Zeon Chriss showed plenty of potential midseason and could be the future of the position. For now, Fields has returned and looks in good shape. He threw seven touchdowns and only one pick in his last three starts.
Prospects to watch…
Clay Webb, Left Guard – The former five-star interior lineman started his career at Georgia but transferred to Jacksonville State due to a lack of opportunities. He has been ultra-reliable for the Gamecocks, allowing only one sack and another pressure in over 741 snaps.
Chris Hardie, Defensive End – The man most likely to get to the Quarterback for the Gamecocks is edge rusher Chris Hardie. He made the All-Conference USA 1st team after another productive year. He tallied 32 pressures, including eight sacks, taking him to 22 in his Jacksonville State career.
Neal Johnson, Tight End – Leading the Ragin’ Cajuns in touchdown receptions is tight end Neal Johnson. He has great size at 6’4, 250lbs, and while he hasn’t wowed in terms of receiving production, he grabbed two TDs in the season finale against Louisiana Monroe and averaged 22.3 yards per reception.
Keyon Martin, Cornerback – Outside corner Keyon Martin has had an impressive year for Louisiana. He had eight pass breakups and recorded a pass coverage grade of 78.5. Despite his diminutive 5’9 frame, he is a strong tackler with a missed tackle rate of only 7.4%.
This is a very strong Jacksonville State defense that finished 11th in stop rate according to The Athletic’s ranking. I think ultimately that will be too much for Louisiana, and a win for the Gamecocks will be the perfect reward for an excellent opening season in the FBS.
Jacksonville State 34-20 Louisiana
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