College Football Odds & Picks for Louisiana vs. Marshall: Betting Guide to New Orleans Bowl

College Football Odds & Picks for Louisiana vs. Marshall: Betting Guide to New Orleans Bowl article feature image
Credit:

Austin McAfee and Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Kyren Lacey (2) of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns and EJ Horton (84) of the Marshall Thundering Herd.

  • Louisiana takes on Marshall in the New Orleans Bowl.
  • The Ragin' Cajuns were ranked at one point this season.
  • Darin Gardner dives into this college football matchup and offers up his top pick.

Marshall vs. Louisiana Odds

Saturday, Dec. 18
9:15 p.m. ET
ESPN
Louisiana Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-4
-115
55.5
-110o / -110u
-180
Marshall Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+4
-105
55.5
-110o / -110u
+155
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

New Orleans Bowl
Saturday, Dec. 18 · New Orleans, LA

This year will mark the 22nd edition of the New Orleans Bowl, pitting Louisiana and its Sun Belt Conference title against a solid Marshall team that had some tough breaks in Conference USA throughout the 2021 season.

We’ll be looking for a more competitive affair in this year’s contest, after last year’s edition of this bowl ended as a 38-3 win for Georgia Southern over Louisiana Tech.

The Ragin’ Cajuns enter this game with a 12-1 record, which includes a 12-game winning streak after dropping the first game of the season on the road against Texas. Louisiana finally got over the hump in the Sun Belt Championship and brought home the title, but it’ll enter this game very shorthanded in the coaching staff.

Less than 24 hours after the Sun Belt Championship ended, head coach Billy Napier was already in Gainesville getting started as head coach of the Gators. If losing him wasn’t significant enough for Louisiana, he also brought some key assistants with him: defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, running backs coach Jabbar Jaluke, quarterbacks coach Ryan O’Hara and offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton. 

Taking over at head coach is Michael Desormeaux, who served as the co-offensive coordinator during the regular season. For his coordinators, he’ll go with fellow co-offensive coordinator Tim Leger to call the offense and safeties coach Wes Neighbors on defense.

Looking at Marshall, dropping two of its final three games to conference foes UAB and Western Kentucky ruined the Thundering Herd’s hopes of a Conference USA title.

As far as end-of-season disappointment goes, this was somewhat a continuation from the 2020 season, which saw Marshall drop its final three games after starting the year 7-0. 

Louisiana enjoyed a much more successful regular season than Marshall did this year, but do the Herd have an opportunity to end the season on a high note after the Cajuns’ mass exodus within the coaching staff?


Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Louisiana Offense

There’s no question that Louisiana’s offensive strength is the ground game, considering it finished the regular season as the national leader in Expected Points Added (EPA) per carry.

The offensive line has been especially dominant, considering Louisiana’s Max Mitchell, Ken Marks, A.J. Gillie and O’Cyrus Torrence all rank in the top 25 in Pro Football Focus‘ run-blocking grade among 655 qualifying players. As a whole, the Ragin Cajuns’ 89.6 run-blocking grade leads the nation.

In the backfield, Louisiana has three different running backs who ran for more than 500 rushing yards.

Chris Smith and Montrell Johnson have been the primary ball-carriers, combining for 1,639 yards and 19 touchdowns on 296 carries. However, Johnson and third-string running back Emani Bailey will see an increased role in this game after Smith opted out for the NFL Draft.

Louisiana’s passing game hasn’t been as prolific as the ground game, ranking only 75th in terms of Success Rate. Quarterback Levi Lewis provides some threat with his legs, but his 7.4 yards per attempt ranks just 74th at the position.

Louisiana Defense

It’s not hard to see why Napier is taking Toney with him to Florida, as his defense enters this contest ranked 20th in points allowed per drive.

The coverage unit has been especially solid, with a ranking of ninth in Passing Success Rate Allowed. The Ragin’ Cajuns defense is coming off a dominant showing in the Sun Belt Championship, having held a prolific Appalachian State passing attack to a measly 119 yards on 30 attempts (3.97 yards per attempt).

Individually, the top performer in the secondary has been safety Percy Butler. He leads all Sun Belt safeties in PFF coverage grade and has allowed a grand total of 90 yards on the 21 throws in his direction across 314 coverage snaps. He still has eligibility left, but don’t be surprised if Butler leaves early and hears his name called in the NFL Draft this spring.

Run defense has been an area where this defense has been more vulnerable, ranking 55th in Rushing Success Rate Allowed and 73rd in Stuff Rate.

This has been a very solid defense overall, but we’ll see if the Ragin’ Cajuns are able to maintain that level of play with their defensive mastermind now out the door.

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Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall Offense

Marshall has gotten it done in both facets on offense, for the most part, ranking 27th in Success Rate on the year.

It’s gotten very solid play from quarterback Grant Wells in his sophomore season after starting as a true freshman in 2020. He ranked third among C-USA quarterbacks in PFF passing grade.

Wells does a good job spreading the ball around in the passing game, with five players surpassing 50 targets and 300 receiving yards on the season.

Corey Gammage has been the primary target with 828 yards, while fellow outside receiver Willie Johnson has been the deep threat. Johnson’s 19.2 average depth of target ranks second among all receivers with at least 50 targets, per PFF.

Running back Rasheen Ali has seen a lot of volume in this offense, racking up 1,241 rushing yards on 5.4 per carry, and he’s tied for the national lead in rushing touchdowns with 20. Ali has also hauled in 45 of his 54 targets in the passing game.

The offensive line has arguably been the biggest bright spot of the offense, ranking 15th in pressure rate allowed. There haven’t been many centers better in pass protection than Marshall’s Alex Mollette this year, considering he still hasn’t allowed a single pressure or sack on 492 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF.

Marshall Defense

Marshall’s pass defense has been very reliable this season, receiving positive contributions from both its pass rush and coverage unit.

There isn’t a particularly dominant player on this defense in the pass-rushing department, but a strong group that includes nine players with multiple sacks ranks seventh in pressure rate. What makes that productivity even more impressive is that Marshall barely ranked inside the top 50 in blitz rate, per PFF.

In the secondary, Marshall has been solid at just about every position, highlighted by Nazeeh Johnson, who spends most of his time in the slot but also sees plenty of snaps as a box safety and free safety. Johnson’s 83.4 coverage grade ranks 16th among 301 qualifying safeties, and he has allowed only 24 catches on the season.

Just like Louisiana, Marshall’s run defense definitely lags behind its pass defense, with the Herd ranked 72nd in EPA allowed per carry. In this matchup, specifically, that’s not what you want to see against an excellent Louisiana ground game.

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Louisiana vs. Marshall Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Louisiana and Marshall match up statistically:

Louisiana Offense vs. Marshall Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 27 80
Line Yards 53 83
Pass Success 75 36
Pass Blocking** 18 17
Big Play 44 6
Havoc 49 92
Finishing Drives 41 17
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Marshall Offense vs. Louisiana Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 48 55
Line Yards 78 111
Pass Success 54 9
Pass Blocking** 20 69
Big Play 66 29
Havoc 20 55
Finishing Drives 46 14
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling 108 36
Coverage 23 44
Middle 8 77 19
SP+ Special Teams 87 103
Plays per Minute 74 7
Rush Rate 58.% (38) 47.5% (113)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.


Louisiana vs. Marshall Betting Pick

Bowl season always presents challenging off-field factors that have to be weighed, such as transfers, opt-outs and coaching moves, and this game definitely fits the bill.

While both rosters are still intact for the most part, Louisiana lost the brains behind its offense and defense, as well as its running back and offensive line coaches, who were responsible for one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country.

Have the coaching departures been accounted for enough in the betting market? I’m not so sure, considering I project this game at just 3.6 for Louisiana without adjusting for any coaching movement.

It’s easy to overlook Marshall due to its record, but this is a very solid team on both sides of the ball.

Give me Marshall at this price against a very inexperienced coaching staff.

Pick: Marshall +5

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