Nobody ever said it would be easy, and it won’t be on January 3rd as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish try to snap their widely known bowl skid against the LSU Tigers.
In my humble opinion, this is the toughest game the Irish could have drawn out of the possible suitors to be there opponent. Louisiana State is ranked #2 in the entire country in total defense, and allows just twelve and a half points per game. Both of the Tigers’ losses came to the hands of SEC powerhouses. They lost a 7-3, cut throat defensive struggle at Auburn, and a 23-10 defeat to the hands of Florida, in which they turned the ball over 3 times and allowed a safety in a game they felt they should have won.
The Florida game was the last game the Tigers have lost however, and that was way back on October 7th, almost 2 months ago. Since then LSU has knocked off teams like Tennessee and Arkansas, in route to a BCS bowl game, which seemed impossible for them after the stumble against the Gators.
While not known much for their offense, the Tigers do average 33 points per game, and have a very dangerous rushing attack, which racks up nearly 160 yards per game. Overall, they are good for over 400 yards per 60 minutes, making them a definite threat when on the offensive side of the football. While the offense was ice cold in their 2 losses, scoring just 13 points between them, they have been consistently putting points on the board in their W’s. In their first 2 games, they scored 45 points a piece, that was followed by a 3 point disaster the following week against Auburn, but they responded the next 2 weeks with 97 points between them. Ever since their October 7th loss against Florida, they have not failed to put up less than 23 points. Jamarcus Russell, while inconsistent, has numbers that show you he is a threat under center. He completes 68 percent of his passes, and has limited mistakes by throwing just 7 interceptions on the season. Pair that with a Notre Dame defense that could let any quarterback in the country have a huge day against them, and you have Russell licking his chops after seeing he was playing Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers also rotate running backs, 4 of them, keeping all of them fresh and ready to roll, which could be a problem for a Notre Dame defensive line that has about as much depth as a kiddy pool. Overall, the good news for Notre Dame is that the Tiger offense will not kill you with their speed. We see week in and week out what speed does to Notre Dame, and it’s not pretty. This team is an offense that will pound you on the ground and frustrate you with long drives. The verdict? I would have rather seen this type of offense than an Ohio State type of offense from last season, but I still question whether Notre Dame will be able to slow down the Tiger offensive attack. Guys like Travis Thomas, Derek Landri, and Trevor Laws will have to step up big time, and they could really use some run support from the ends as well. The key to stopping the LSU offense is to make them one dimensional, so that the Irish could possibly put in that extra defensive back and slow the passing game. The battle between the Irish defense against the Tiger offense comes down to the linebacker play all in all. 2 of them may be playing their last games in Gold and Blue, hopefully that provides an extra incentive to come out and tear somebody’s head off.
Okay, so we know that the LSU offense obviously has an advantage over a very weak Notre Dame defense. Duh. The most intriguing thing about this match up however, and the thing that is going to make the Sugar Bowl one of the more watched BCS bowls of the year, is the strength versus strength battle that will take place with the Notre Dame offense tries to move the ball on the LSU defense. The Tigers have, in my opinion, the best defense in a conference that is famous for the terrific defenses it produces year in and year out. Through the first 4 games of the season, LSU had not allowed their opponents to reach double digits in points, holding them to 3 points in two of those games, and 7 in the other two. Out of the 12 games they have played thus far, they have allowed the opposition to break 20 points just four times, and have held them to single digits in points half of those games. On pass defense, they have picked off 14 passes, have held their opponents to a combined completion percentage of under 50 percent, and have allowed just 9 touchdowns through the air the entire season. On the ground, even stingier, giving up just 3 yards per carry, and 7 rushing touchdowns the entire season.
Now, how will the Notre Dame offense stack up against them? Only the game could really tell us this, but I would say the Irish have a ton of work to do if they want to find a chink in the LSU defense’s armor and expose it. Is the potential there to do it? Most definitely. I challenge any college football fan to find me a better offense in the entire country than Notre Dame’s when they are on there A game. Their lowest output of the season was 14 points, and that was in the opener against a very good Georgia Tech team. They have put up 40 points in half of their ball games, and since the close call to UCLA, have never failed to score less than 24 points in a game. Personnel wise, they could prove to be a challenge the LSU defense has not faced all season long. The Irish got themselves a quarterback who has thrown for 30 plus touchdowns and over 3,200 yards threw the air. They have 2 wide receivers, which with good games could break the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season. Let’s throw in the tight end who is the finalist for the John Mackey award, and although he may not have a huge impact on the game because of the defensive line across from him, a running back who has rushed for better than 1,100 yards, and has also caught more than 50 passes. Needless to say, the people that are saying the LSU defense will dominate this game better read up, because the they have not faced an offense that has the talent of the Notre Dame attack this season, and it will be very interesting to see how they react to it.
One thing that really is a hard punch to the gut for the Irish is where this game will be played. The game will take place in Louisiana, right in the backyard of the Tigers, and people I have talked to say they have never heard a place louder than that dome when the Tigers are playing in the Sugar Bowl. While they only have a 5-7 record in the Sugar Bowl, it should be noted that they have won the past 2 times they have played in it, one in which they beat Illinois 47-23, and the game that got them a split of the national title, a 21-14 victory over Oklahoma in 2004. Right now I’m telling Irish fans everywhere to get any tickets possible and get down to the superdome to support the Irish. The past few Sugar Bowls have turned into home games for the Tigers, and especially against Oklahoma it helped them a lot. Irish fans travel very well, so it will be interesting to see if the LSU cheers are drowned out by some of the Notre Dame yells.
All in all, as I stated before, this is the toughest game the Irish could have possibly drawn outside of Ohio State. LSU is an extremely balanced team in all 4 phases of the game. Running, stopping the run, passing, and stopping the pass. There is really not one glaring weakness that stands out when watching the Tigers on film, and it could be very hard to score on them or keep them from scoring. I hate to sound negative here, but if Notre Dame does not bring their absolute A+ flawless game to the field on January 3rd, they will be blown out, just like last year, only this time it will be the 2nd year in a row and the critics on the program will come twice as hard as last year. I have confidence however, Charlie Weis has a month to prepare for this game, and if anybody could find someway to beat the Tigers, it’s coach Weis. Although playing LSU is a real tough draw, I would not have it any other way. If these players, these seniors, want to end this horrible bowl-losing streak, they might as well give it a shot against the best team not playing in the national title game. It’s time for the seniors who are taking the field to get themselves a signature win, and really show that Notre Dame football is back. After all, I could not stomach another year of finger pointing and complaining after a bowl loss.