Though it’s not the New Years Day bowl game that Brian Kelly and his team were hoping to be playing in, the Citrus Bowl contest against the LSU Tigers marks the final game on the 2017 Notre Dame football schedule. The Irish are hoping to bounce back after finishing the regular season with a pair of disappointing losses in their final three matchups.
Both sides enter this clash with 9-3 records, though the Tigers won six of their final seven–the only defeat coming at Alabama on November 4. Each side also enters this game with a somewhat-depleted roster, due to some off-the-field concerns and injuries on the part of multiple Notre Dame offensive players and injuries connected to LSU defenders.
Listed below are some key matchups to watch for in Monday’s game:
Josh Adams vs. Devin White
Which version of Adams is on the field against the Tigers may offer an idea about how this game on the Notre Dame football schedule turns out. That’s because in his first eight games, Adams was a solid candidate for the Heisman after gaining 1,169 yards and averaging 8.9 yards per carry. In his most recent four games, the numbers doomed such possible glory after he gained just 217 yards on 59 carries for a relatively-pedestrian 3.7 per carry.
White has more pressure put on his shoulders for this contest with his inside linebacking partner, Donnie Alexander, out with an injury. However, White was everywhere in 2017, leading the Tigers with 127 stops and finding himself frequently in opposing backfields. For the year, he led LSU with 12.5 tackles-for-loss, another reason why he garnered four SEC Defensive Player of the Week awards this year.
Te’Von Coney vs. Derrius Guice
Coney had a breakout campaign in 2017, leading the Irish in tackles and impressing enough people that a potential departure in the NFL is a possibility. His ability to get behind the line of scrimmage was one the things that stood out all season long.
Both Coney and Nyles Morgan will have their hands full trying to contain Guice and, to a lesser extent, Darrel Williams. Guice gained 1,153 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in the Tigers’ 12 games. While he possesses everything but breakaway speed, Notre Dame needs to keep him in check or he’ll shred the Irish defense all day long.
Brandon Wimbush vs. LSU Defense
Wimbush hasn’t been afraid to go to the air during his first season behind center in South. Yet with players like Chase Claypool, Kevin Stepherson and Alize Mack unavailable for this matchup, the gameplan may shift to relying heavily on Adams.
If that strategy doesn’t work, Wimbush will have to do battle with an LSU secondary that has perennial NFL talent of the future on the field. Going underneath might be an option, given the injuries that struck the Tiger linebacking corps, though that requires the Notre Dame offensive line to keep LSU defenders away from Wimbush.
Julian Love vs. DJ Chark
Love is another of the Irish defenders that made a name for himself during the 2017 regular season. Usually matched up against the opposition’s top receiver, he was usually able to come out on top by contributing 20 pass deflections and 17 pass breakups. He also had a flair for the dramatic by returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns and coming close on the other pick.
Chark had been quiet prior to 2017 but has emerged as the chief throwing option for LSU signal caller Danny Etling. The 6-3 senior comes into the Notre Dame contest with 35 receptions and three touchdowns, though he’s averaging 23.2 yards per catch. His deep-play capability, coupled with his use on end arounds and punt returns make him someone that figures to keep Love busy.
Quenton Nelson vs. Christian LaCouture
Nelson has been one of the keys to the resurgent Irish offensive line, teaming with Mike McGlinchey to offer Brandon Wimbush some needed protection as he worked though his first season at quarterback. Nelson has largely performed those duties well, yet will be up against a stiff challenge during this final game on the Notre Dame football schedule.
That’s because LaCouture is physically a handful at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, which has helped him bring down 63 ballcarriers this season. That’s good for second-best among Tiger defenders. He also ranked among the team leaders when it came to tackles-for-loss and sacks, so Nelson can’t afford to let down his guard during the game.