In just a few short hours, Notre Dame will square off against LSU in the Citrus Bowl with the Irish looking to snap an streak of 9 straight January bowl losses. Whether or not they break the streak will depend on which Notre Dame team we see. The one that blew out USC, NC State, and Michigan State or the one that struggled to do anything offensively in November against Miami and Stanford. Let’s dig in to my prediction.
What Concerns Me This Week
The Team’s Mindset
I’ve said this in a couple of articles now, but having four players suspended in a short period of time is concerning. Yes they could all be isolated incidents of young kids making bad (and in the case of some incredibly bad) choices, but it could also be an indicator of where this team’s head is at. Do they really care about getting that 10th win or have they been checked out since they fell out of the CFP race?
Notre Dame’s Passing Game
Brandon Wimbush isn’t going to turn into Baker Mayfield overnight. We should see some improvement from him as a passer, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to make huge strides in the passing department with 15 practices. Add in Notre Dame missing three of their top four receivers and it’s easy to see why the Notre Dame passing game is a reason for concern against LSU.
Here’s the thing though, with LSU breaking in those new linebackers, it’s likely that the Tiger safeties will be cheating a little closer to the line they normally would.
What Doesn’t Concern Me This Week
Notre Dame’s Run Defense
Derrius Guice decided to play in the Citrus Bowl unlike Leonard Fournette a year ago, but even with Guice – a potential high round draft pick playing – I’m not overly concerned with the Notre Dame rush defense getting gashed. The Notre Dame front seven has been steady all year and with a month of rest for a defensive line that didn’t have as a deep of a rotation as one would have liked, I think they will be up for the task today.
Guice will get his yards here and there, but the Notre Dame defense will keep him fairly well contained throughout the game.
LSU will be playing without three of its starting linebackers today. Even though they will be replacing them with a trio of former highly rated recruits, that is a lot of experience to be replacing. The LSU front seven will still be fast and athletic, but it will be inexperienced and that inexperience can lead to some over pursuit that Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of. Look for Chip Long to dial up a lot of crossing routes in the passing game and to mix in some misdirection in the run game to take advantage.
Even with the inexperience though, LSU has a great defense coordinated by the highest paid assistant in college football – Dave Aranda. He will have his unit ready for the Irish, but that is a lot to ask any coordinator to overcome for a bowl game.
Players to Watch
- Dexter Williams – Is healthy? Will he actually get some carries? Williams has been explosive whenever he’s gotten a chance to be the last two years. The problem is, he hasn’t gotten nearly enough chances to do so.
- Cole Kmet – With Alize Mack out, watch out for the freshman – especially with some inexperienced linebackers in the LSU defense. It would bode very well for Notre Dame is the frosh TE could use the Citrus Bowl as a springboard for a breakout 2018.
- Michael Young – Like Kmet, Young could be the beneficiary of a suspension. With Kevin Stepherson out, Young might get more looks than he has all year in the Notre Dame offense. The Louisiana native probably wouldn’t mind the extra reps against his home state program.
- Durham Smythe – Playing his last game at Notre Dame and with Alize Mack in the lineup, Smythe will be there if Kmet isn’t ready for a breakout. Smythe isn’t the athlete that either Mack of Kmet is, but he is a reliable receiver who might just have one big game in him before he exhausts his eligibility.
- Brandon Wimbush – Obvious one here but as he goes, Notre Dame goes today. If he completes less than 50% of his passes and has less than 50 yards rushing, Notre Dame won’t have a chance. Notre Dame needs both his arm and his legs to win it’s first January bowl game since 1993.
- Equanimeous St. Brown – While his numbers were hurt this year because of Wimbush’s struggles, they were also hurt because he didn’t show any ability to win 50/50 balls. Let’s see if he can change that today against one of the best secondaries in the country.
- Daelin Hayes – He started the season hot but then fell off. Can he get going again today?
Earlier in the week I had myself convinced Notre Dame didn’t have a chance in this one. The more I dug in though, the more I realized how beatable LSU is, IF we see the Notre Dame team that we saw in October. IF we see the one that we saw in November, well then this one isn’t going to end how we all hope it does.
I think we’ll see a better Brandon Wimbush this afternoon, but not one that is firing perfectly placed passes all over the field. I’m expecting a mix of the Wimbush we saw in October and the one we saw in November. He’ll make a couple jaw dropping plays that remind us all why it makes complete sense to be patient as he develops and then a couple plays that remind us why we saw Ian Book briefly against Miami in early November.
I’m still not convinced that Notre Dame will be able to find the edge they had in October this afternoon and without it, I don’t think the Irish can beat LSU today. I’m predicting a close lose in the full hopes that I am dead wrong. Happy New Year to all. Here’s to me starting off the new year feasting on some crow later tonight.
LSU 24, Notre Dame 23