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  • Tigers Stand Between Notre Dame and Elusive 10th win

    by Mike Coffey

    Kabong steps in for Vannie, who is taking some time off.

    Only four times in the last 20 years have the Fighting Irish managed to complete a season with a win total in the double digits.  Brian Kelly and his charges will attempt to make it five on New Years Day when they take on the LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.  While the game falls outside the vaunted “New Years Day Six”, attrition on both sidelines has created an interesting storyline, as both teams’ fanbases look to see which group will overcome their recent adversity.

    To call the Tigers’ route to the post-season uneven is an understatement.  The addition of Pitt’s Matt Canada was supposed to revitalize the LSU offense under interim-turned-head-coach Ed Orgeron.  But the two reportedly clashed over philosophies, and the Tigers found themselves at 3-2 after a wipeout at Mississippi State and being stunned at home against upstart Troy.  After a closed-door meeting between the two to “get on the same page”, the Tigers righted the ship, winning at #21 Florida and against #10 Auburn, and gave #4 Alabama all they could handle in Tuscaloosa.


    Notre Dame Offense vs. LSU Defense

    Statistically, the 11th-ranked Tiger defense will be the third-best unit Notre Dame will have faced this season.  They give up less than five yards per play and 18 points per game.  But those stats were generated against offenses a lot less powerful than Notre Dame’s.  The Irish offensive line represents a challenge the likes of which LSU hasn’t seen, and the Tigers will have to meet that challenge without three of their linebackers — Arden Key, Donnie Alexander, and Corey Thompson will not suit up and will be replaced by underclassmen.  Irish back Josh Adams, who looked very gimpy down the stretch this season, contends he’s tanned rested and ready for the game.  If it allows him to be the Josh Adams who was in Heisman contention, that’s good news for ND fans, especially against a depleted Tiger front seven.

    But whether or not it’s enough to offset the loss of three of Brandon Wimbush’s top pass targets remains to be seen.  Chase Claypool was injured during bowl preparations, and his fellow receiver Kevin Stepherson was suspended after being arrested for shoplifting prior to departing for Orlando.  With tight end Alize Mack also suspended, almost half of Notre Dame’s receiving yards this season will be watching the game on television instead of from the sidelines.  Leading receiver Equanimious St. Brown remains available, but it will be up to players like Durham Smythe and Miles Boykin to pick up the slack and prevent LSU from targeting Wimbush and Adams.


    Notre Dame Defense vs. LSU Offense

    Tigers star RB Darius Guice has decided not to follow the recent trend of high potential draft picks skipping non-playoff bowl games, so Notre Dame will get a full dose of his 100+ yards per game.  But Guice missed practice time to deal with what was called “nagging injuries”, so he may not be at 100 percent.

    Danny Etling, on the other hand, certainly will be.  The senior is an outstanding field general who throws an interception only once in every 73 passes, which is good enough for second best in the history of the SEC.  While the Fighting Irish front seven is stout, Notre Dame’s defensive backfield has been much more problematic, and probably won’t make Etling’s life too difficult on Monday.  The hope for Irish fans will be the ability of Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery to overwhelm the inexperienced LSU offensive line and pressure Etling into sacks and mistakes.


    Special Teams

    For once, it’s the opponent that has to worry about their special teams.  Kickoff specialist Cameron Gamble is ineligible for the game, so the Tigers will have to find someone else to handle the job.  More returnable kickoffs may be an opportunity for CJ Sanders to finally show some of the speed we’ve seen tantalizing glimpses of along the way in 2017.  While there isn’t a lot of change on the ND side, it’s not like Special Teams have been a boon, so….



    Both teams are going into this game with unknowns, and as trite as it will sound, the winner will be the team which overcomes its recent adversity most successfully.  Brandon Wimbush may have no one to throw to, but the LSU defense has no one to sack him.  It’s the quintessential stoppable force meeting the movable object.  This is why Adams will be critical to Notre Dame’s success, even more than he usually is, and it will be the ability of the Irish defense to stop the Tigers which will decide the game.

    Here are the questions rattling around in my brain right now:

    How much improvement should we expect to see in Brandon Wimbush after a month of work?

    Are Adams and Guice as healthy as we’re being told?

    Can Notre Dame’s cornerbacks make a difference against Etling?

    Will Canada’s impending departure affect how the Tigers play?

    Can CJ Sanders take advantage of LSU’s kickoff instability to make a game-affecting play?

    Who would win a pie-eating contest between Brian Kelly and Ed Orgeron?



    With the Fighting Irish receiver corps decimated, the Tiger defense will focus on stopping Adams and Wimbush on the ground and put pressure on Wimbush to make good decisions throwing the ball.  But without their missing linebackers, LSU won’t be able to bring the pressure they would like, and Wimbush will look improved over his late-season outings.  Notre Dame will return to the grind-it-out ground-based style that won them plenty of games early in the season, keeping the ball away from Etling and Guice, and while they’ll do some damage, it won’t be enough.

    NOTRE DAME 24, LSU 14

    17 Responses to “Tigers Stand Between Notre Dame and Elusive 10th win”

    1. Sadly, it’s a daydream. Etling will carve up our crappy secondary and likely be unstoppable, while Kelly bungles the offense throwing ineffectively and over-using Adams. I’m afraid I will have shut the TV off by Q3.

    2. irishhawk50 says:

      Don’t have a good feel for this game, but with the 4 suspensions and the stupid crap move of the November Syracuse game taste in my mouth I just don’t see ND turning around the November swoon. Hope I am wrong, but………

    3. It’s really hard to envision at top 15 SEC defense having any trouble stopping a one dimensional Irish offense. Hope I’m wrong but I can’t see it. I also envisions after about the 5th straight 3 and out LSU running game wear them down in the second half and hit a few deep routes when needed. Wimbush throws 3 picks and Adams is stuck running into 8 man fronts. LSU 27-13

    4. Mike, Our Secondary will make ETLING look like a first round draft pick..

      And the LSU D LINE will eat up our overrated OLINE.. I don’t care that they won the award as the best
      because they played terrible against the teams that mattered (Georgia and Miami)..Too much SEC

      Too many distractions from the WR Group.

      LSU Manhandles us..

      LSU 36
      ND 17

      • Jake you are an idiot !!!! Say what you want about our highly paid “great” head coach and AD, but your comment is utterly ridiculous. I could go into ALL of the reasons that you are incorrect but:

        1. That would take too long because I’m still recovering from my hangover, and

        2. You clearly do not know anything about major college team sports if you’re going to blame the kids (OL) for failing to block 11 players as a starting 5. The Irish very well may lose this game but this has more to do with the direction and leadership that they are given as opposed to their individual will and desire. Trying to explain to you all of the reasons that you are incorrect would probably fly straight over your head anyway as you are possibly one of the people that really believe that our second coat of paint will be different and more successful.

        Anyone that blames the players for this teams’ failures clearly are misguided, uninformed, and began the New Year by taking their stupid pills !!!!

        • Lonnie,

          You shouldn’t drink.. It makes you look stupid. I stand by my comments.

          We looked terrible today.. Lucky LSU couldn’t finish any of their drives..

    5. We don’t know which team will show up. Will it be the version who physically dominated USC and NC State or the deer in the headlights, totally unprepared version that we’ve seen against Alabama, OSU in bowl games and against Miami this year?

      With ND missing some key guys on offense they could still win but it will likely be a barn burner.

      Geaux Irish!

    6. I would expect it to be very tight, but believe Orgeron would win the pie eating contest.

    7. More Noise says:

      Nice write up Mike, and thanks. Hope Vannie is fine and having a nice break.
      Thanks also for all you do for the ND fan base with this site, and have done for years. I am more determinedly optimistic and positive minded than most of your commentariat and so have never tried to join your various discussion sites, but having been around since Leahy (OK I was a very teeny fan) I can appreciate the enormous effort you have put into this effort, so… merci beaucoup ( live in France).
      As for the outcome… we’ll see which teams show up, and whether LSU’s surge at the end of the season had to do some with the turmoil their last three opponents were undergoing… and like you say, is Josh really back to full speed (Dexter and Tony would be nice as well!)

    8. Hoping the Irish aren’t Tiger Bait. That said, for all I care maybe BK will be Tiger Bait. Almost game time–I have game on delay– ‘ cause I wanted to read Mr. Coffey’s pregame. Happy New Year– we will see ?

    9. James Schulze says:

      Wow, we have two all American linemen on the left side of the O line, and we don’t even try to establish the run. Flea flickers. Wide receive passes. The worst play calling I’ve ever seen. This is atrocious.

    10. Bernard Long says:

      ND never wins big bowl games. All Kelly’s QB’s get worse not better.

    11. AlumniDawg97 says:

      And with that, Coffey is vindicated! Sure didn’t make that look easy but a great win against a great opponent! Great way to start 2018.
      So about this QB situation…clearly more drama awaits.

    12. irishhawk50 says:

      Those who follow this site know I’ve called for Book all year. He gives ND the versatility on the pass game that opens up the running game. Glad to see Kelly finally woke up and made the right move before the game got away from him.

    13. Gritty win by the Irish. The defense showed a lot of heart. Kudos to Elko for turning things around on that side of the ball this year. They should only be better in year 2. Wimbush looked no better than he had all season, so Kelly made the logical move to give Book a chance. He looked good out there, except for the horrible decision on the interception.
      It looks like we have a major quarterback competition/controversy on our hands now. I could see any of the four (including Davis and Jurkovec) leading the team next year. Let’s hope Kelly handles that decision better than he has in the past. It will be interesting.
      Go Irish.

    14. Well I was right about Wimbush but Book gave them a spark and the D played well enough. Incredible play by Boykin! Needed a win like that to calm the fan base and create momentum in the offseason. I don’t think Kelly is the answer but as long as he recruits well and they win 10 every few years Swarbrick won’t make a change. For better or worse we are stuck with him so I’ll hope the culture changes are real, Swarbrick helps with scheduling (highly unlikely) and they find a QB for next season.