Can LSU’s defense slow down the Irish’s two-headed attack of Wimbush and Adams?
The Citrus Bowl once again features the LSU Tigers but this time they will take on Notre Dame. LSU never quite lived up to their preseason hype and finished 9-3 with losses to Mississippi State, Alabama, and Troy. Notre Dame, on the other hand, bounced back after a 4-8 2016 season with a 9-3 season of their own. However, the Irish were in prime position for a CFP berth but stumbled at the end of the season. LSU and Notre Dame last met in the 2014 Music City Bowl where the Irish won 31-28. Can LSU win this time around?
The Citrus Bowl will be played on Jan. 1st at 1:00 pm EST on ABC.
Headlines Heading Into The Game
1. Suspensions Adding Up For Irish- Notre Dame’s depth took a major hit the past couple weeks with the school announcing the suspension of four players for the Citrus Bowl: running backs C.J Holmes and Deon McIntosh, receiver Kevin Stepherson, and tight end Alize Mack. Holmes only has eight carries for 32 yards on the season but McIntosh was third on the team with 65 carries, 368 yards, and five touchdowns. Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush will still take the bulk of the carries, but now there will be increased pressure on Tony Jones Jr. and Dexter Williams to take those backup carries.
BREAKING: Kevin Stepherson and CJ Holmes has been suspended indefinitely from the football team.— Angelo Di Carlo (@angdicarlowndu) December 20, 2017
The two were arrested Friday night for shoplifting.
Details here: https://t.co/VxUqOzTLiq
An injury to the Irish’s second-leading receiver in Chase Claypool already hurts but add two suspensions and the passing game takes a huge hit. Mack and Stepherson combined for 38 receptions, 525 yards, and six touchdowns. Equanimeous St. Brown is still obviously the biggest threat but losing three of your top five targets is never something a coach or quarterback look forward to.
2. Tiger’s Defense Without Starters- Notre Dame isn’t the only team that will be without some star players. LSU will be without three of their starting linebackers. Arden Key, Donnie Alexander, and Corey Thompson will all sit out of the Citrus Bowl. Key was a preseason First-Team All-American selection but is skipping the bowl. Head coach Ed Orgeron believes that decision is so Key can prepare for the NFL Draft.
Thompson and Alexander are missing the game with actual injuries that have plagued the two all season. Alexander underwent surgery on his shoulder that caused him to miss three games. When he was playing, Alexander picked up 51 tackles and a sack. Thompson has dealt with a number of injuries over his six-year career but has played in every game this season. He has picked up 43 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and six sacks on the season.
3. Consolation Prize For Irish- Notre Dame’s 2016 season was a disaster. They went 4-8 and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2009. This season went much better. They finished 9-3 but had a great shot at sneaking into the playoffs. They started 8-1, with their only loss being to then first-ranked Georgia, and were as high as third in the CFP rankings. But a 41-8 loss to Miami knocked the Irish out of contention. Add a 38-20 loss to Stanford and Notre Dame find themselves in the Citrus Bowl. Not exactly what they had in mind midway through the season.
28.1- The SEC isn’t known to have the most prolific offenses in the country but LSU is near the bottom of the conference and the nation is scoring points. The Tigers average only 28.1 points per game, which is ninth in the SEC and 72nd overall. Notre Dame can score the football and LSU will need their offense firing on all cylinders to keep up with the Irish. LSU can’t afford to let Notre Dame jump out to an early two-score lead if they want a chance to win down the stretch.
20- Notre Dame’s defense doesn’t quite strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. They give up 367 yards per game which is 44th in the country and have only picked off their opponents 10 times. There is one person that teams should worry about when going against the Irish and that’s sophomore cornerback Julian Love. On the season, Love has been the Irish’s best secondary player all year long. He has 20 pass breakups which include three interceptions.
Kelly on LSU defense: “Very similar to Georgia in their presentation. … They’re really dictating how they’re going to play you. … This is an in-your-face, fast defense and they’re going to force you into errors.”— Stephen Brooks (@StephenM_Brooks) December 31, 2017
126.4- Overall LSU has a tremendous defense. They only give 311.7 yards and 18.8 points per game. The worst part for Notre Dame is that the Tigers are great at stopping the run. The Irish rely heavily on the run and LSU ranks 23rd against the run allowing only 126.4 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams are a dynamic rushing duo but look for LSU to make Wimbush be a throwing quarterback. He’s only completed 49.8% of his passes and the Tigers want him to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm.
Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame- As mentioned before, Notre Dame loves to run the ball. They average 279.1 yards on the ground per game and have built their identity on pounding the rock. The two guys that allow Notre Dame to rush so well are on the left side of the line. Seniors Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson are two of the best offensive linemen in the entire country. Both were named AP First-Team All-Americans and are seen as top-20 picks in the NFL Draft. Notre Dame loves running behind these guys and will need to do more of it against a very good LSU defense.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU- There was a lot of talk about three missing defensive starters for LSU but fans were even more worried about running back Derrius Guice. He’s been battling a leg injury recently, but Orgeron has announced that Guice will be ready for the Citrus Bowl. Guice is the star of this LSU offense after rushing for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns and Notre Dame hasn’t been doing well lately against the run. Over the last five games, the Irish have given up 905 rushing yards to their opponents. Guice will get the ball early and often while testing how prepared Notre Dame actually is.
PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 30, 2017
Why Notre Dame Will Win
Wimbush has shown flashes as a passer but is obviously more of a threat with his legs. He has picked up 765 rushing yards and added 14 touchdowns on the ground. His counterpart Adams was an early Heisman candidate but fell off due to injury later in the year. He ran for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns, but over their last four games he picked up only 217 yards on 59 carries and zero scored. The Irish offense only goes as far as Adams and Wimbush take them.
Based on defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s comments, Notre Dame should be very worried about LSU’s run defense.
I mean, these two backs are extremely explosive, I don’t know why they haven’t quite got the national headlines as a pair. You know, as we look at them, they’re as good as we’ve seen.
Not only is Guice a problem, senior Darrel Williams is just as dangerous. He’s piled up 776 yards and nine touchdowns to compliment Guice. Notre Dame will have to contain them in some way to win. LSU has only turned the ball over eight times all year and is extremely careful with the ball. The turnover game will be a major key that the Irish must win. They’re not a good enough football team to overcome too many turnovers (see Miami game).
Why LSU Will Win
The Tigers’ chances of winning will depend on how they control the run game, on both offense and defense. Guice will have to be the one to set the pace on offense. On the season, he’s rushed for under 80 yards in five games and LSU is 3-2 in those matchups. In their other loss to Troy, Guice didn’t even play. That shows just how important Guice and the running game is for LSU. Quarterback Danny Etling isn’t going to take the starring role in this offense but isn’t going to lose it for the Tigers. He only has two interceptions on the year and will need to be efficient to give some balance to the offense.
On defense, all the focus should be on stopping Wimbush and Adams on the ground. Wimbush only has two games where he’s completed over 55% of his passes. LSU should stack the box and force Wimbush to be strictly a passer. It’s easier said than done but in Notre Dame’s three losses Wimbush has completed 46% of his passes with only three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Notre Dame has problems with bigger schools from the Power 5 conferences. They’re 6-3 on the year against the big names but 2-3 against the top-25. Miami showed that the Irish struggle against speed and LSU is certainly a fast team.
PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 31, 2017
However, I don’t trust Etling to make enough plays to make the Irish forget about the passing game. Notre Dame should be able to key off on Guice and Williams and contain them from breaking any big plays.
Just like LSU, Notre Dame loves to run the ball and the Tigers defense took a hit by losing three defensive starters. Expect Elko to attack the young guys and force them into mistakes. I expect Wimbush to do just enough through the air where RPOs could be very effective and keep the defense honest.
Notre Dame takes it 31-20
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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