For Notre Dame, LSU adds a sense of urgency

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Better than Rutgers, that’s for sure.

But, LSU, the Notre Dame football team’s Music City Bowl opponent, is only a “secondary” concern in the preparation process, according to Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

The main Irish focus will be getting their own house in order.

Now there’s a daunting task.

“This is really about improving our football team more than anything else, and improving the play,” said Kelly.

Notre Dame has issues to solve over the next 22 days. Most of the ones that can be addressed are on offense. The Irish defense is too battered to come up with any sort of long-term answers. Just put together enough semi-healthy bodies to keep an LSU offense that averages 220 yards on the ground from running for 500 in Nashville.

If the Irish defense struggles, so what? This is an SEC team that was competitive in a stratosphere that values speed and physicality more than GPAs and SAT scores.

If the outcome of this game is the tipping point on a wager to see who gets stuck being the designated driver on New Year’s Eve, take the over.

The scoreboard operator is going to get a workout.

Kelly is committed to getting it right on offense. Whether it’s Everett Golson or Malik Zaire under center, it’s going to be someone who can reflect the coach’s image of what a quarterback should be.

That means no turnovers. That means quick decisions based on the immediate situation. That means proper fundamentals and a clean technique.

It’s all Kelly’s vision. He’ll know improvement when he sees it.

“It's probably more toward what my eye sees during practice,” Kelly said. “So I guess it will be when I see what I see will be the duration of that competition.”

Very abstract, yet anyone who has watched the quarterback position since the Florida State game knows exactly what Kelly means. There has been a measure of dysfunction that never really has been completely ironed out.

Having 8-4 LSU waiting at the end of about 15 pre-bowl practices will add to the sense of urgency involved with the preparation.

These players are competitors. Kelly and his staff have the luxury of shrugging off the December workouts as the first step in the building process toward 2015. There won’t be a lot of LSU-specific work done.

The practices will be geared toward player development with an eye on the big picture. The quarterback derby will get all the attention. But don’t sell short the process that goes into sorting out the issues that the offensive line had this season.

The players, though, are struggling with the hurt that comes along with a four-game losing streak. Most are going through that sort of trauma for the first time in their lives.

Add to that the fact that LSU has the potential of putting up a lot of points on the depleted Irish defense and – hopefully – there’s a chill running down the spine of any Notre Dame player who still cares.

If nothing else, the possibility for another major embarrassment could be quite a motivator.

The Irish have been through a lot the last six weeks – most of it hasn’t been good. There comes a time to put the foot down and stop the bleeding, once and for all.

Southern Cal seemed to be the perfect opportunity to save face and restore some semblance of pride. Everyone knows how that turned out.

This team is out of chances. If Notre Dame is going to show its mettle and prove its heart, it has to happen on Dec. 30 in Nashville.

Or allow the negativity to simmer for nine months.

Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will face LSU in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl in Nashville. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)