Corey Robinson won't tip Notre Dame's QB hand
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Corey Robinson wanted no part of the quarterback filibuster Brian Kelly has been perpetuating over the past month.
So Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver turned on the charm and diplomacy every time senior Everett Golson or sophomore Malik Zaire entered the conversation.
“I don’t think there’s a side to pick,” the sophomore from San Antonio, Texas, said about who will take the first and/or majority of the snaps at QB for Notre Dame (7-5) Tuesday in its Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl clash with No. 22 LSU (8-4) at LP Field.
“I like Malik. I like Everett. They’re both leaders,” he said. “I’m excited to see what happens, but it's not like there’s a split in the locker room, and I’m only catching from Everett today.”
Kelly, Notre Dame’s fifth-year coach, likely made his final decision Saturday, but is keeping it clandestine until he and LSU coach Les Miles do their final luncheon/press conference obligations on Monday afternoon.
Whichever quarterback does takes the reins first will be trying to be just the third quarterback in 48 non-conference games against Miles in his 10-year tenure at LSU to leave the stadium that day on the winning side.
Thirteen of the 45 non-conference wins have come against Top 25 teams, of which the Irish no longer are. Thirty-seven were decided by double digits, and of those, LSU scored 40 points or more in 27 of them.
“A game like this really sets the pace and tempo for next season,” Robinson said. “We come up with a win, and I think that’ll really change everything in the offseason, our mentality, knowing that we could go up against anyone in the country.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, we’ll out-physical and outplay you. That’s the kind of mind-set that we’re going to go into this game with.”
Both teams spent time in the top 10 of the national polls earlier this season and both had near upsets of teams playing in college football’s first-ever FBS playoff later this week.
The Irish fell one play short in a 31-27 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., on Oct. 18. LSU wilted in overtime at home against Alabama, 20-13, on Nov. 8.
Tuesday will be the 11th meeting in football between the two schools and the 11th in which at least one of them is ranked. They did compete in a hot (as in spicy) chicken-eating contest this weekend with the Irish prevailing in that contest, 25-19.
In football, of the 26 schools that Notre Dame has faced at least 10 times in its history, LSU (5-5 vs. ND) is one of only four with a .500 record or better against the Irish. Michigan (24-17-1), Nebraska (8-7-1) and Penn State (9-9-1) are the others.
The Tigers have much more than history on their side. They check most of the boxes in statistical comparisons with the Irish for Tuesday’s matchup, with their strongest trait being playing pass defense. They lead the nation in pass-efficiency defense with a 98.10 rating, which to put in perspective is the kind of number for a quarterback that would get you benched — for good — at most places.
The intriguing part of that stat is how the Tigers produce it. Interceptions are a big part of the pass-efficiency defense formula, but LSU has a modest 10 — six fewer than Notre Dame. And they excel against the pass without producing a lot of sacks in the process.
Seven of the 19 the Tigers amassed on the year came against FCS opponent Sam Houston State. LSU didn’t generate more than two in any of its other 11 games. Again, ND, which struggled against the pass, had more sacks (24) this season from its defense.
What the Tigers do do is keep quarterbacks in the 50 percent range, keep the yardage low and force them to throw into tight windows.
“I’m 6-5, and I’m trying to play like a 6-5 receiver and move them off the line and go up and get the ball,” Robinson said of his role in trying to overcome LSU’s pressing cornerbacks.
Physically, the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder has made marked improvement in 2014. His 40 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns dwarf his 2013 numbers (9 for 157, 1 TD).
But the preseason promise he made himself and famous father, former NBA star David Robinson, to make the same kind of strides mentally, he is not sure he kept.
“I’ve dropped the ball or something at critical moments, and I’ve had to say, ‘Ok, next play I can’t do that.’ ” Robinson said. “I think there’s been many instances where I’ve been able to overcome and be mentally strong, but there have been other times I’ve been tested and couldn’t step up.
“I think that’s one of the mantras I’ve got to focus on this game and then in the offseason. At this level it’s all mental.”
• Notre Dame practiced Sunday at the NFL’s Tennessee Titans’ indoor facility. They’ll have a walkthrough at the same place on Monday.
The Titans lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 27-10, Sunday at LP Field to complete a 2-14 season.
• Notre Dame's only previous appearance in Nashville came in 1996, when the Irish defeated Vanderbilt, 14-7, in a season-opening Thursday night game on the Commodores' campus in what ended up being Lou Holtz’s final season as the Irish head coach.