Five keys to the Notre Dame-LSU Citrus Bowl matchup

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune


The times Notre Dame has been at its best in 2017 is when its offensive line has been the dominant position group on the field. Faulty play-calling, a lack of in-game adjustments and a spotty passing game at times kept the Joe Moore Award-winning unit from looking the part of the nation’s best O-Line in all 12 games. That can’t happen against an LSU defensive front, admittedly missing a few key pieces, but one that held up very well this season against the other two Moore Award finalists, Alabama and Auburn.


Miami (Fla.) tilted its defense on Nov. 11 to go all in on stopping the vaunted Irish running game and forcing first-year starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush to beat them with his arm. He didn’t come close. Navy and Stanford played copy-cat the next two weeks. And you can bet LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, with better personnel than all three of those teams, will test a QB with a sub-50 percent completion rate. Wimbush, without three of his top four receivers, doesn’t have to be Joe Montana, but he must show improvement to give the Irish offense room to run.


That’s particularly true when it comes to turnover differential. In Notre Dame’s first nine games, the Irish forced 19 turnovers and gave the ball away seven times. But in their 1-2 regular-season finish, the Irish coaxed one takeaway and surrendered eight turnovers. Of all the metrics associated with Irish coach Brian Kelly, his 36-4 (.900) success rate at ND and 139-15 (.903) in his career when winning the turnover battle is the most profound. Yet it won’t be easy — no team in the FBS has committed fewer turnovers this season than LSU (8).


Notre Dame’s defense is going to have to cheat against the run and future first-round draft choice Derrius Guice to get the LSU offense in some uncomfortably long third-down situations. And if/when the Irish do, their pass rush must re-emerge. After recording a season-high five sacks against USC and QB Sam Darnold on Oct. 21, Notre Dame had a tepid two combined over the next four games and four for the balance of the season.


Or more accurately, cool LSU’s jets, as in jet sweeps — something apparently soon-to-be deposed Tigers offensive coordinator Matt Canada loves to employ with his wide receivers getting involved in the running game. Then again with all the quibbling between Canada and head coach Ed Orgeron this season, be prepared for a fight over the offensive joystick if things don’t go well early on.

The Notre Dame offensive line, here getting into position during the 20-19 loss to Georgia on Sept. 9, has another tall task Saturday in the Citrus Bowl against the vaunted LSU defense. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)