No. 14 Dame, No. 16 LSU look to grind it out
ORLANDO, Fla. — Even with more than a month to prepare and a season's worth of tape to analyze, the game plan for 14th-ranked Notre Dame and No. 16 LSU is straightforward heading into today's Citrus Bowl: have success on the ground and stop the run.
Both teams are ranked in the top 30 nationally in rushing offense and are powered by junior running backs. That is where the similarities end, though.
Notre Dame, which is seventh in the nation at 279.1 rushing yards per game, has a dual-threat quarterback in Brandon Wimbush and a big-play running back in Josh Adams.
"There's a lot of different offenses we have to defend — their quarterback runs, their power game, big offensive line coming right at you," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
Wimbush has excelled in his first season as a starter. The junior set school records for rushing yards (765) and rushing touchdowns (14) by a quarterback. Adams is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has eight carries of 60 yards or more, which is tied for the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Fighting Irish also have one of the best offensive lines in the nation with a pair of AP All-American selections — tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson — manning the left side. Orgeron, who had been an offensive line coach at previous stops, said this might be the best combo he has had to face.
Making matters more difficult for LSU is that it will go into the game hampered by injuries on its defense. Linebackers Arden Key (knee), Corey Thompson and Donnie Alexander (shoulder) will not play and will be replaced by a combination of freshmen.
Notre Dame may be forced to pass more with three of Wimbush's top targets missing the game. Wide receiver Kevin Stephenson, who had five touchdowns, and tight end Alize Mack are suspended and Chase Claypool has a shoulder injury.
LSU's rushing attack is led by a pair of physical backs in Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams; both combined for seven 100-yard games. Guice, who has posted 1,000-yard seasons the last two years, was the MVP of last year's Citrus Bowl game, with 138 yards and a touchdown in the win over Louisville.
"They're going to probe and prod and they're going to look for their opportunities, and when they hit it, they hit it big," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Both teams are 9-3 and looking for momentum going into the offseason. The Tigers have won six of their last seven after being upset by Troy. The Fighting Irish have dropped two of their last three after starting 8-1 and being in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Here are some other things to know going into the Citrus Bowl:
DOUBLE DIGITS IN SIGHTS: Notre Dame is seeking its third double-digit wins season in Kelly's eight years. LSU has won eight games or more for 18 straight seasons, but it has not reached 10 wins since 2013.
NEW YEAR'S JINX? A Jan. 1 game in Florida might be the worst combination for Notre Dame. The Irish have a 9-game losing streak in bowl games either designated as a New Year's Six or played on Jan. 1. They also have dropped their last six bowl games played in the state.
EFFICIENT ETLING: LSU senior quarterback Danny Etling has 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. His favorite target is senior receiver DJ Chark, who has 35 receptions for 811 yards and three touchdowns.
SPECIAL TEAMS COULD LOOM LARGE: Kelly said his biggest concern about not playing in a month is making sure his team can be consistent in special teams. LSU has struggled on field goals, as freshman Connor Culp and sophomore Jack Gonsoulin are 15 of 24. Orgeron said he is undecided on who will get the call in this game.
OFFENSIVE DISCORD? LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada could be coaching his final game with the Tigers. The Baton Rouge Advocate has reported that he could leave because of philosophical differences with Orgeron. How much of an impact that might have had with game preparations remains to be seen; Canada did not address his future during a new conference on Friday.