2014 Music City Bowl Preview: LSU Tigers vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish


Ordinarily a bowl matchup between the LSU Tigers (#22 in the CFP rankings) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, two elite college football programs, should attract a lot of attention and excitement. This doesn’t appear to the be the case this time around, as both programs struggled through down years in 2014 as each looks forward to the Music City Bowl.

More from LSU Football

Date: Dec. 30, 2014
Time: 2:00 pm CT
Venue: LP Field — Nashville, TN
Records: LSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC), Notre Dame (7-5)
Series Record: 5-5 (LSU leads 2-0 in bowl games)
Internet Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: LSU favored by 8.5
More information on the teams: LSU: www.lsusports.net; Notre Dame: www.und.com

LSU began its SEC slate at 0-2, recovered to win three games in a row, then lost two in a row before ending the regular season on a positive note with a 23-17 road win at Texas A&M.

Notre Dame opened its season with six consecutive wins, then proceeded to lose five of its last six, including its last four in a row to close out the regular season. The Irish finished the year with a 49-14 thumping at the hands of Southern Cal.

Both teams enter this contest with their eyes on bringing some good vibes into the offseason.

Keys to the Game

Both teams have struggled on offense throughout the year, and to some extent, share difficulties at the quarterback position. The team that can establish itself on offense will have an easier path to victory.

For LSU, establishing the running game is key. Starting with the Florida game, LSU’s identity is run-first, with freshman Leonard Fournette taking on the bulk of the workload. This strategy paid off for the most part, as LSU won four of its last six after starting the SEC schedule with two losses. The Tigers have a lot of depth at the running back position, and a strong offensive line featuring La’el Collins, All-SEC  First-Team and Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner. Fournette leads the Tigers with 891 yards rushing on the season.

LSU averages 219.5 yards rushing per game, which is 29th best nationally, and fifth best in the SEC. Notre Dame is not particularly adept in defending the run. The Irish defensive unit allows 161.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 64th nationally. LSU should be able to rely on the running game, and this will likely include more zone-reads and designed runs for the quarterback.

Notre Dame’s strength on offense is its passing game, as the Irish average 293.8 passing yards per game, 16th best nationally. Senior quarterback Everett Golson started the year strong, but has tailed off during the latter stages of the season. Golson on the year is 250-416 for 3,355 yards with 29 touchdowns and a whopping 14 interceptions. Notre Dame’s strength plays into LSU’s strength of pass defense; Golson will have to play a smart game and avoid throwing picks to give the Irish a chance to win.

Matchups to Watch

The LSU running game vs. the Notre Dame defense – As the first key to the game indicated above, look for LSU to successfully establish the run early, riding Fournette’s back. The freshman is coming off a career-high 146 yards rushing against Texas A&M, including that bruising hit on a poor Aggie defender that drew immediate comparisons to Georgia’s Herschel Walker.

LSU has a “four-headed monster” at the running back position, rounded out by seniors Terrence Magee (second on the team with 545 yards) and Kenny Hilliard (431 yards), and freshman Darrel Williams (280 yards). It would appear that Hilliard will be available to play after suffering an injury against Alabama that saw him miss the last two games.

Let’s not forget that with all of LSU’s quarterback difficulties this year, both Anthony Jennnigs and Brandon Harris have running ability. Jennings ran for a career-high 119 yards against Texas A&M. Expect Cam Cameron to continue to add wrinkles to the offense to take better advantage of the quarterbacks’ skill sets.

Notre Dame will have difficulty in stopping LSU’s rushing attack, and in the process, look for LSU to have some success in the passing game.

Everett Golson vs. the LSU defense Golson has shown flashes of brilliance during his career at Notre Dame, but has had his share of tough times as well. He missed all of last season due to academic issues after playing very well two years ago, and his main problem this year is the alarming number of interceptions. Tiger fans know this plays right into the teeth of the defensive unit’s strength, the LSU secondary.

The LSU defense on the season finished first overall in total defense in the SEC, allowing 306 yards per game (works out to 8th best nationally). In the pass defense category, the Tigers allow 162.3 yards per game, which is second best in the SEC (4th nationally). The Tigers allow 16.4 points per game, the second best mark in the SEC (3rd nationally).

Expect Golson and the Irish offense to have a tough time, and this includes running the ball. The Tigers improved on run defense throughout the course of the season, and although the Irish feature one running back with 800+ yards on the year (Tarean Folston with 816), there is little depth in the running back position. The main receiving threat that the Tigers need to watch is Irish WR William Fuller, who has 71 receptions for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Game Prediction

The LSU offense will continue where it left off in the win over Texas A&M, and Brandon Harris will make more than a cursory appearance. The LSU defense will dominate, making life difficult for the Notre Dame offense.

LSU prevails, 24-10.