The Music City Bowl is just days away, and the LSU Tigers arrive in in Nashville today, continuing with preparations for the game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Tuesday, December 30th.
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As has been the case throughout the football season, Death Valley Voice will provide some game analysis, including featured matchups. We will divide this into two parts. Yesterday, we looked at the LSU offense vs. the Notre Dame defense. Today, the LSU defense vs. the Notre Dame offense.
LSU defense vs. Notre Dame offense
LSU enters the Notre Dame game with one of the top defenses in the nation. The Tigers allow 306 yards per game (8th nationally, 1st SEC), including 162.3 passing yards per game (4th nationally, 2nd SEC), and 143.5 rushing yards per game (38th nationally, 7th SEC). The Chinese Bandits allow 16.4 points per game (3rd nationally, 2nd SEC).
LSU boasts one of the top secondaries in the nation as demonstrated by the stats. Freshman Jamal Adams has established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the country, and Ronald Martin, Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins, Tre’Davious White, and Rickey Jefferson have all had strong campaigns for LSU.
The one question mark entering the year was run defense, and these numbers improved throughout the year.
LSU’s fortunes on defense in 2014 turned around on October 11th at Florida. That’s when John Chavis inserted linebacker Kendell Beckwith into the starting lineup, replacing D.J. Welter.
Tiger fans remember (all too well) the manner in which the LSU defense was gashed up the middle in consecutive conference losses to Mississippi State and Auburn. Starting off the SEC slate with those two defeats was tough to swallow, and the yardage allowed by the LSU defense was something not seen in quite some time.
Mississippi State gained a total of 570 yards on the Tiger defense (302 rushing, 268 passing), and Auburn gained a total of 566 yards (298 rushing, 268 passing). The area of greatest concern was the success both SEC foes had between the tackles. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, and Auburn quarterback Nik Marshall both had field days against the Tigers. It was more than obvious that something had to give.
At that juncture, Beckwith replaced Welter in the middle linebacker spot, and the Tiger defense improved immediately. It was truly a difference of night and day. Additionally, the play up front improved as well – defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture received much playing time due to time missed by Quentin Thomas, and they both grew into their roles.
The largest rushing total allowed by LSU in the next six conference games was 137 by Ole Miss, and the Tigers held three SEC foes (Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas A&M) to under 100 yards rushing.
Oct 18, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Kendell Beckwith (52) tackles Kentucky Wildcats running back Mikel Horton (4) in the third quarter at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Kentucky 41-3. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
As for Notre Dame, the Irish average 445 yards per game on offense (37th nationally), including 293.8 passing yards per game (16th nationally), and 150.8 rushing yards per game (83rd nationally). They average 33 points per game (42nd nationally).
On paper, the Irish have a strong passing game, with senior Everett Golson at quarterback. Golson has had an up-and-down career. He was great two years ago, then had to sit out last season due to academic issues. This year, he was 250-416 for 3,355 yards with 29 touchdowns, and a whopping 14 interceptions. His backup, sophomore Malik Zaire saw limited action, going 9-20 for 170 yards and no touchdowns.
The LSU defense has to be chomping at the bit in terms of facing Golson. The number of interceptions is certainly alarming to the Irish coaching staff, and as a result, head coach Brian Kelly has stated that both quarterbacks will play against LSU. The Notre Dame offense essentially lives and dies via its passing game, and this plays directly into the strength of the LSU defense.
As for the Irish running game, they do boast an 800+ yard running back in sophomore Tarean Folston (816 yards on the year); however, the second leading rusher, sophomore Greg Bryant has put up a pedestrian 287 yards on the ground. With Beckwith leading the defense, the Tigers don’t have a lot to be concerned with relative to the Notre Dame running game.
Look for the Tiger defense to neutralize the Irish passing game, forcing them to rely more on an inefficient running game, and into turnovers.
As indicated in our game preview from a couple of weeks of ago, LSU prevails in this one by a count of 24-10.