Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Louisiana State Tigers (9-3 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Monday, January 1st, 1:00 PM
Where: Camping World Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND +3 / LSU -3
Over/Under Total: 51.5
Notre Dame and LSU meet in Orlando at Camping World Stadium for the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. This will be the twelfth time the two teams have played against each other with three of the last four matchups coming in bowl games (2014 Music City, 2007 Sugar and 1997 Independence). The Fighting Irish hold a 6-5 all-time advantage in the series, including having won their last matchup 27-24 three years ago, which marks the last time Brian Kelly won a meaningful game at ND in any month after October.
The failures of Kelly are well known to Notre Dame fans as they have watched continuously as his teams have repeatedly fallen and he has been clearly outcoached in near every game of relevance they have had in recent years, with the following rancid records only serving as further proof that the team can only go so far as long as Kelly is patrolling the sidelines; 1-10 in their last 11 vs top 13 teams, 2-7 in their last 9 vs ranked teams, 0-7 in their last 7 November games vs ranked teams and 3-6 in their last nine November games against any opponent.
The Fighting Irish will be looking to rebound after another disappointing end to the season, this time letting up 133 points in their final four games after allowing a total of 129 in their first eight. There is unquestionable talent on the ND defensive roster with lineman Jerry Tillery, linebackers Te’Von Coney, Drue Quanquill and Nyles Morgan along with defensive backs Julian Love and Nick Coleman, but they seemed to struggle with consistency late in the year, though were certainly not helped by a turnover prone offense that had a tough time staying on the field for extended periods of time as the season came to an end.
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s difficulty with turnovers continues to have a direct impact on the teams’ success as all three losses this season came in games when he had two or more combined interceptions/fumbles, and unfortunately his way of offsetting his lack of passing skills was not as effective as seen previously as Wimbush was only able to score one rushing touchdown in the last three games of the season which includes their losses to Miami and Stanford. His pocket presence didn’t get that much better during the year as his passing percentage stayed at the same porous level (he finished the year at 49.8%) and despite having two of the best offensive lineman in all of college football blocking in front of him (Mike McGlinchery and Quentin Nelson), the team still ranked a dismal 75th nationally in sacks allowed. Not the best sign, especially with an LSU defense on tap that ranked 16th in the country in sacks with an average of just under three per game.
The Irish rushing attack lost a lot of it’s momentum when star Josh Adams was injured against Wake Forest, and they will be hoping the extra time off will have given up enough to full recuperate as their running game as a whole has encountered a great deal of difficulty of late in terms of getting into the endzone, with Adams not having scored in their final four games, Dexter Williams since September, Tony Jones since the opening month and Deon McIntosh since the first week in October. Their offensive attack as a whole took a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and running C.J. Holmes had been suspended indefinitely from all team activities and would not be playing in their bowl game. Stepherson had become more of a factor late in the season and over their previous two games posted 215 yards receiving and three touchdowns along with a yards per catch average of over 25 per
The loss of Stepherson will certainly hurt Notre Dame, but the Tigers got even worse news when it was released Tuesday that linebackers Arden Key, Donnie Alexander and Corey Thompson would not be playing in the Citrus Bowl. The loss of Key, who is expected to go early in next year’s draft, is especially painful but they have played without him already this year in four games and ended up winning each by at least 20 points including closing their regular season out with dominant victories at Tennessee and at home against Texas A&M. There is still plenty of talent to go around, most notably at the now depleted linebacker position, with linebacker Devin White earning 1st Team All-SEC honors after recording a conference best 127 tackles and a 7th in the nation best mark of 10.6 tackles per game. With Notre Dame now lacking at wide receiver, top LSU defensive backs Donte Jackson and Andraez ‘Greedy’ Williams should be even more effective and in doing so put that much more pressure on the Irish running game.
A key part of Notre Dame’s early season success was due to their ability to score points off turnovers, but much like their points per game allowed average that skyrocketed through their last four games, they have not been close to duplicating that run of takeaways after having produced just three in their final five games (which includes the blowout losses to Miami and Stanford) after causing 17 in their first seven. They’ll find the going that much tougher when facing Tigers quarterback Danny Etling, who was incredibly efficient throughout the year with 28 touchdowns compared to only 2 interceptions. Etling was certainly not alone, as LSU finished their season ranked 1st in the country in turnovers lost with just eight while also finishing 18th in turnover margin.
As much as Etling has been key in limiting his mistakes, the focal point of the offense is unquestionably running back Derrius Guice. The junior running back was recognized with 2nd Team All-SEC honors after putting up 1,153 yards on the ground along with scoring eleven touchdowns. LSU’s only losses were in games that either Guice didn’t play (Troy) or those when he was below 80 yards rushing, and throughout his time in Baton Rouge his success has clearly correlated to that of his team, as the Tigers have gone 14-0 in games when Guice gets over 100 yards and 17-1 when he scores a rushing touchdown. The loss of their defensive players to injury are nothing compared to the effect Guice’s absense would have, and LSU fans are holding their breath that despite not having practiced in over a week that head coach Ed Orgeron is correct in his opinion that their lead back will be good and ready for the Citrus Bowl
LSU enters the game riding a wave of momentum, having won six of their last seven games with their only loss since September coming against Alabama. Notre Dame ended theirs in opposite fashion, and now goes into the Citrus Bowl shorthanded at wide receiver and albatrossed by head coach Brian Kelly and his disappearing act when playing in games that matter most. Kelly’s unfortunate stats at Notre Dame listed in paragraph two are not alone, as his recent bowl game performances throughout his career against ranked teams goes back prior to his tenure at South Bend, with Kelly posting a 1-4 record both straight up and against the spread against ranked teams in bowl games. If Guice doesn’t play I might be hesitant to back the Tigers, but at the same time they’ll be going up against a head coach that withers when it matters most and because of that I will be backing LSU to get the win and cover in the Citrus Bowl.
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