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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 6:39 pm

Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU

Records: Irish (7-5), No. 22 Tigers (8-4)

Line: LSU by 7

Last meeting: LSU won 41-14 in the 2007 Sugar Bowl

Series: Tied, 5-5

Offense

Advantage: Even

Notre Dame: 33 points per game, 444.6 yards per game, 293.8 passing yards per game, 150.8 rushing yards per game

LSU: 27.6 points per game, 383.4 yards per game, 163.9 passing yards per game, 219.5 rushing yards per game

The skinny: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly shifted to a bit more passing than last season. The Irish went from dropping back to pass 50 percent of the time to 53 percent, and quarterback Everett Golson racked up 3,355 passing yards. He has completed 62.8 percent of his passes away from Notre Dame Stadium this season and 57.2 percent at home. This is his second bowl.

The Tigers emphasize the run. They pass only 34 percent of the time, and their top receiver is Travin Dural, who led the team with 37 catches. Freshman Leonard Fournette led the team with 891 rushing yards.

Defense

Advantage: LSU

Notre Dame: 29.3 points per game, 401.5 yards per game, 239.8 passing yards per game, 161.7 rushing yards per game

LSU: 16.4 points per game, 305.8 yards per game, 162.3 passing yards per game, 143.5 rushing yards per game

The skinny: Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over a successful unit from 2013 but has watched things go sour because of personnel issues.

One of his best players, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, is going to play today despite a sprained medial collateral ligament. He won’t be 100 percent, and no one expects him to be on the field for the entire game. Day is returning less than seven weeks after being injured in a loss to Northwestern.

LSU’s defense begins with cornerback Tre’Davious White. He’s flawless in coverage. Along with Jalen Collins and Jamal Adams, the Tigers have three strong cornerbacks to match up with the Irish’s dangerous three- and four-receiver sets.

Special teams

Advantage: LSU

Notre Dame: 13-for-23 field goals, 20.9 kick return avg., 9.3 punt return avg., 41.6 net punting avg.

LSU: 13-for-18 field goals, 23.9 kick return avg., 10.8 punt return avg., 45 net punting avg.

The skinny: Senior Irish kicker Kyle Brindza had his most inconsistent season and is shakier than LSU’s Colby Delahoussaye, who was 11 for 15 this year. The Tigers feature players capable of making field position-changing plays in the return game in White (67-yard punt return touchdown in Week 8) and Fournette (nation’s 63rd-leading kickoff return man).

Special-teams mistakes killed Notre Dame late in the year. The special teams, which are an annual issue, don’t appear to be fixed, and the play was so poor that the Irish even had a PAT blocked against Northwestern that was recovered and returned to the end zone for two points.

Coaches

Advantage: Even

Notre Dame: Brian Kelly – 24 seasons (5th at Notre Dame), 44-20 record at Notre Dame (0-0 vs. LSU)

LSU: Les Miles – 14 seasons (10th at LSU), 103-28 record at LSU (1-0 vs. Notre Dame)

The skinny: Miles’ energetic presence has been a fixture on the sidelines for 12 bowl games, making him a veteran postseason coach. He’s 7-5 in those games and won the national title in 2007.

Kelly is 4-3 in the postseason with two different programs and went to the BCS national title game in 2012. He doesn’t let his players get too high, or tight, for bowl games.

Prediction

Because they come in with the better overall talent, the Tigers have a great chance of winning the Music City Bowl. Notre Dame isn’t about to find some magic cure for its problems, and LSU will come out on top 37-20.

– Chris Goff,

The Journal Gazette 

 cgoff@jg.net