Somehow, some way, there’s still one more game remaining this season for the #14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team.
At 1 PM ET on New Year’s Day, Brian Kelly and his boys will face off against Coach O (Ed Orgeron) and his 16th-ranked LSU Tigers.
So, considering a lot of us haven’t seen more than a game or two of LSU’s season, I talked to Billy Gomila over at And The Valley Shook to just get a basic understanding of what the Irish will be up against come the first day of 2018.
A 2nd, more in-depth and much less serious sequel to this Q&A is in the works, but for now, arm yourselves with knowledge on the LSU Tigers below.
1. What can you tell me about the LSU offense, and who are the key players to watch there? Is this more of what we've seen in the past, with a great running game and mediocrity at QB? Or is it a bit different under Coach O and with Danny Etling at QB?
We all kind of go back and forth on how to describe the QB play this year. It doesn't feel right to call Danny Etling mediocre -- he's easily the best quarterback LSU has had since Zach Mettenberger, but again, low-bar to clear. He's been efficient, and able to complement the running game well. More of a classic game manager. Gets the offense in the right play and avoids turnovers, but if he has to be the guy that wins the game, we're in trouble.
The running game has gotten better as Derrius Guice has gotten healthy. Darrel Williams is a good partner for him as a power runner. Overall, this has been a more diverse group, spreading the ball among backs and tight ends in the passing game and receivers in the running game. The wide receivers are more inconsistent than we'd like, but the top two guys, D.J. Chark and Russell Gage, have made some clutch plays this season.
2. Defensively, how good is this defense led by Arden Key? What other names should ND know about out there, and does the defense have any weaknesses?
Sadly, we were robbed of seeing Key fully operational this final year. Shoulder surgery kept him out for the first few games, and then it took him a while to really get into shape before a knee and hand injury took him out of the last two games. We really hope we get this last matchup -- especially to see him go up against another big-time pro prospect in Mike McGlinchey. That could be a fun battle to watch.
Otherwise, when this defense is at 100-percent overall, it's pretty stout. Sadly, it hasn't always been that this year, with multiple defensive linemen missing time. That's led to some struggles stopping the run, which is not great to think about facing Notre Dame.
That said, when it's 100-percent, this front seven is a lot of fun to watch, particularly linebacker Devin White, the SEC's leading tackler. The secondary is fantastic, led by cornerback Greedy Williams* and corner/nickel/safety Donte Jackson. The Irish will want to avoid throwing on this group too much.
*Pat Rick note: AMAZING name
3. LSU had an up-and-down season, it seems like, beating Auburn but also losing to a team like Troy. How do LSU fans feel about the year, and about this bowl game/opponent?
LSU came into this year with a pretty young squad, and early on had to deal with a lot of attrition -- injuries, suspensions, and transfers, on both the offensive and defensive lines. That, coupled with a new offense, led to some issues early on and some 20 true freshmen seeing the field, including two starters on the offensive line.
The Troy game proved to be a rock bottom moment that kind of galvanized things, and set the stage for the program's first 6-2 conference mark since 2012, so that's something I'm proud of for this group. There are some things to build on and be excited about if they can build on it through recruiting and into next year.
As far as this matchup, most LSU fans were hoping for something fresh. And again, that's nothing against Notre Dame at all, but the idea of playing Michigan, a team that LSU has never played in football EVER, would have been pretty cool.
That said, if we had to take on somebody that we've seen before, Notre Dame always adds some juice to the matchup, and I'm pretty confident that will be evident for the players. And if you can't be in the playoff, the Citrus Bowl is still among the better of that next tier of bowls. Who doesn't want to go to Disneyworld?
4. Are LSU fans anxious to avenge a Music City Bowl loss, or is this just an entirely new game and challenge and that doesn't matter?
BRAD KRAGTHORPE SCORED THAT TOUCHDOWN DAMMIT!
That game is still a bit raw because of everything that went into it -- namely LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis essentially tanking the game by revealing his intention to leave for Texas A&M to his defense right before the start of the game. That's not necessarily Notre Dame's fault, but it's a game we'd like to have back.
5. What are your personal thoughts on Coach O, and are LSU fans happy and hopeful for his future there?
Enthusiasm levels varied on the Coach O hire at ATVS, but I myself was very happy he got the chance to take over full-time. We are all very hopeful for his future.
This was a nice first season -- nobody really had championship expectations for this team -- but the key will be building upon it in the future through recruiting and maintaining a great staff. That's the model we had success with under Les Miles before it started to fall off, and we believe it can be replicated.
Shout out to Billy for getting us up to speed on ND’s next opponent! I encourage you all to follow him here on Twitter and to also follow And The Valley Shook on Twitter and on their site for lots of great coverage and takes leading up to the big game (including my initial Q&A with Billy about ND).
Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next few weeks!