It’s last call for Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. This game is a chance for redemption this season and for the whupping they received last January against Ohio State. This Irish team has yet to put together a signature win and this is their last chance to do it. LSU is no chump, so an Irish victory here would be very significant for these seniors. But surprisingly, their offense is actually worse than it was last year and the defense is just as suspect. It will take a Herculean effort against LSU’s fast and athletic team for the Irish to win.
To be sure, Notre Dame is a good offensive football team, but they’ve been fighting an inclination towards finesse football. When things go badly for them (otherwise known as any time after the first quarter), the game will be placed squarely on Brady Quinn’s shoulders. Suddenly, Darius Walker will be on the sideline during crucial third down plays, and passes on first down and short yardage downs will be commonplace. Walker has run for 1139 yards this season, but he’s by no means a major part of the offense. The Irish are 79th in the nation in rushing yards and Walker is 21st in the nation in rush attempts. But when you consider that Quinn is 8th in the nation in passes attempted behind only USC’s John David Booty and quarterbacks from pass-first schools such as Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, and Purdue’s Curtis Painter. It’s becoming clear that Charlie Weis calls running plays because he feels obligated to rush the ball instead of really committing to it.
The Irish have developed into a “dink and dunk” offense that can only throw when the game is on the line. Quinn is averaging a relatively small 7.59 yards per attempt this season, an indicator that he’s been looking short much more this season. Compare that to last season when Quinn threw for nearly 700 more yards and averaged a full yard more per pass attempt, with an 8.71 yard average. What is the meaning of all these statistics? If LSU is able to get pressure on Quinn and disrupt his rhythm (like USC did in its victory over the Irish) then the Notre Dame offense will be, to put it nicely, ineffective.
(4) LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
LSU rolls into this game having lost to Auburn and Florida. The Florida loss is to be expected, seeing as how the Gators are in the BCS Championship Game. But,the 7-3 loss to Auburn is a clear sign of LSU’s struggle for consistency this season. Their offense has, somewhat surprisingly, outgained Notre Dame’s, though the Irish are considered to be much more explosive on that side of the ball. The Tigers are 10th in scoring offense (33.1 ppg) and 18th in offensive yards per game (404.2). Notre Dame ranks 12th in scoring offense (32.4 ppg) and 22nd in offensive yards per game (398.0). This is a small but significant difference. Though they’re not particularly successful at it, the Tigers are committed to running the ball. Therefore, LSU’s offense has achieved much more balance. The Tigers are 39th nationally in running yards per game (As mentioned before, Notre Dame is 79th). Because they can run the ball, the Tigers are converting 49.6% of the third downs they face compared to Notre Dame’s more pedestrian 38.5% conversion rate.
The main story for the Tigers is their defense. They’re second in the nation in total defense and are allowing just 12.5 points per game (4th in the nation). All-everything safety LaRon Landry is the leading tackler on a defensive unti full of playmakers. Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are the best players on an excellent defensive line. Jackson leads the team with 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, and he’s only a sophomore. Dorsey, a defensive tackle, is third on the team in tackles with 59 (19 solo). The other safety, Craig Steltz, is the team’s leader in interceptions. But, LSU’s biggest concern will be keeping the Irish receivers in front of them and limiting their yards after they catch the ball.
Notre Dame’s defense will have to win this game for them. LSU has athletes and big-play-potential all over the field. The Irish rank just 57th in scoring defense (22.4 ppg) and 45th in total defense (320.5 ypg). They absolutely have to get off the field on third down and Notre Dame’s offense cannot put them in bad positions on the field by maintaining possession of the ball. This will keep the D fresh and minimize the likelihood of big plays.