Falling two spots shy of making a Playoff-eligible bowl, No. 14 Notre Dame will face No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day (1 p.m. ET; ABC). Both teams will be looking for their 10th wins of the season, and, as has been the story for the Irish throughout the year, it will be a focus of strength versus strength, dangerous rushing offenses against stout rushing defenses.
“We’re thrilled with the opportunity and excited about the challenge that awaits us with LSU — one of the premier programs in all of college football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We had quite a battle with the Tigers a few years ago in a bowl game, and I’d expect a similar contest this time around.
“Our University has never participated in the Citrus Bowl, one of the longest-standing bowl games in the nation, and we’re delighted to play in a bowl game on Jan. 1 for the second time in three years.”
Led by sophomore linebacker Devin White (3.5 sacks, 127 tackles, one interception) and senior defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (51 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), the Tigers held opponents to 3.80 yards per carry, No. 38 in the country.
Other defensive statistics of quick note:
— No. 17 in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game.
— No. 9 in passing efficiency defense.
— No. 13 in total defense by allowing 311.7 yards per game.
That stingy rushing defense came despite a schedule featuring four of the top-37 ground attacks in the country, although three of those four contests resulted in LSU’s three losses.
— Mississippi State averages 5.17 yards per rush (No. 24) and in beating the Tigers 37-7 way back on Sept. 6, the Bulldogs rushed for 285 yards on 48 carries, a 5.94 average per attempt.
— Troy averages 4.83 yards per rush (No. 37), using 206 yards on 42 carries and a 4.90 average to spark perhaps the season’s biggest upset, a 24-21 win at LSU on Sept. 30.
— Two games later, LSU’s young defense finally started to mature, leading to a 27-23 win against Auburn, holding the No. 33 rushing attack (4.96 yards per carry season-long average) to 189 yards on 44 carries, a 4.30 average.
— To finish this train of thought, the Tigers’ third loss came two weeks ago at Alabama, despite holding the Tide to 116 yards on 36 carries, a 3.22 average, well below the Tide’s No. 7 average of 6.00 yards per rush.
For comparison’s sake, Notre Dame faced four defenses in the top 50 of the country in yards allowed per rush, going 2-2 in those contests, on its way to averaging 6.37 yards per carry on the season.
— Michigan State allows 3.38 yards per rush, No. 13 in the country. The Irish gained 182 yards on 40 carries, a 4.55 average.
— Georgia allows 3.47 yards per rush, No. 17 in the country. Notre Dame ran for 55 yards on 37 carries, a 1.49 average.
— Miami allows 3.68 yards per rush, No. 31. The Irish rushed for 109 yards on 36 carries, a 3.03 average.
— North Carolina State’s 3.92 yards allowed per rush rated No. 42 in the country. Notre Dame used 318 yards on 54 carries, a 5.89 average, to trounce the Wolfpack.
Flipping sides of the ball, LSU junior running back Derrius Guice ran for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games on 216 attempts, a 5.34 yards per carry average. Guice led the way for a rushing attack that averaged 210.8 yards per game, No. 31 in the country. It set up an efficient passing attack, No. 18 in that regard.
The Irish defense gives up 3.96 yards per rush, No. 43 in the country, having faced four offenses more dangerous than LSU’s on the ground and two more worthy of comparison.
— Stanford averages 6.00 yards per rush, but gained only 152 yards on 38 carries a week ago, a 4.00 average.
— Georgia averages 5.8 yards per rush, but gained only 185 yards on 43 carries in the season’s second week at Notre Dame, a 4.30 average.
— Navy’s triple-option yields 5.46 yards per carry, but the Midshipmen managed just 277 yards on 72 carries against the Irish, a 3.85 average.
— Miami averages 5.11 yards per rush, exceeding that against Notre Dame with 237 yards on 42 carries, a 5.64 average.
— North Carolina State gains 4.70 yards per carry, yet the Irish held the Wolfpack to 50 yards on 24 carries, a 2.08 average.
— Boston College used a late-season surge to gain 4.68 yards per rush, better than the 185 yards on 44 rushes allowed by Notre Dame, a 4.20 average.
The overwrought storyline of this matchup will deem it a rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl, a contest Notre Dame won 31-28. This is a vastly different LSU team, now led by Ed Orgeron.
The more worthwhile topic will be how a finally-healthy Josh Adams and Dexter Williams can lead the Irish ground game against a proven and still-improving defense in the season finale. They have done it before, but it has not been since mid-October. Hence, a full month to get healthy may prove to be a difference-maker.
(Note: As always when discussing national ranks amid statistics, these rushing figures are not sacks adjusted.)