Sugar Bowl Preview - Notre Dame vs. LSU
Posted Dec 14, 2006

Notre Dame shouldn't even show up, right? After all, LSU has a great pass rush, too much speed at receiver, and the 2007 Allstate Sugar Bowl is back in New Orleans. It might not be that easy as Brady Quinn and the Irish offense are sure to make this a shootout.

Notre Dame (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

January 3rd, 8:00 p.m. ET, Fox

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Can Notre Dame finally get a win over a top team?

It's become easy to dump on the Irish after everyone jumped screaming off the bandwagon after a 44-24 loss to USC, but the team is still 10-2, it still has wins this year over Georgia Tech, Penn State and UCLA, and it still has a well-coached, explosive offense with NFL first-round talent in the passing game.

But for all the hype, all the exposure, and all the attention over the last two seasons under Charlie Weis, the program is still looking to to prove it deserves to be at the big boy table without being gift-wrapped a BCS bid in a sweetheart of a deal.

National Rankings
LSU Notre Dame
Total Offense
18th  404.17 ypg 22nd  398 ypg
Total Defense
2nd  238.75 ypg 45th  320.5 ypg
Scoring Offense
10th  33.08 ppg 12th  32.42 ppg
Scoring Defense
4th  12.5 ppg 57th  22.42 ppg
Run Offense
37th  159.17 ypg 76th  124.25 ypg
Run Defense
15th  93.25 ypg 50th  127.83 ypg
Pass Offense
3rd  145.5 ypg 10th  273.75 ypg
Pass Defense
3rd  145.5 ypg 50th  192.67 ypg
Turnover Margin
61st  0.00 32nd  0.42
UL Lafayette W 45-3
Arizona W 45-3
at Auburn L 7-3
Tulane W 49-7
Miss State W 48-17
at Florida L 23-10
Kentucky W 49-0
Fresno State W 38-6
at Tenn W 28-24
Alabama W 28-14
Ole Miss
W 23-20OT
at Ark. W 31-26
Notre Dame
at Ga Tech W 14-10
Penn State W 41-17
Michigan L 47-21
at Mich St W 40-37
W 35-21
Stanford W 31-10
UCLA W 20-17
at Navy W 34-14
No Carolina W 45-26
at Air Force W 39-17
Army W 41-9
at USC L 44-24
Position Ratings
relative to each other
LSU 5 highest
1 lowest
5 Quarterbacks 5
3 RBs 4
5 Receivers 5
3.5 O Line 2.5
4.5 D Line 4
4.5 Linebackers 3.5
5 Secondary 2
3 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 4.5

A win over LSU would end all doubts and question marks.

The Tigers took over the 2006 role from 2005 Auburn as the team considered the best in the SEC at the end of the year without actually winning anything. Blame the schedule as they dealt with four brutal road games going 2-2 against Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas, with chances to have won all four. After losing to the Gators in the Swamp, they went on a six game tear finishing the year with one of the nation's best defenses and an exciting offense that put points up on the board when it had to, but was rarely consistent.

How much respect has LSU received? It was a battle until the end between the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl to see who got all the Tiger fans jacked up to travel anywhere to see their hot team. There's speed, skill, and athleticism to keep the NFL stocked for the next several years; can Notre Dame handle it?

Irish QB Brady Quinn will be one of the top three players taken in the 2007 NFL draft, and might go first overall. Receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight might go in the first round, and will definitely be taken in the top 50, and there are assorted other next-level talents like safety Tom Zbikowski, DE Victor Abiamiri, and OT Derek Landri. There just aren't enough of them.

While the offense is good enough to put up big numbers with the passing game, the offensive line hasn't been up-to-snuff against the better defensive lines, the secondary has been burned way too often, and there isn't enough overall speed to hang around with the warp-speed teams like Michigan and USC. Can coaching and Quinn be enough to overcome the LSU athletes? Sure, if there's a repeat of last year.

If you remember, Georgia came into the Sugar Bowl, a home game played in the Georgia Dome since the New Orleans Superdome was being repaired, and got its doors blown off in the first half by a jacked up West Virginia. LSU has been hearing for weeks about how it should run past Notre Dame with ease, so overconfidence could be a bit of an issue for its home date. At least, that's what Irish fans are hoping for.

This is an awful matchup on paper for Notre Dame, but that's why they go through exercise of actually playing the game. One way or another, a statement will be made.

Players to watch: If the NFL scouts are correct, this might be the first of several matchups between LSU QB JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. It's worth the price of admission just to watch these two throw with Quinn's arm a half-click lesser than Brett Favre's, while Russell's right wing is something from another planet. One flick of the wrist and the Tiger junior can connect on an out route that 90% of all quarterbacks can only dream about throwing.

Russell has the size, the athleticism, and the arm to become a first round draft pick, but he has to prove he can be a winner and clutch performer in the biggest games. Fair or not, he's been tagged as being a killer against the inferior teams, and not quite primetime when the lights are on. Three interceptions against both Florida and Tennessee, while throwing just one in the other ten games, along with a key misread late against Auburn, cemented the reputation, and if he doesn't light up the mediocre Irish secondary like a Christmas tree, any thoughts of leaving school early might be gone. On the flip side, if he comes up with a huge game, it could be enough to propel him into the top 15 in the 2007 draft.

Quinn's career went from fine to oh-my-goodness with the hiring of Weis two years ago. While not Tom Brady quite yet, Quinn has all the tools and all the talent to be the type of quarterback an NFL team can build around for the next ten years. More mobile than he gets credit for, he's able to run when needed to keep the chains moving, and when he gets time and is in a rhythm, he's deadly. Now that he's being seen as a top pick, the scrutiny has been turned up several notches. He's a product of the system and the coaching, he's too inconsistent, he hasn't been good in the biggest game ... whatever. If anything, his 35 touchdown passes, five interceptions, and 3,278 passing yards this season was a testament to just how good he really is putting up the numbers behind a porous offensive line. Few big-time quarterbacks were as beaten up as he was. The number one spot in the draft can be solidified with a big game and a win.

Each team has good pass rushers to try to throw the star quarterbacks off their respective games. Notre Dame senior Victor Abiamiri has been a dominant force in the backfield over the last two years with 18 sacks with the ability to change games in just a few plays. However, consistency is an issue as he disappears for too many stretches.

LSU brings the heat from several areas able to get to the quarterback inside or out. While Chase Pittman and Tyson Jackson will be certain to know Quinn intimately, it'll be tackle Glenn Dorsey in the middle who'll likely make the biggest impact requiring two or three blockers on every play. His numbers might not be there, but his presence will allow everyone else to shine.

LSU will win if... the defensive back seven can tackle. Quinn is fantastic at getting the ball to his receivers on the move, and he's even better when he has time to set his feet and deliver a strike. The Irish coaching staff will have spent the last several weeks trying to figure out how to buy Quinn a bit more time after he was knocked all over the place throughout the year. LSU's defensive line will still bring the heat, and Quinn will try to make the quick reads and get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible. He'll succeed, but if the Tiger back seven keeps the short passes from turning into back-breaking big plays, the Irish offense will struggle.

Notre Dame will win if... the safeties are able to spend all their time in pass coverage. LSU's ground game is pedestrian at best, so if the Irish linebackers can avoid getting run over and the safeties don't need to cheat up, the double coverage on the speedy Tiger receivers will make a night-and-day difference. The Irish must consistently get to Russell and hurry his throws. Unlike Quinn, who's great at getting the ball out his hands in a heartbeat if he knows exactly where he's going with it, Russell tends to need an extra half-click. LSU relies more on midrange passes than quick, timing throws, so the better Abiamiri is, the better Notre Dame chances.

What will happen: In 1985, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns put on one of the greatest shows in boxing history throwing haymaker after haymaker, knockout punch after knockout punch in a three round war. This might be the college football bowl game version, at least for a few quarters. Notre Dame can't go with the same old gameplan and try to win this straight up or it'll get its doors blown off like it did against USC and Michigan. For the Irish to have a shot, it has to put the ball in the hands of its superstar, Quinn, and let him throw, throw, and throw some more in a two-minute mode to try to make this a shootout. As good as Russell and the LSU offense is, it doesn't want to have to trade home run for home run; the Irish skills guys are better. By the fourth quarter, the talent of the LSU defense will finally come through with a few stops to finally let the offense pull away.

Line: LSU -8 ... CFN Prediction:
LSU 41 ... Notre Dame 30

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Sugar Bowl Player Profile: Notre Dame TE John Carlson team bowl history and more