When LSU has the ball
1. LSU run game vs. Notre Dame run defense
The Tigers are a ground-and-pound offense. They lean on a rushing attack that includes the nation’s No. 1 recruit last year in Leonard Fournette and a pair of seniors playing their last game in Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. That doesn’t mention an offensive line with a consensus first-round NFL draft pick in La’el Collins. The Irish will have their hands full. Two defensive linemen might miss the game with injuries, and Notre Dame will be without middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, the team’s MVP who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in ND’s eighth game this season.
2. LSU fullbacks vs. Notre Dame linebackers
The Tigers have a group of hard-hitting fullbacks who are key to an offense that leans heavily on the rushing attack. The group is led by senior Connor Neighbors, an Alabama native who’s from just two hours south of Nashville and will play in the Senior Bowl. Neighbors, John David Moore and Melvin Jones will go against a Notre Dame linebacker crew that knows what’s coming. “Power football,” said Notre Dame freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan, according to Rivals.com. “It’s man-on-man. They’re not trying to trick you.”
3. LSU receivers vs. Notre Dame defensive backs
The Tigers don’t air it out too much. Starting QB Anthony Jennings averages just about 20 pass attempts per game, but when LSU does throw, it likes to throw deep to receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. They’ll be going up against a pair of young defenders. Two of Notre Dame’s four starting defensive backs are sophomores who have less than one full season of starts each. The Irish rank 87th nationally in pass defense, allowing 240 yards a game.
When Notre Dame has the ball
1. Notre Dame receivers vs. LSU defensive backs
The Irish spread the ball around. They have five wide receivers with 20 or more catches. How good is that? LSU had four receivers who caught passes this season. Notre Dame throws the ball a whopping 36 times per game. That plays into LSU’s strength — defending the pass. The Tigers have the top-ranked pass defense efficiency in the nation, and they give up the fourth-fewest passing yards in the country.
2. Notre Dame quarterbacks vs. LSU linebackers
The Irish QBs are runners — both former starter Everett Golson and new No. 1 Malik Zaire. Golson has gained 526 yards rushing (that’s excluding sacks) and has scored eight touchdowns. Zaire has gained 109 yards in minimal appearances. It’s up to LSU’s linebackers to contain and stuff the pair of dual-threat play-callers. Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith will be key in this role. The Tigers have had their issues this season with dual-threat QBs. Remember Nick Marshall, Dak Prescott and Blake Sims?
3. Notre Dame offensive line vs. LSU defensive line
At the rate the Irish pass the ball, they’ll need to protect Golson and Zaire as many as 45 times in the game. The line isn’t the biggest you’ll find. In fact, the smallest LSU offensive lineman — La’el Collins — would be, about, the largest on the Notre Dame front. The Tigers defensive line has been somewhat disappointing this year (eight sacks from the starting group). Christian LaCouture, Davon Godchaux, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will have plenty of opportunities to change that.
The forecast for Tuesday in Nashville calls for highs in the mid-40s. By the time the final whistle blows at LP Field, temperatures will be in the 30s. The last time LSU played a game in such temperatures, it didn’t end well (17-0 at Arkansas in Game 11 this year). Notre Dame is used to the chilly weather, but LSU hasn’t played many games in the cold. In fact, the game against Arkansas was the second-coldest game in the modern history of LSU football.