ORLANDO, Fla. — When the LSU coaching staff returned from Christmas break a year ago to resume Citrus Bowl preparations for Louisville and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s present was about two dozen pages of prep work on the Tigers’ opponent.

The result: LSU won 29-9, grounding the high-flying Cardinals’ attack and holding it to just three field goals and no touchdowns.

So how thick was Aranda’s Notre Dame notebook for this season’s Citrus Bowl?

“I think it was about 40 (pages) this time,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday on his radio show. “The guy is unbelievable. I don’t think he ever sleeps. Dave Aranda is a great coach and an even better man.”

Conspicuous praise, perhaps, considering the rocky relationship that apparently exists on the other side of the ball between Coach O and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. But while there has been a ton of conjecture about Canada’s anticipated imminent departure, the hope runs deep that Aranda will want to keep his Baton Rouge address as long as possible.

An assistant coach’s roots rarely grow deep, but Aranda, 41, has apparently developed an attachment to his current home.

“It’s great,” he said. “My family loves it here. The kids love their school. My wife has a good network of friends. I enjoy the people I’m working with.”

It’s hard to fathom any coordinator actually being worth Aranda’s college football-leading $1.8 million salary, but perhaps he comes close. After losing eight of 13 starters/key rotational players from the 2016 defense that surrendered an FBS-low 16 touchdowns, LSU is a solid top 20 defense once again. The Tigers rank 12th in yards allowed (311.7 per game), 15th in points allowed (18.8 per game) and eighth in pass efficiency defense (108.4 rating).

Can't see video below? Click here.

“I’m excited about the progress we’ve made, what we’ve matured to and what we’re capable of for this last game,” Aranda said. “I think it will take a full-team effort to defend the attack we’re about to get. We’ve made progress up front with Pete (Jenkins) and Dennis (Johnson) and made progress at the back end with Corey (Raymond, secondary coach). He’s done a great job with our young DBs. There’s times when you look back there, and they’re all freshmen or true sophomores, every single one of them. To be able to make an adjustment to this motion or be able to pass things off, he’s done a great job. I’m proud of those guys. I want to see us finish it off the right way.”

Finishing the right way, with a victory to get LSU to 10 wins for the first time since 2013, will be a challenge.

It’s simplistic to say that Notre Dame, which ranks seventh in the nation in rushing with 279.1 yards per game, is your garden variety ground-and-pound offense. Fronted by the nation’s most highly regarded offensive line — the Fighting Irish won the Joe Moore Award for best O-line over finalists Alabama and Auburn — Aranda is fascinated and troubled by the challenges facing his defense.

“There’s an intelligence in their attack,” said Aranda, whose measured tones bespeak intelligence as well. “Every game within that season is a little bit different, because they’re game planning every week. How do you attack that? Do you try to do it all and not be good at anything? Do you try to identify how they see you? That’s what we’ve tried to do, but it’s quite a bit. To do it in a systematic way to where it’s easy for us on defense and we’re giving them multiple looks, that’s the trick right there.

“What concerns you about the run game and pass game is the misdirection and the angles and the pulls they create. We call it ‘crack and load.’ They’re going to crack on the outside and pull and load inside out. There are seams they create and angles that if you’re undisciplined in getting lined up and setting up could put you at a disadvantage. Pass game-wise, their quarterback is very efficient on their cross (routes). They have a lot of rub routes. We’re a big man-to-man team, so we’re concerned about getting rubbed there. In zone we have to be disciplined to pass everything off. They do not allow you to just line up and say ‘Go get 'em.’ You have to have awareness of what’s coming at you and respond to it.”

Adding to Aranda’s challenge: piecing together a defensive scheme minus three starters — edge rusher Arden Key and linebackers Corey Thompson and Donnie Alexander. Of course, the personnel shell game is something Aranda has gotten used to playing in 2017 because of injuries his players have suffered.

“It’s good that we’ve had that experience throughout the year,” he said. “Those experiences give us an opportunity to show improvement in this game. We have to play more physical. We have to run defense-wise, take the next step.

“I feel the practices have been good, their preparation has been good. We have to go out and execute.”

That and study the Notre Dame notes Aranda has compiled. It certainly worked last year.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​