Unlike 2014, Leonard Fournette won’t take the field when LSU and Notre Dame meet in a bowl game on Jan. 1.
That isn’t reassuring to Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly.
The Tigers are a different program from when the two schools last met, at the 2014 Music City Bowl: They have a new head coach, a new offense and a new defense.
But what stands out most to Kelly is what isn’t different.
LSU (9-3), which plays 14th-ranked Notre Dame (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl, is still putting the ball in the hands of a stud running back.
This time, it’s Derrius Guice.
“Obviously Leonard Fournette was a difference-maker,” Kelly said in a teleconference Sunday. “But Guice has some similarities in terms of his physicality.”
LSU came up short in its previous meeting with the Irish, losing the Music City Bowl 31-28 on a field goal as time expired.
But despite the win, Notre Dame had little answer for Fournette.
The freshman had what was, at the time, the best game of his young career, running for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 11 carries. That doesn’t include his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Three years later, Fournette is in the NFL and Guice is playing what is expected to be his final collegiate game.
Guice sits 854 yards behind Fournette in career yards and only one spot back at No. 5 on LSU’s all-time leaderboard. He has 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season.
All that success even though Guice was hampered with a knee injury for several weeks in the middle of the season, missing the Troy game entirely. He’s since run for 100 or more yards three out of his past five outings, including 276 yards against Ole Miss to spark the hot streak.
“I think it’s his physicality,” Kelly said. “Great speed, but what really stood out to me was his ability to run over guys. … Another line of great backs at LSU. And he’s feature, too. He’s going to get the ball. He’s going to get his carries. A guy you’re going to have to tackle and get down on the ground.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron expects edge rusher Arden Key to play in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame, but he can’t be sure on that.
If Notre Dame is like most LSU opponents this season, it likely will load the box on many downs to focus on Guice and the run game.
The Irish head to Orlando allowing 153.2 yards rushing per game, ranked 49th in the country. Comparatively, the Tigers’ season-opening opponent, BYU, is 44th at 147.6 yards per game. Guice ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougars.
In the last four games, in which the Irish went 2-2, Notre Dame allowed an average of 226.3 yards rushing per game and eight rushing touchdowns.
Miami’s Travis Homer had the best individual performance in that stretch, running for 146 yards in the Hurricanes' 41-8 victory on Nov. 11.
Beyond the lead running back, Kelly said, from what he’s been able to see this year, the LSU offense doesn’t share much in common with previous versions, thanks to first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
For that matter, the defense doesn’t look much the same to him either.
“Defensively, there’s a lot of similarities in terms of the body types that they bring to the table,” Kelly said. “The schemes are a little bit different. What Dave (Aranda) does on defense is different. And then certainly what Matt does, he’s opened up the offense a little bit.
“I think schematically they’re a little bit different. But the type of athlete(s) LSU is attracting (are) still great players on both sides of the ball.”
LSU punter Josh Growden needed one word this year to describe his team’s bowl destination: Again.