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Football: Irish earn date with No. 4 LSU in Sugar Bowl

Mike Gilloon | Monday, December 4, 2006

Notre Dame was selected to face LSU in next month’s Sugar Bowl – the program’s second BCS berth in as many seasons – but the Irish said Sunday after bowl pairings were announced that the January trip to New Orleans will be more about business than pleasure.

The Irish (10-2) have struggled in their last three games against marquee opponents – falling 34-20 to Ohio State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, 47-21 to Michigan on Sept. 16 and 44-24 at Southern California Nov. 25.

“We need to get off to a fast start [in the Jan. 3 matchup with the Tigers (10-2)],” said Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. “Any time you get behind by two or three scores … you almost get desperate.”

That might also be a good way to describe Notre Dame’s feeling toward winning a bowl game – a feat the program hasn’t accomplished since the 1994 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M. Since then, Notre Dame has played in eight bowl games, and lost them all.

Not that the statistic will hamper the Irish, said captain and linebacker Travis Thomas.

“I think morale is strong,” he said. “We obviously want to end that streak of not winning bowl games.”

“We want to stop answering questions about Notre Dame not winning bowl games,” said captain and strong safety Tom Zbikowski.

Work toward that goal began at 6 a.m. today when Notre Dame was scheduled to hold its first practice after learning its opponent.

Irish coach Charlie Weis said Sunday that that much of Sugar Bowl preparation would center on lining up “good guys against good guys.”

“We’ll spend the next few weeks [with the No. 1 offensive unit practicing against the No. 1 defensive unit],” he said, in an effort to simulate game competition during the month-long layoff before the game.

The Irish allowed 404 total yards of offense against USC – including 132 receiving yards and three touchdown catches by Trojans wideout Dwayne Jarrett – which prompted many in the media to question Notre Dame’s speed.

The team wasn’t so sure.

“[USC] made more plays than us,” Thomas said. “But I don’t see speed as the reason.”

Thomas and his defensive teammates will try to slow LSU’s fleet-footed pack of receivers – part of a squad that finished No. 4 in the final BCS standings and fell only to No. 2 Florida and No. 9 Auburn on the road.

That will be a tough task, given that the Sugar Bowl will be in front of a New Orleans crowd, just 80 miles from the Tigers’ Baton Rouge campus.

Still, Notre Dame said Sunday that it’s confident in its abilities.

“It’s not like we don’t have talent and can’t match up with those guys,” Thomas said.

Notes:

u Both Weis and LSU coach Les Miles disclosed who they voted No. 2 in the coaches poll released Sunday. Weis, citing the Wolverine’s win at Notre Dame in September, put Michigan in the second spot behind Ohio State. Miles, despite being a Michigan graduate and a coach in Ann Arbor for several years, voted Florida No. 2 because it won the SEC title. Florida finished No. 2 in the both the AP, coaches and BCS standings and will face Ohio State in the National Championship Game Jan. 8.

u Notre Dame and LSU both enter the Sugar Bowl as at-large berths. Notre Dame was picked after finishing No. 11 in the final BCS regular-season standings while LSU finished No. 4.

u The Irish held their annual football banquet Friday evening in the Joyce Center, with several players taking home awards. Quarterback Brady Quinn won the Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP award, offensive tackle Ryan Harris won the Guardian Lineman of the Year Award as the top offensive lineman and defensive end Victor Abiamiri won the Lineman of the Year Award from the Moose Krause Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.

Thomas won the Nick Pietrosante Award as “the individual who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride shown by the late Irish All-America fullback.”

Finally, offensive guard Dan Santucci took home the Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award from the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley and tight end John Carlson won the Westwood One/ State Farm Student Athlete of the Year Award.

Editor’s Note: The Sugar Bowl is sponsored by Allstate.