Notre Dame set for Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day
Marek Mazurek | Sunday, December 3, 2017
Notre Dame learned its postseason matchup Sunday afternoon, as the Irish will head to Orlando, Florida, to take on LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.
“I’m really proud of our staff, our players, and to be put in this position on New Year’s Day, really excited for the accomplishment of our football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday after the bowl bid was announced.
The Irish (9-3) finished their 2017 campaign on a sour note, losing two games in the month of November, including the final matchup of the regular season 38-20 to Stanford in Palo Alto, California.
Now, the Irish will look ahead to their matchup against the Tigers (9-3, 6-2 SEC). The last time Notre Dame and LSU met on the gridiron was in the Music City Bowl to end the 2014-15 season. The Irish won that game thanks to a game-winning field goal by Kyle Brindza in Nashville, Tennessee.
Both Kelly and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said they are looking forward to the matchup of historically strong teams.
“You don’t need much motivation from your football team,” Kelly said. “Our guys are pretty motivated. They know what’s in front of them in terms of playing LSU.”
“Just tell our team we play Notre Dame, that’s the best motivation,” Orgeron said. “Any time you play Notre Dame you have a lot of respect for who they are and what they do up there — the tradition, that alone is enough. We’ve been wanting to go to a great bowl, we feel like we’re going to a great bowl, our young men deserve time in Florida, and they’re looking forward to it.”
This season’s matchup against LSU bears many similarities to the game from three years ago. Both Irish squads petered out at the end of their regular seasons, with 2014’s team losing their last four regular season games.
That turnaround for this year’s Irish squad starts with putting the last few weeks behind them, Kelly said.
“I don’t think we were worn down physically. I think we were worn down emotionally and mentally,” Kelly said. “I remember addressing the team before the Monday of the Stanford week with so much on the line and a 10th win and a New Year’s six, and it looked like they were in biology class. They were staring at me like, ‘Really?’ There was no juice, there was no excitement. And they were tired. They were tired mentally.
“It’s a long year, and I’ve got to do a better job of pacing that out for them.”
Notre Dame will face a formidable LSU defense for the second time in three years. In 2014, the Tigers ranked ninth in the nation in total yards allowed per game. This year, the Tigers rank 13th, allowing 311.7 yards per game and in the top-25 in rush defense, passing defense and scoring defense.
“[LSU has a] very good pass defense. You’re going to get man,” Kelly said. “Dave Aranda is a very good defensive coordinator. And it’s timing. It’s really about getting into a consistency of rhythm and throwing the ball on time. And we’re going to have to go to work on that over the next couple weeks and get into some form of consistency in the passing game that allows us a little bit more success in throwing the football. I know Brandon will do whatever’s necessary to get to that end.”
Though he wasn’t playing on LSU, Notre Dame has seen Tigers starting quarterback Danny Etling before. Back in 2014, Etling started for Purdue and went 27-of-40 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in Notre Dame’s 30-14 win over the Boilermakers on Sept. 14 of that year.
“He is a different quarterback. I only got a chance to see him a little bit on some clips, but I like the way they’re moving him around,” Kelly said of Etling. “He doesn’t stay in the pocket. He’s much more athletic than people have ever kind of credited him for. But I thought he’s done a really nice job this year. I’ll get a chance to see more of him. I like him coming out. I think he’s a really good quarterback.”