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Staff predictions: Citrus Bowl

| Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ben Padanilam, Editor-in-Chief

It’s been over a month since Notre Dame last took the field. And it didn’t exactly have a ton of momentum heading into that month, having lost two of its last three games.

The Irish didn’t seem to pick up much momentum during that month-long break either, seeing four players suspended ahead of Monday’s Citrus Bowl — including Kevin Stepherson and Alize Mack — and losing Chase Claypool to injury. That has had some asking how the Irish will move the ball downfield against LSU.

But Notre Dame doesn’t need to throw the football to beat the Tigers. In Notre Dame’s three biggest wins this season — Michigan State, USC and NC State — Wimbush did not surpass 20 pass attempts. They won the game in the trenches and built a game plan that didn’t require Wimbush — who only completed 50 percent of his passes and threw for 224 combined yards in the latter two wins after the team’s bye week — to win them games. And it was a game plan that vaulted the Irish into the thick of playoff contention.

If the Irish ask Wimbush to win Monday’s matchup with the Tigers for them, it won’t happen. But it doesn’t need to happen either. The best we saw this Irish team was in its two games after its bye, when it had extra time to prepare its quarterback and rest up Josh Adams and the nation’s best offensive line. A month layoff gives Brian Kelly and Chip Long the opportunity to do just that, and to do it against an LSU defense without three of its starting linebackers — and 127 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks as a result. When USC was missing key contributors in its front seven off the bye, the Irish offense took advantage. And the healthy Irish defense has shown an ability to slow down strong rushing attacks, which will put a lot of pressure on a weak LSU passing attack.

I expect the time for preparation to be a much needed spark and the Irish to make a similar statement — though not quite as large — to the ones it made in late October.

FINAL SCORE — Notre Dame 27, LSU 23


Marek Mazurek, Assistant Managing Editor

Notre Dame and LSU appear to be playing a game of “How many players can we lose before the game?” The Irish will be without sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool and freshman tight end Brock Wright dues to injuries. However, junior tight end Alize Mack, sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, sophomore running back Deon McIntosh and freshman running back C.J. Holmes all will be absent from the sidelines due to suspensions.

Not to be outdone, three of LSU’s four linebackers are out with injuries and offensive coordinator Matt Canada is on his way out, so how much effort he puts into the game plan is anyone’s guess.

For all the negative momentum Notre Dame brings into Monday’s matchup, Brian Kelly led the team to a win in the Music City Bowl against LSU in 2014. This time though, Kelly won’t be able to get Notre Dame in the right mindset against a more athletic team.

Final score: LSU 27, Notre Dame 24


Elizabeth Greason, Sports Editor

I have placed (and misplaced) a lot of faith in this Irish squad all year. However, the Irish have proven themselves unable to come through when it mattered this season, with embarrassing losses at Miami (FL) and Stanford.

Without sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who is one of four Irish players who will be suspended for the Citrus Bowl, the Irish offense will be depleted once again as Brandon Wimbush will lose one of his favorite targets. And the Notre Dame running game and defense have not been anywhere near as effective as they were at the start of the year.
Notre Dame and LSU’s seasons followed contrasting paths. For the Irish, the sky was the limit until their loss to Miami took them out of Playoff contention. For the Tigers, the start of the season was one to forget, with losses to Mississippi State and to Troy in their homecoming game, but were able to turn their season around. The Irish simply do not have the momentum that the Tigers do coming into this game; LSU is looking to end its season with a bang and make a statement, while the Irish have been unable to do so all year.

Final score: LSU 35, Notre Dame 21


Tobias Hoonhout, Associate Sports Editor
Ah, hello deja vu.
Notre Dame last played LSU in the 2014 Music City bowl, after the Irish started the season strong, climbing as high as No. 5 in the country, before slipping to a 1-5 record to close out the regular season.
While 2017 hasn’t been as rough for Notre Dame, the Irish still have struggled in the second half of the year, and head into the matchup with the Tigers on the back of two straight road losses. But the Tigers, while certainly talented, have struggled this season, and are missing three of their starting front seven.
It all depends on what Notre Dame team can show up tomorrow. If the Irish can get back to their winning ways and run the ball behind the best offensive line in the country, they’ll be in a great spot. While Notre Dame struggled to run the ball in the second half of the season, with over a month to prepare for the matchup, I have a hunch Brian Kelly and Co. will deliver.

Final Score: Notre Dame 31, LSU 21


Daniel O’Boyle, Sports Writer
Notre Dame isn’t going into the Citrus Bowl on the best note, between a 1-2 end to the regular season and four suspensions for the bowl game.
The Tigers are without important players of their own, including pass rusher Arden Key, but are much better than their disastrous start to the season may have led some to believe.
Last time the teams met, the Irish had ended the regular season on a similar slump, but were buoyed by a new spark on offense thanks to quarterback Malik Zaire. This time, it’s a little harder to see what could bring the Irish mentality back to October’s levels. If the Irish can’t rediscover that motivation, they won’t be able to match LSU’s athleticism.
Final score: LSU 28, Notre Dame 21
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