NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LSU coach Les Miles said Monday that the two most important games to win during a season in his mind is the first game of the year and the last one. The Tigers will look to accomplish that on Tuesday when 23rd-ranked LSU faces Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl here at LP Field.
LSU, which opened its 10th season under Miles back in late August with a 28-24 win over Wisconsin in an NFL venue in Houston, will look to win its 9th game of the year on Tuesday. The Tigers, who are appearing in a bowl for a school-record 15th straight season, have won at least eight games for 15 consecutive years, the longest streak of any school in a Power 5 Conference.
LSU is 8-4 overall, while Notre Dame is 7-5. The Irish have lost four straight and five their last six after starting the year 6-0.
Kickoff between LSU and Notre Dame is scheduled for 2:02 p.m. at the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans – LP Field – where a crowd of 60,000 is expected to be on hand. Both LSU and Notre Dame sold its entire allotment of tickets for what will be the first meeting between the teams since the Tigers posted a 41-14 win over the Irish in the 2007 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Tuesday’s game will be televised on ESPN with Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore and Jessica Mendoza on the call. The game will also be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network and in the GeauxZone on LSUsports.net with Jim Hawthorne, Doug Moreau and Gordy Rush calling the action.
Against Notre Dame, the Tigers will face an Irish team that has opted to go with sophomore Malik Zaire at quarterback. Zaire will be making his first career starter and has played in just six games during his brief career, completing 9-of-20 passes for 170 yards and no touchdowns. The Irish are also expecting for senior Everett Golson to see action at the position tomorrow. Golson, who led the Irish to the national championship game in 2012, has started all 12 games this year, throwing for over 3,300 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“We recognize the challenge that Notre Dame presents with the two quarterbacks,” Miles said. “Both guys are really good players who are very talented and capable of making big plays. We will expect to see a similar offense with both guys; we just have to do a good job of defending them and play our style of defense.
“Watching film on them, they both can make plays with the ball whether it’s scripted or not. It’s going to be a challenge for us to slow them down.”
The Irish go into the LSU game averaging 33 points and 444.6 total yards per game (150.8 rushing, 293.8 passing).
The Tigers bring the Southeastern Conference’s No. 1 rated defense into the contest as LSU is allowing 305.8 total yards (143.5 rushing, 162.3 passing) per game. LSU ranks No. 2 in the SEC in both points allowed (16.4) and passing yards.
One of the keys for LSU’s defense success has been the emergence of sophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Since being inserted into the lineup for the Florida game in week 6, Beckwith and the Tiger defense has allowed only 273.8 total yards (102.7 rushing, 171.2 passing) and 15.2 points during that span.
Beckwith finished the regular season with 68 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Junior linebacker Kwon Alexander leads a balanced LSU defense with 71 tackles, followed by senior safety Ronald Martin (66 tackles, 2 interceptions) and junior defensive end Danielle Hunter (64 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks).
Offensively, the Tigers will continue to rely on running the football behind its massive offensive line. The Tigers are averaging 219.5 rushing yards a game and they are led by true freshman Leonard Fournette's 891 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Terrence Magee is second on the team with 545 yards and three scores.
LSU’s running game will get a boost on Tuesday as senior Kenny Hilliard is expected to see action for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Alabama in early November. Hilliard has 431 yards and six touchdowns to his credit.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings will make his second bowl start, and 13th overall, in the Music City Bowl. Jennings, who is 9-3 as a starter, has tossed for 1,460 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Backup quarterback Brandon Harris could see action as well against the Irish.
“This is a young team that is maturing as we go,” Miles said. “We have had 12 practices and I think we are better than we’ve been. I think we have taken another step as a team. I’m looking forward to watching us play and see how the team that plays compares with the one that last played at Texas A&M in late November.”
LSU played perhaps one of its best offensive games of the season in its last outing, a 23-17 win over Texas A&M at the end of November. In that game, LSU accumulated 491 total yards, including 384 on the ground, while possessing the ball for 41 minutes during the game.
Against the Aggies, Fournette rushed for a career-best 146 yards and a TD, while Jennings added a career-best 119 yards on the ground to go along with 107 passing yards and a TD.
The Tiger offense will face a Notre Dame defense that is allowing 29.2 points and 401.5 total yards per game (161.7 rushing, 239.8 passing).
“There’s nowhere to hide against a team like LSU,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Monday. “They have an offense that has rushed for 300 yards in three SEC games this year. That’s very formidable. We are going to have be ready to handle that.”
Tuesday’s matchup is one of the most attractive during all of bowl season, pitting two of the most successful programs in college football history. LSU and Notre Dame have split its 10 previous meetings in a series that dates back to 1970 when the then-No.2 Irish blanked the then-No. 6 Tigers, 3-0, in South Bend.
“The matchup is strong,” Miles said. “These are two marquee college football teams meeting in a bowl game in a major city. I think our guys are fired up and I’m sure Notre Dame is as well. It’s two historic programs that have had a great deal of success and it should make a for a great bowl game.”