Saturday, December 30, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 13: Sugar Bowl vs. LSU

LSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

LSU has taken running back-by-committee to a new level, with 5 backs recording 45 or more carries this season. 18 Jacob Hester is the starter and the closest thing the Tigers have to a feature back. Hester averages 7-8 carries and 35 yards a game. He also leads the team with 6 rushing TDs. Keiland Williams similarly averages 7-8 carries and 41 yards per game, with 3 total touchdowns. 22 Alley Broussard is the power back. He averages 7 carries per game, but for only 28 yards per contest. Broussard has scored 4 times on the ground. 32 Charles Scott averages 6-7 carries and 40 yards per game, with 5 total touchdowns. 25 Justin Vincent, who has recorded 5 starts alongside Hester, is averaging 4 carries and 12 yards per game. Freshman wide receiver 8 Trindon Holliday, all 5'5" of him, has carried the ball 13 times this season - more than once a game. Holliday has been used effectively, averaging 12.4 yards per carry. Finally, quarterback 2 JaMarcus Russell is averaging 44 carries and 10 yards per game on the ground. All in all, the Tigers average 159 yards per game on the ground, so their system works.
The Irish linebackers will have their hands full with the LSU backs. Marcus Crum and Joe Brockington are listed at 220 pounds and Travis Thomas at 215 pounds. Hester (228 lbs), Williams (223), Broussard (250), Scott (221), and Vincent (223) - and Russell (260) - all outweigh the Irish staring backers. (Russell is only 12 pounds lighter than Chris Frome.) Notre Dame's susceptibility to trick plays could also lead to several big gains for Holliday. The Irish will need to play with discipline and fundamentals, and flock to the ball without over-pursuing.

ND Rush Offense vs. LSU Rush Defense

Darius Walker averages 19 carries and 95 yards per game. However, Walker and the run game seem to disappear in big games. This can partially be attributed to Coach Weis' tendency to pass more when behind, and the tendency to save the run for late in the game to hold a lead. But Walker has averaged just 2 yards per carry in most of those big games, a number that can partially be attributed to inconsistent offensive line play. It will be interesting to see who backs up Walker in this game: James Aldridge, who is now third on the team in carries (behind Walker and Brady Quinn), or the veteran Travis Thomas, who is rumored to move back to running back full time next year. Aldridge now averages 6 carries and 23 yards per game. Thomas has only carred the ball 11 times this season, but is averaging 6.9 yards per carry (3.3 YPC if you discount his 43-yard fake punt run). Discounting sacks, Brady Quinn has carried 49 times for 288 yards this season, with a long of 60. Munir Prince is the only other Irish player to carry the ball more than 4 times. Prince has 15 carries, most coming in garbage time.
At 93.2 yards per game, LSU's run defense is very good, but not impenetrable. Like their running game, though, their offense is very balanced. Linebackers 48 Darry Beckwith and 7 Ali Highsmith have 61 and 58 tackles, respectively. DT 72 Glenn Dorsey has 59 tackles, 8.5 for a loss.

LSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Apparently, this JaMarcus Russell guy is pretty good. The "Young Daunte Culpepper" is only completing 68.5% of his passes this season. Russell's average day consists of completing 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards. Russell has 26 TDs and 7 interceptions on the year. To paraphase a certain parody of a certain FOX baseball playoff announcer: As balanced as LSU is with their running backs, that's how as not balanced they are with their receivers. Russell focuses primarily on his top three wide receivers, who each have between 50 and 60 catches. 80 Dwayne Bowe averages 5 caches and 76 yards per game. He leads the team with 11 receiving touchdowns, almost one per game. 3 Craig Davis averages 4-5 catches and 72 yards per game. 9 Early Doucet is the number 3 receiver. He rarely starts, but he hasn't failed to put up impressive numbers. Doucet also averages 4-5 catches per game for 55 yards per. Doucet does know how to find the end zone, as he has 8 touchdowns on the year. After these three top receivers, halfback Jacob Hester has 34 catches, and no one else has more than 6. Hester averages 3 catches and 21 yards per game.
Notre Dame's pass defense has been known to struggle in big games. However, knowing they only have to focus on 3 or 4 guys may help, as it allows for bracket coverages and other teams. Of course, coaches love to save the best for last, so don't be surprised if Les Miles decides to get his tight ends involved for the first time this season. Chinedum Ndukwe was injured in the USC game, but he is expected to be healthy for the Sugar Bowl. Victor Abiamiri started slow, but he ended with 10 sacks and 14.5 total TFL (and 14 quarterback hits). I was going to praise LSU's Duncan for having great numbers for a tackle, until I saw Derek Landri's: 65 tackles, 15.5 TFL, and 7 sacks.

ND Pass Offense vs. LSU Pass Defense

Don't forget - that Brady Quinn guy is pretty good, too. On the average day, Quinn completes 23 of 36 passes for 273 yards. Quinn has 35 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. Once again, Quinn's leading receiver is Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija is averaging 6 catches and 80 yards per game. Right behind Samardzija is Rhema McKnight, who averages 5 catches and 74 yards per game. Samardzija has 11 touchdown catches to McKnight's team-leading 15. Darius Walker averages 4-5 catches and 30 yards per game. John Carlson, expected to return from a knee injury, averages 4-5 catches and 62 yards per game. Carlson has four touchdowns on the season. While Carlson was out, David Grimes matured into a reliable third option - and perhaps a reliable 1 or 2 option for next year. Grimes now has 25 catches on the season, and is averaging 28 yards per game.
This is the matchup of the game, as LSU is giving up only 145.5 passing yards per game. If you look at just sacks and interceptions, LSU's pass defense doesn't look that impressive; the Tigers have only 8 more sacks and 4 more interceptions than Notre Dame's defense. But then you look at the other numbers. Pass breakups are arguable as an official stat, but you have to be impressed when starting DBs 21 Chevis Jackson and 19 Jonathan Zenon each have hit double digits in that category. End 93 Tyson Jackson has 8.5 sacks and 10 TFL. 94 Chase Pittman, the other defensive end, has 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Strong safety 16 Craig Steltz leads the team with 4 interceptions; Jonathan Zenon is second with 3. 30 LaRon Landry, the free safety, leads the team with 68 tackles.

Special Teams

LSU's placekicker is 6 Colt David. David has converted only 6 of 10 field goals, but all 4 misses have come from 40+ yards. His long is 45. For the Irish, Carl Gioia has converted 8 of 12 field goals, including 7 of 8 from inside 40 yards. His long is 40.
41 Chris Jackson handles LSU's punting duties. On 35 kicks, he is averaging 41.8 yards with a long of 58. Notre Dame's Geoff Price is averaging 45.2 yards per punt. The long out of his 45 kicks is a 62-yarder.
Early Doucet and Trindon Holliday are LSU's kick returners. On 9 returns, Doucet averages 17 yards with a long of 36 yards. Holliday is averaging 32 yards on 5 returns, with a 92-yard touchdown. Ryan Burkhart has been kicking off for the Irish. He is averaging 59.2 yards per kick, with 8 of 42 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 20 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 25.
David Grimes and George West return kicks for the Irish. Grimes is averaging 25.5 yards on 17 returns, with a long of 50. West is averaging 20.3 yards on 10 returns, with a long of 33. Against USC, Tom Zbikowski returned 5 kicks for an average of 21.4 yards. His long was 28. Chris Jackson is also in charge of kickoffs for the Tigers. Jackson is averaging 61.6 yards per kick, with 22 of 67 kickoffs going for touchbacks. LSU is giving up 19.7 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 23.
DB 21 Chevis Jackson and Craig Davis have shared punt return duties for LSU. Jackson is averaging 6.7 yards on 15 returns, with a long of 22. Davis is averaging 14.2 yards on 10 returns, with a 77-yard touchdown. Notre Dame is giving up a mediocre 12.1 yards per punt return.
When healthy, Tom Zbikowski has returned punts for ND. He has averaged 9 yards on 16 returns. His long was a 52-yard TD. LSU is giving up 11.4 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, Walker, Samardzija, the secondary, and Carl Gioia.

ND 26, LSU 24: LSU has outscored opponents by an average of 33-13 this year. Against teams with winning records, that margin is a slightly-more-human 24-16. Notre Dame has outscored similar opponents 27-24. Look for touchdowns from McKnight, Walker, and a DB not named Terrail Lambert. (Lambert already has 2 TDs - let's give someone else a chance. Gioia will miss an extra point, but make up for it with two field goals.