PREVIEW: Tigers ready to rumble with Irish

With the 2006-07 bowl schedule that has raised several questions now concreted, LSU can now focus in on its opponent for the 2007 AllState Sugar Bowl: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Tigers and the Irish last met in South Bend in 1998 where Notre Dame walked away with a 39-36 victory. Historically, Notre Dame and LSU have met nine times, with the Irish holding a 5-4 advantage.

 

LSU's last win over Notre Dame came in the 1997 Independence Bowl, where the Tigers came out on top 27-9 to avenge a loss earlier in the season. That game also marks the only time the teams have faced each other in a bowl game.

 

The teams enter the Sugar Bowl with identical 10-2 records, with all losses coming to teams currently in the top 10.

 

The Irish, who started off the season ranked second in the AP poll, fell to Michigan in September and then went on to win eight straight games before losing to USC on Nov. 25 to close out the regular season.

 

They have accumulated 4,776 yards of total offense this season, averaging 398 yards and 32.4 points per game.

 

Leading the Irish offense is senior Heisman Memorial Trophy finalist quarterback Brady Quinn. Through 12 games, Quinn has completed 274 of 432 passes for a total of 3,278 yards and 35 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He is averaging 273.8 passing yards per game.

 

A year ago, Quinn had a solid outing in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State where he completed 29 passes, including 14 in a row, for a total of 286 yards. His biggest game to date this season came against North Carolina, where he threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns.

 

In Notre Dame's three games against ranked opponents, Quinn is averaging 265 yards per game with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

 

On the other side of the passing game, the Irish are led by the receiving duo of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. Samardzija leads the team in receptions and yardage with 70 catches for 958 yards and 11 touchdowns. McKnight has put up equally solid numbers with 64 catches for 885 yards and a team-high 15 touchdowns.

 

Also helping out in the receiving game have been sophomore wideout David Grimes, tight end John Carlson and running back Darius Walker. Carlson ranks third on the team in receiving with 621 yards and four touchdowns, while Grimes and Walker have added one touchdown each through the air.

 

Walker is also the team leader in the running game, tallying 1,139 rushing yards on 233 attempts for seven touchdowns. Joining Walker in the rushing attack has been freshman James Aldridge, who has accumulated 135 yards on 34 rushes.

 

As a team, Notre Dame is averaging 124.2 yards per game on the ground with 14 touchdowns.

 

Leading the way on the offensive front this season have been four veteran linemen in John Sullivan at center, Bob Morton and Dan Santucci at the guard spots and Ryan Harris at left tackle. Freshman Sam Young has filled the role at right tackle to complete the offensive line and is the only lineman who did not enter the year with significant experience, though he was considered one of the top players nationally in his class coming out of high school.

 

On the other side of the ball, the Irish defensive line is led by defensive end Victor Abiamiri, a second team All-America last year who has been a regular in the trenches since the 2003 season. He currently leads the team in sacks with 10 and quarterback hurries with 14.

 

Filling up the middle at the defensive tackle positions for Notre Dame are Trevor Laws and Derek Landri, who have combined for 125 tackles on the year. Landri currently leads the team with 15.5 tackles for losses and has racked up seven sacks, while Laws has pitched in with 3.5 sacks and one interception on the year.

 

Starting opposite Abiamiri at the other end has been Chris Frome, who has tallied three broken-up passes on the year.

 

The Irish linebacker corps is composed of Maurice Crum in the middle and Travis Thomas and Joe Brockington on the outside. Crum is the most experienced of the Notre Dame linebackers and leads the team with 92 tackles, 10 resulting in a loss. Crum has also tallied four sacks, one interception and one forced fumble on the year.

 

Brockington has pitched in with 55 tackles, while Thomas adds 33 of his own. Thomas also serves as one of the three Notre Dame team captains as the special teams representative.

 

As a unit, the Irish linebackers and front four have allowed 127.8 rushing yards per game for eight running touchdowns on the year, while the secondary is giving up 192.7 passing yards per game with 22 scoring receptions.

 

Leading the talented and experienced Irish secondary is team captain Tom Zbikowski at strong safety. Zbikowski, who has been a starter since the start of the 2004 season, has tallied 69 tackles this season and has returned a fumble 25 yards for a score as well.

 

Playing alongside Zbikowski at free safety is Chinedum Ndukwe, a  returning starter who has amassed 86 tackles, two interceptions, and five pass deflections this year.

 

At the corners, Notre Dame boasts experience in senior Mike Richardson and junior Terrail Lambert. Both cornerbacks have recorded three interceptions on the season, with Lambert returning one for a touchdown.

 

On special teams, place-kicker Carl Gioia has made eight of 12 field goal attempts on the year, while connecting on 47 of 52 extra points.

 

Punter Geoff Price is averaging 45.2 yards per kick on 45 attempts for the Irish, with 12 punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

 

David Grimes has handled punt returns for Notre Dame, returning 17 kickoffs for 434 yards.

 

Zbikowski is the main punt returner, with one touchdown and 144 yards on 16 returns.


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