No Doubting LSU

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis always comes to press conferences with massive amounts of information on the upcoming opponent. On January 3rd in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Irish will travel down to New Orleans to face No. 4 LSU. The Tigers (10-2) are a stat lover's dream because they rank highly in multiple categories. It took Weis some time to rattle off the impressive numbers.

Here are some of them: LSU is second in Division 1A in total defense, third against the pass, fourth in scoring defense and sixth in sacks per game. LSU also has an offense. The Tigers are 10th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 33 points a contest. Experts and fans alike are giving the Irish slim hope to pull off the upset. Weis is used to hearing the negative rumblings about Notre Dame's chances to get his players' attention.

"I'm using it every second," Weis said on Tuesday about no one giving the Irish a shot to win. "But it wouldn't have made a difference if we were playing Florida or Arkansas or anyone else. If it would have been Florida, their defense is too much for us. Arkansas, they've got too much speed for us. No matter who we're playing, there was going to be that. It was going to be the SEC versus Notre Dame. So we were going to hear that."

The perception exists because the 10-2 Irish have not beaten a top-25 team this season. Despite rolling to a 10-2 record and a second straight BCS game under Weis, Notre Dame had two chances to show they belonged with the big boys. In both games, the Irish came up woefully short. Notre Dame lost to No. 3 Michigan at home and No. 8 USC on the road by a combined 46 points.

One thing is for sure: LSU has the speed and playmakers on offense to repeat this trend. The Tigers are led by quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The junior stands at 6'6, 260 pounds and Weis compared him to a "young Dante Culpepper." He ranks third in passer efficiency, ahead of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Russell's stable of wide receivers are led by 6'3", 217-pound senior Dwayne Bowe, who leads LSU with 11 touchdown receptions.

To go along with this is the frightful stat of the Tigers outscoring opponents 122-20 in the first quarter. Notre Dame has had the unfortunate trend of falling behind early in high-profile games. A big scoring play in the first few series could get the Louisiana Superdome crowd rocking and rolling, which Weis expects to be two-thirds to three-fourths pro-LSU.

"I think the most important thing is to not give up big plays," Weis said. "I think that's the most important factor in this game. I think that when we've given up big plays, we've fallen behind and we've been fortunate a couple times to be able to rally and a couple times not. So I think it's important to make sure we make them have to be patient in what they do and not give up the big play."

The defense is the most dominating aspect of this team. As stated above, they rank highly in every national ranking. The lowest is LSU being 15th against the run, allowing a meager 93 yards per game on the ground. All-Americans are littered in the front lines and back in the secondary. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety LaRon Landry were both named to the Associated Press first team. Weis is impressed with sophomore defensive end Tyson Jackson, who leads the Tigers with 8.5 sacks. Coordinator Bo Pellini is in his second-year at LSU and had this Tiger unit pumping with confidence.

"Bo doesn't blitz an extraordinary amount of times," Weis said. "I think the typical mentality in a game like this is probably to try to pressure you more, come up and get in the face of the wide receivers and see if you can get off the line of scrimmage.

"I know statistically what they do from even, over or under. I can go right down their fronts and tell you what coverages they run and the stats of pressures on 1st down but the bottom line is you've got to be ready. With this long a time that the coaching staffs have, you have to be ready for just about anything because those stats could be thrown out the window and they could go to a whole different perspective than what they normally do."

The main question: with a dominating defense and an offense that can put points up on the board, is this the best team the Irish will face this year? Statistically on paper, the Tigers make a good argument. On the field, the answer will be better known after the Sugar Bowl contest. Weis had made it clear that the schedule has been tweaked in order for the team to be ready and rearing to go down in New Orleans on January 3rd. He doesn't want a repeat of last year's Fiesta Bowl and a continuation of the bowl losing streak, currently 0-1 under his watch. He wants to take the preparation process for LSU one step at a time.

"I think that you have to make sure that you don't try to peak prior to Christmas," Weis said. "I think that you have to be ready to peak by January 3rd and I think that right now they're just going through the installation. Right now they're just becoming really familiar with who they're playing. They've watched plenty of tape on them but now they're getting familiar with their schemes and what they do offensively and defensively and on special teams.

"I slowed down the process for this game. I've slowed down the process. So right now I'm not concerned with getting them ready to play like this Saturday. I'm just getting ready to get them home for Christmas with a lot of knowledge base of what we're going to do when we get down to New Orleans."


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