Dec. 30, 2006
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Heading into the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame's defensive line has LSU's attention.
The fourth-ranked Tigers (10-2) don't sound too concerned about the secondary of the No. 4 Fighting Irish (10-2), which has been burned frequently for big plays this season. The linebackers don't appear to be an area of concern, either. But the Tigers repeatedly talked Saturday about the challenge posed by the Irish defensive line.
No one put it more bluntly than wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
"They're very strong up front. That's one thing we've got to worry about is the front line. But cornerback wise, they're just a group of guys," he said.
Other LSU players talked more diplomatically about the Irish defense, and the challenge the line presents.
"They're really physical up front," center Brett Helms said. "They've got great motors. They never take plays off."
Much of the talk this week in New Orleans has centered on Notre Dame not having the talent to match up with the Tigers. LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher tried to dismiss talk the Irish aren't fast enough or big enough.
"I have never heard of a slow, small team getting to the Sugar Bowl," he said.
He singled out the defensive line as a concern, particularly end Victor Abiamiri and tackle Derek Landri. He said one challenge is the variety of schemes the Irish use.
"I think it's going to be a real mental challenge for us," he said.
The LSU front four is a heralded group, led by All-American tackle Glenn Dorsey, with 59 tackles and three sacks. Irish tackle Derek Landri has similar numbers with 60 tackles and seven sacks, yet he doesn't receive nearly the acclaim.
It's a similar story across the front line for both teams. The Irish front four have 196 tackles this season, 21 for sacks, while LSU's highly touted front four have 138 tackles, 29 for sacks.
The obvious difference is that LSU has a much stronger overall defense. LSU ranks third in the nation, giving up an average of 239 yards a game. The Irish rank 45th, giving up 321 yards a game.
Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter said he doesn't try to compare LSU's defense to Notre Dame's, but said the Irish players will take it as a challenge.
"Our front four vs. theirs. That's kind of backyard schoolboy stuff, but I think kids are kids," he said. "I think our D-line will watch what their D-line does and our linebackers watch what their linebackers do. I just think that's natural for guys to do - the macho end of the game."
One reason the Tigers are concerned about the Irish front is that in their two losses the Tigers struggled in the running game. LSU had 42 yards rushing in a 7-3 loss to Auburn and 90 yards rushing in a 23-10 loss to Florida. They also managed just 91 yards rushing in a 23-20 overtime win against Ole Miss.
Helms said the line came together after the two losses.
"We got together and made a commitment, saying we're getting better," he said. "We picked it up each game after that."
Landri said the key for the Irish is to come out loose Wednesday night against the Tigers. He said the Irish were too tight in their losses to Michigan and USC.
"Everyone wants to do so well and play so hard," he said. "We just have to relax and enjoy ourselves."