Notre Dame vs. LSU: Tiger defenders to put pressure on Irish QB to perform

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) throws against Stanford during the second half of a game last month in Stanford, Calif. (By the Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, right, argues a call with the sideline referee during the first half of a recent game against Stanford in Stanford, Calif. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame's Kevin Stepherson makes a 11-yard touchdown reception against North Carolina State's Nick McCloud during the first half of a game earlier this season in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

It’s of very little secrecy as to what LSU is going to do against the Notre Dame offense in Monday’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando (1 p.m., ABC).

The Tigers are fast, athletic and physical on the defensive side of the ball and they are going to attack the Fighting Irish pass-catchers with an aggressive man coverage, which will put a lot of pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush to play an accurate game. For a change.

“It’s going to be about defeating one-on-one coverage on the outside,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Quite frankly, we’re going to have to throw the football at times against some man-to-man coverage.”

Wimbush completed more than 50 percent of his passes just three times in 11 starts this season and none since Oct. 28 against North Carolina State, in which he was 10 of 19. He regressed in many regards as this past season wore on, not progressed.

“Let’s go back to where we were earlier in the season,” Kelly explained of his team’s offensive strategy. “Let’s talk about controlling the line of scrimmage, which is going to be key for us. If we can block man-on-man, we’re going to have to make a couple guys miss (tackles). (And) We’re going to have to complete a couple of balls here, particularly on the perimeter.”

“If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to put some points on the board.”

To Wimbush’s credit, Kelly said his quarterback’s work in practices leading up to the bowl game has been very productive.

“He’s played with a lot more carry over in terms of his practice,” Kelly said. “The drill work is starting to really show itself in the way that he is throwing the ball in 7-on-7 (drills) and his teamwork.”

“There has been a lot more consistency in what he’s doing,”

That lack of “consistency,” from a technical standpoint, is what plagued Wimbush late in the season, according to Kelly.

The quarterback worked hard in practices, prepared well for the games, but pressed in terms of his mechanics, which caused him to be inaccurate much of the time.

“He has struggled in the last couple of games throwing the football,” Kelly said. “But he has not struggled mentally at all. His issues are mechanical issues, they’re not mental issues. He doesn’t have this weakness that is not allowing him to be the player that he can be.”

“We need to fix some things in the off-season, mechanically.”

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Monday’s task for Wimbush – and Kelly – wasn’t helped by a social media storm that erupted late Thursday.

Fighting Irish wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown made a comment that circulated on Twitter and the Tiger defenders caught on to it with a fury.

“They’re known as a DBU,” St. Brown was quoted as saying. “Or they think they are or whatever. It’s up to us to make plays.”

It was the “or they think they are” part that quote that some of the LSU defensive backs took exception to, despite the rest of the quote being accurate.

The Tiger defenders do have a history of stellar play, and Kelly acknowledged such Wednesday.

“Look,” Kelly said, “they are going to play man-to-man coverage and we know that we are going to have to win some match-ups on the outside. You’re not going to be able to go down the field with chunk plays. You’re going to have to get some chunk plays on the outside. My point on throwing the football is we’re going to have to win some of those match-ups on the outside.”


Kelly recently suspended both sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and freshman running back C.J. Holmes indefinitely following their arrest in a shoplifting incident in South Bend, but on Wednesday the coach said that he was not acting further on the matter until he returned back to campus.

“He’s indefinitely suspended,” Kelly said of Stepherson, “and once the game is over, I’ll make a decision on his permanent status.”

It later was reported that Stepherson was pulled over in Marshall County the day prior to the shoplifting incident for driving 80 m.p.h. in a 60 m.p.h. zone and was charged with possession of marijuana, speeding and not having a valid driver’s license.

The two incidents are the second and third time that Stepherson has been in legal trouble since arriving in South Bend in the summer of 2016.

“That is not something that I need to do right now,” Kelly said of disciplining Stepherson further. “I’ll make that decision once I’m finished with guys that are on our roster.”

“My focus right now, the most important thing, is to win this football game.”

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