LSU Has Shown Notre Dame The Blueprint
Tonight the LSU Tigers will take on the Clemson Tigers in the national championship game. Notre Dame has played both of these programs in recent seasons, with Notre Dame beat LSU twice (2017, 2014) and losing to Clemson twice (2018, 2015).
Brian Kelly says that Notre Dame is trying to get to this stage, and it absolutely should be the standard for any coach at Notre Dame. That’s what it’s all about, right, to play for championships?
Notre Dame has been close twice. Well, sort of. Notre Dame played for the national title in 2012 and made it to the College Football Playoff in 2018, but the Irish lost by 28 and 27 points in those two contests.
Like Notre Dame, LSU has not been able to get over the hump in the last decade.
LSU started off 3-2 against Nick Saban during his tenure at Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in 2011, which vaulted the Tigers to the national title game rematch against the Tide. The Tigers lost 21-0, and since then LSU went on to lose seven straight against Alabama, not scoring more than 17 points in any of those losses.
The last of those defeats was on November 3, 2018 when the No. 3 Tigers hosted No. 1 Alabama in Death Valley, and they were whipped 29-0. The Tigers rushed for just 12 yards and quarterback Joe Burrow went 18-35 for 184 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, and -7 yards rushing. Alabama outgained LSU 576 to 196.
The gap between LSU and Alabama seemed enormous.
Fast forward one year to November 9, 2019. The two teams squared off in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama’s offense put up big numbers once again, scoring 41 points and racking up 541 yards of offense. But this time, Alabama was completely outplayed by LSU, who jumped out to a 33-13 halftime lead and went on to went 46-41, with Alabama scored a late touchdown to make it a one score game.
The LSU offense that looked so helpless a year prior absolutely throttled Alabama, racking up 559 yards of offense, and Burrow was brilliant, completing 31-39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns while adding 64 yards on the ground.
In 2019, the Tigers offense looked nothing like it did the previous decade … or ever.
After getting embarrassed year after year by Alabama, and continuing to come up short in a quest for a title, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron knew he could not continue the status quo and expect things to change. The veteran head coach decided to shake things up, going outside the program and hiring New Orleans Saints offensive assistant coach Joe Brady, who was tasked with working with offensive coordinator Greg Ensminger to overhaul the offense.
The results were an incredibly dramatic turnaround on offense.
So why is an analyst who covers Notre Dame writing such an extensive breakdown of LSU for a Notre Dame site?
What Orgeron and LSU also did was provide a blueprint for Notre Dame to finally get over the hump and truly compete for a national championship.
A program that relied on defense for so long is playing for a national title because it went outside the program and overhauled its offense.
Notre Dame and LSU played each other to end the 2017 season, and the Fighting Irish came away with a 21-17 victory. Since then, the two teams have almost identical records, with Notre Dame going 23-3 and LSU going 23-4, but I think most would agree that LSU is clearly in much better position to beat the “big boys” and play for a national title.
Notre Dame in 2019 was basically a better offensive version of what LSU was in 2017. Just look at the numbers:
Notre Dame’s 2019 defense allowed fewer points, fewer yards per play, fewer yards per rush and fewer yards per pass attempt than the 2017 LSU defense that slowed down Notre Dame’s potent offense and held Alabama to just 24 points.
The Notre Dame offense scored more points against a softer schedule, but the overall numbers were almost identical. LSU scored 27.1 points against Power 5 opponents in 2017, while Notre Dame scored 30.8 points against Power 5 opponents in 2019.
The graph below compares LSU’s 2017 and 2019 squads, and you’ll see that in two years the LSU defense is the same as it was in 2017, but the offense looks nothing like it did two seasons ago.
In a very short time LSU was able to go from being an almost program to a team on the verge of a national championship. Even with a loss to Clemson, LSU will finish the 2019 season with at least three wins over programs that will finish ranked in the Top 10 (Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida), and that number could rise to four if No. 13 Alabama leaps back in the Top 10.
Keep in mind during Kelly's decade at Notre Dame the Irish have won just two games against teams that finished the season ranked in the Top 10.
The reason was Orgeron’s willingness to go outside the program for fresh ideas on offense, and he was willing to allow the offensive staff to create an offense that went against what he believed in, which was ball control, power running and throwing the ball over the top.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has the blueprint right in front of him, and if he wants to win a title he needs to follow it. Kelly has an open offensive coordinator position, and for months sources have indicated that Kelly’s desire is to simply promote current quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees to the position.
Rees was developed by Kelly as both a player and a coach, so it's the easy, comfortable move. Forget for a moment the discussion of whether or not Rees is ready for the position (he isn’t), the reality is promoting Rees means more of the same. It’s continuing to do what you’ve been doing as a program, which has resulted in coming up short year after year, and in big game after big game.
Clark Lea was an outsider before Kelly hired him to coach the linebackers in 2017 and then to run the defense starting in 2018. After playing abysmal defense from 2014-16, Lea has quickly built Notre Dame’s defense into one of the nation’s best.
Whoever steps into the offensive coordinator role will inherit a much, much better situation than what Mike Elko and Lea walked into back in 2017.
Kelly needs to follow the blueprint LSU provided on offense, and the one Kelly followed on defense. I am not saying Kelly needs to go hire a 30-year old NFL assistant. Finding the “next Joe Brady” is not what Kelly needs to do, and it’s not the blueprint I’m talking about. The blueprint is simple, go outside the program, find someone with fresh ideas, find someone willing to shake things up, find someone capable of overhauling the offense and creating an elite unit on that side of the ball.
Do that and Notre Dame will quickly close the gap on the nation’s top programs and Kelly will be in great position to finally accomplish the one thing that has eluded him as a FBS coach … win a national championship.