NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Brian Kelly summarizes it into a relatively concise, all-encompassing statement when it comes to the difference between success and failure in the passing game against LSU.
“It’s going to be man-to-man coverage on the outside,” said Kelly of Notre Dame’s matchup against the Tigers Tuesday in the Music City Bowl. “We’ll have to make some really good individual plays against very good coverage, the best that we’ve seen all year.
“If (the Irish receivers) don’t make plays on the outside, we won’t move the ball effectively.”
That likely means the sixth loss in seven games and fifth in a row if the Irish can’t handle LSU’s sticky man-to-man coverage, which limited opponents to a 50.4 completion percentage during the 2014 regular season.
Only four teams in the country allowed less than 2,000 yards passing this season and the Tigers were one of them. Opponents averaged just 162.3 yards passing per game on an average of 30 attempts. Their 5.4 yards allowed per attempt is second in the country to Stanford’s 5.2.
"This is really going to set the tempo for next year. We started off great and we didn't end it that well, but we can change that. We can be the masters of our own fate."
-- Corey Robinson
The best press coverage of the season against the Irish comes from a short list. Florida State likes to press the wideouts at the line of scrimmage. Stanford does it with size, as it does at virtually every position on the field. Everett Golson and Co. had success against the Seminoles’ press coverage, but not so much against Stanford.
There’s no doubt which opponent applied the tightest press coverage in 2013. That distinction belonged to Michigan State, which clamped down on Notre Dame’s wideouts.
But while the Irish lost several battles that day in Notre Dame Stadium, they won the war, 17-13, thanks in large part to three interference penalties against cornerback Trae Waynes, and an interference and holding call against cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Corey Robinson emerged from that game with three catches for 54 yards and a couple of interference penalties drawn. Now he, Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise and Torii Hunter Jr., will have the task of going up against a Tiger secondary with an astonishing 122 passes broken up and/or defensed during its 12-game season.
“LSU is like Stanford in that they have big, physical corners out there who are in it for the long (haul),” said Robinson, the only Irish receiver made available to the media Saturday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. “It’s going to be a fight every play for the entire four quarters.”
It’s a tough fight to win. Whereas Robinson had success against Florida State’s smaller and quicker cornerbacks - nine catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns with a third negated by penalty - he and the rest of the Irish receivers had more difficulty with Stanford’s physical play. Robinson had four catches for 46 yards against the Cardinal.
The Tigers are led on the back end by 6-foot-2, 198-pound junior cornerback Jalen Collins, who paces the secondary in passes defensed/broken up with 19. The other cornerback - 5-foot-11, 191-pound sophomore Tre’Davious White -- has a couple of picks and 12 passes broken up/defensed.
The cornerbacks get great help from 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior safety Ronald Martin, who is third on the team in tackles with 66 and second on the squad in passes broken up/defensed with 18.
LSU has just 10 interceptions on the season and a mere 19 sacks. But they’ll get in the grill of the opposing receivers and not let up until the final whistle. It’s a challenge for Robinson with his long frame.
“The biggest thing for me is trying to stay low,” said Robinson, who ranks second on the squad in receptions (40 for 539 yards and five TDs) to Will Fuller’s 71 catches for 1,037 yards and 14 scores. “A lot of shorter corners can get up into my chest because I’m so tall. I’ve got to give them a low body surface.
“I try to be physical and be big because I’m 6-5. I’m trying to be a 6-5 receiver. Move them off the line and go up and get the ball. That’s my job. It’s going to be tough, but hey, I’ve got to get it done.”
Robinson sees no difference in the way the football arrives at him off the right hand of Everett Golson or the left hand of Malik Zaire.
“Both have rockets,” Robinson laughed.
Robinson looks at the LSU game as a challenge to get the Irish back to where they were when they walked into Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee with a 6-0 record and nearly pulled off the upset over the Seminoles, only to lose five of their last six.
“This is really going to set the tempo for next year,” Robinson said. “This is a game that’s monumental and pivotal for our success as a team. It really helps us if we get the win going into the off-season with the motivation and the assurance knowing that we can play anybody.
“We started off great and we didn’t end it that well, but we can change that. We can be the masters of our own fate as opposed to saying, ‘We lost four in a row and we’re going to lose again.’ We’re very focused and saying, ‘This is going to be our game and we’re going to change it.’”