NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The 22nd-ranked LSU Tigers brought the Southeastern Conference’s toughest defense into the Music City Bowl. Still, the Tigers couldn’t come up with a stop when it mattered most.
Now Les Miles may be looking for a new defensive coordinator.
Leonard Fournette ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns and also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a third score, but the Tigers never touched the ball in the final 5:41 as Notre Dame beat them 31-28 on a kickoff as time expired.
“We did the things offensively that we should have done,” Miles said. “We did not stop Notre Dame, certainly in the first half, much at all.”
Notre Dame held the ball for 37 minutes and finished with a 449-436 edge in total offense. It was the most yards allowed by LSU in seven games and the third-most yards this season.
But Miles spent more time after the game answering questions about reports defensive coordinator John Chavis is leaving for SEC West rival Texas A&M. Miles said he had been told that was happening but planned to follow up himself. Miles denied that Chavis’ job situation affected preparations for this bowl and wouldn’t discuss whether Chavis was leaving because of money.
“He’s had a great career for LSU,” Miles said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Chavis refused to answer questions about going to Texas A&M after the game. Miles also said he plans to make another pitch at keeping Chavis. The LSU coach said he didn’t care how it might look losing a coordinator to a division rival.
“I can only tell you at LSU that we’ll have a great defense, we’ll have a great defensive coordinator,” Miles said. “We may revisit this soon.”
LSU (8-5) had been ranked as high as eighth this season before running into the buzzsaw that was the SEC West this season, and the Tigers’ loss in this bowl marked the first loss by a Western Division team to someone outside the conference.
The Tigers set a bowl record rushing for 285 yards, but they couldn’t score at the end of the first half despite having first-and-goal at the Notre Dame 5. Miles tried a fake field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Irish 1 with holder Brad Kragthorpe who bumped into a teammate and was ruled short.
The ruling was upheld on review. Miles wasn’t happy with the lack of replay angles that might have shown Kragthorpe got the ball over the line before his knee went down.
“The guy that carried the ball, forcing it, said he absolutely scored,” Miles said. “Kids will be kids, but this guy’s going to tell the truth.”
Notre Dame got the ball with 5:41 left and never gave it back, driving 71 yards in 14 plays before Kyle Brindza finished off the win with a 32-yard field goal as time expired.
“We dictated the outcome by controlling the football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, if LSU has the football with No. 7 (Leonard Fournette), he’s a game changer. We certainly couldn’t give them the football back.”
The Fighting Irish (8-5) also blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Trent Domingue early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers’ final three touchdowns took all of 38 seconds. Fournette had his kick return, and his 89-yard TD run later gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 28-21 with 6:14 left in the third quarter. In between, Anthony Jennings connected with John Diarse on a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
But LSU didn’t score again after Fournette’s TD run, the longest play from scrimmage in this bowl’s history. Isaac Rochell blocked Domingue’s field goal attempt with 11:56 left.
Now a handful of Tigers have to decide whether they test the NFL draft or return for 2015, including offensive guard Vadal Alexander said he hasn’t made a decision yet himself.