BATON ROUGE, La. — It was a case of a good offense early and late, and a good defense for four quarters, as eighth-ranked Louisiana State beat Notre Dame, 21-19, Saturday night.
"Our offense did well in the first quarter, and then got itself together in the fourth quarter when they needed it," LSU Coach Bill Arnsparger said.
The victory before a sellout crowd of 78,197 at Tiger Stadium all but assured LSU a Sugar Bowl berth Jan. 1 against Nebraska.
The Tigers, 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference, can do no worse than tie Alabama for the title. Alabama, 4-1 in the SEC, closes its conference schedule next Saturday against Auburn.
Even if the Crimson Tide wins that game, Sugar Bowl representatives will have to weigh the fact that LSU, which is 8-2 overall with a game remaining against Tulane, beat Alabama this season.
Notre Dame, which fell to 4-6 with a season windup next Saturday against USC, had any outside chance of a bowl appearance slip away.
Tom Hodson threw three touchdown passes for LSU, and nose guard Henry Thomas led a defense that kept Notre Dame out of the end zone until the final 3:32.
Thomas had 11 tackles, including two sacks.
Defensive end Roland Barbay, a fifth-year senior, said he couldn't remember LSU ever playing better defense close to the goal.
"We just went out and buckled up. We ran to the ball as best we could," he said.
It was the second straight heartbreaking loss for Notre Dame. The Irish lost to second-ranked Penn State, 24-19, last weekend.
"This is absolutely unbelievable," Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz said. "What more can you tell kids after a game like this?
"LSU may have one of the best defenses in the nation, and certainly the best coached," he said. "They attacked us from all angles tonight."
Hodson completed 20 of 28 passes for 248 yards, and two of his touchdown passes were in the first quarter--a 13-yard completion to Wendell Davis and a 4-yard toss to Rogie Magee.
Hodson, a redshirt freshman, hit 4 of 5 passes for 57 yards on the Tigers' first scoring drive and 6 of 7 attempts for 62 yards on the next drive. Davis finished with 121 yards in 7 catches.
After Notre Dame had closed to 14-13 on a 96-yard kickoff return by Tim Brown and two field goals by John Carney, Hodson drove LSU 79 yards and completed another 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brian Kinchen midway through the fourth quarter.
Brown's kickoff return came after LSU's first score in the nationally televised game over ESPN.
Second-string quarterback Terry Andrysiak led an 80-yard, seven-play drive for Notre Dame and hit D'Juan Francisco with a 14-yard scoring pass with 3:32 left in the game.
Andrysiak's pass attempt for a two-point conversion was complete to tight end Joel Williams, but Williams was out of bounds when he made the catch.
Andrysiak led Notre Dame rushers with 50 yards in 6 carries and also hit 6 of 8 passes in relief of Steve Beuerlein. Beuerlein was 7 of 18 for 50 yards. He threw one interception.