Notre Dame Football: Initial Thoughts on Rose Bowl Matchup with Alabama

After a downfall in the ACC Championship Game, Brian Kelly and his team must immediately turn their attention to another dynasty, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Notre Dame will have less than two weeks to prepare for the #1 team in the country, and the Irish are already the largest underdogs in the history of the playoffs. In a rematch of the 2012 National Championship Game, Brian Kelly will strive for victory in what would likely be the greatest upset in the history of Notre Dame Football.

Two Playoff Appearances in three years

Notre Dame solidifies a Rose Bowl berth. The Fighting Irish are, without a doubt, one of the best four teams in the country. Brian Kelly knocked off #1 Clemson (albeit without key players), handled #12 North Carolina on the road, and made it to the ACC Championship Game. Now, the Irish are headed back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Knute Rockne led Notre Dame to Pasadena back in 1924.

Only five programs have been to the playoffs multiple times. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers stand alone as the top tier of college football. These two programs have been in the playoffs six times each. While teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and a few other programs compromise tier two. Last year, the LSU Tigers did win the national title, but at this moment, that seems like more of an outlier with Joe Burrow.

Yes, the Buckeyes won a national title, but that was back in 2014 with Urban Meyer. Ohio State has never beaten Clemson and even lost 31 to 0 against the Tigers back in 2016. If the Fighting Irish or even Buckeyes want to get back to that level, they will have to pull off the upsets in Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl contests.

Rematch of 2012 National Championship

What has changed since the last meeting? Notre Dame has certainly improved since the 2012 title game, but so has Alabama. The Crimson Tide used to win low scoring games with defense. Now they have perhaps the best offense in the country under Steve Sarkisian. Back in 2012, the Irish were winning close games, but this year Brian Kelly has dominated most of the competition.

Notre Dame was riding a 16-game winning streak before Saturday, beat Clemson in November, and is still on a 24-game home winning streak back in South Bend. Brian Kelly has the Irish primed for the playoffs each season, but the real question is what will happen once they reach Rose Bowl.

Would a win be the biggest upset in Notre Dame history? The Irish are significant underdogs in this matchup, not only due to past precedent but because of what happened against the Clemson Tigers recently. Notre Dame is one of the best programs in college football history and will not be given a chance against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Day.

The greatest upset in the history of Notre Dame Football is likely the victory against Oklahoma in 1957. The Sooners were on a 47-game winning streak and were 19-point favorites at home. But the Fighting Irish were able to go into Norman, Oklahoma, and end the longest winning streak in the history of college football.

Alabama Offense looks unstoppable

The Crimson Tide have a 3-headed monster. Quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith have been unstoppable in 2020. Most schools are lucky to have one player in the Heisman conversation, but Alabama has all three athletes in the mix. Jones has nearly 4,000 passing yards, Harris almost 1,300 rushing yards, and Smith more than 1,500 receiving yards.

The Notre Dame Defense will have a daunting task of “slowing down” the Tide offense because shutting them down is not realistic.

However, the Alabama Defense could be vulnerable. Who remembers when Alabama beat Ole Miss 63 to 48? That contest seems forever ago because Saban’s Defense has been dominating since then. After the Ole Miss matchup, only 2 of the last 9 opponents have scored over 17 points.

If there is hope for Brian Kelly and the Irish, the Florida Gators put up 46 points in the SEC Championship Game with a 6-point loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Fast Start is essential in this matchup

Running Attack is the key to an Irish victory. In the ACC Title game, the Notre Dame offense only mustered 44 rushing yards against the Clemson Tigers. Kyren Williams had 15 carries for 50 yards (3.3 yards per carry). At the same time, Ian Book had ten rushes for -35 yards. Brent Venables kept Book contained the whole game, and the Irish Quarterback could not flee the pocket.

Alabama will undoubtedly try to replicate the Clemson game plan. If Notre Dame is going to have a chance in this matchup, they must establish a running game and control the clock. Unfortunately, the Irish Offensive Line has not been the same since the loss of Jarrett Patterson.

Irish must take advantage of opportunities. Notre Dame cannot afford to beat themselves in the Rose Bowl. Against Clemson, the Fighting Irish had drives stall out in Clemson territory. The offense has struggled inside the red zone all season, and most specifically inside the 10-yard line. Early against Clemson, the Irish drive was halted at Clemson’s 6-yard line, and the woes were compounded with a 24-yard missed field goal.

On the next drive, Ian Book threw a pass off the hands of Avery Davis on a 4th and 3, which just seemed to demoralize the team. Notre Dame cannot afford those mistakes against Alabama. If the Crimson Tide gets off to a fast start, there will be no catching up.

Final Thoughts

Is it now or never? This is year 11 of the Brian Kelly era, and there is no guarantee there are more opportunities to come. As mentioned earlier, Notre Dame has established itself as one of the best programs in the country once again. They remind me a lot of Oklahoma, who has made the playoffs four times but has yet to win a game.

I do not believe that it is now or never, but at some point, the Irish must compete with Alabama and Clemson in the postseason. Notre Dame is better in the trenches than 2012, but will it be enough to pull off the upset? If so, we will find out on New Year’s Day.

Notre Dame needs to compete until the end. The Fighting Irish have had three undefeated regular seasons since 2012, played for a national title, and made the playoffs twice. It is great to make the College Football Playoffs, but now the goal is to win the national championship.

The lopsided losses in the postseason have been demoralizing. At Notre Dame, there should not be moral victories; however, for on the field success and recruiting success to continue, the Irish must compete in these games. Brian Kelly and the Irish have the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Alabama Crimson Tide and show Notre Dame has improved since 2012.

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  1. Maybe this Tyler Buchner lives up to the hype and plays like a Heisman trophy level quarterback. Of course we all said the same thing about Ron Powlus,Brandon Winbush, Phil Jurcovich ,Gunner Kiel, etc.etc. Also if Buchner is great you have to have the supporting cast. Great oline ,gamebreakers on the outside great running backs and also a great offensive coordinator who can design great game plans , make adjustments, is creative great play caller. Watching tape I would use Buchner in the pro game like Clemson used Lawrence. It appears Buchner can really run

    1. Probably at least two years away before Buchner gets any type of look whatsoever. We should hope Book comes back for another year because no one behind him is even close to being ready to lead Notre Dame. Pyne and Clarke look like pre schoolers out there. Again another swing and miss for Kelly. I’m hoping ND can catch lightning in a bottle and upset Alabama but that extremely doubtful and would not be surprised to see Bama hang 50 plus on the Irish. Going to be very critical for Kelly to find a suitable replacement for Lea. Cant afford to see the defense take a step backwards in the coming years on the defensive side of the ball.

      1. Jeff,

        Bama could well end up winning by 50 plus if things don’t go well. Don’t expect Saban to show any mercy!

        I fear Buchner is another not-ready-for-primetime QB. I think the last really good one was Clausen but he didn’t have a lot of support, especially from bad Ds.

        BK doesn’t know how to evaluate or develop elite QBs. He does OK with average Joes like he had at Cinci and with Reese and now Book, taking them up a notch. But he has no idea of how to use athletic QBs, who should be ideal for his system but haven’t panned out.

  2. ND doesn’t have a chance. This is men against boys, I am afraid. The talent gap is huge, the coaching gap is huge. Alabama is not going to be without their best players (like Clemson I). I love ND and all the kids playing this year. But lets be real. Ian won’t get time to be great, his receivers won’t get open, we won’t be able to run the ball, we won’t be able to score. Then our defense will realize that and give up. Game over in second quarter just like usual in these games. ND loses by more than 24 pts, bet on it if you really want to make some money.

  3. If I were Kelly, what I’d say to this team just before game time…”This game is 4 quarters, (holding up 4 fingers). You all know your assignments, now let’s go out and execute! Now, let’s all kneel.”
    That should do it.

    1. Kelly is the worst pep-talker I’ve ever seen.
      And that’s only the stuff that get recorded for TV…which he KNOWS is being recorded for broadcast.
      Making that shit is his very BEST effort!

  4. I love college football, I love football period college and the NFL. I was born in Alabama (raised in Florida) and I’ve been a Tide fan since I was just a boy but more importantly I’ve been a fan of all of college football since I was a young boy and I respect every team and there respective fan base, except that other Alabama school and there fan base. Good luck to the Fighting Irish and the Fighting Irish fans, may the best team win. ROLL TIDE

  5. I don’t gamble, but I appreciate the cold rationality of how it works.
    Bookmakers are currently giving 19.5 points to keep the Alabama-ND bets in balance enough to manage their liability. Up 2 points from the opening line. Making ND the biggest dog in the modest tenure of the BCS playoff format.

    Coastal Carolina would could get bulldozed by Alabama to the same shitty ratings…..but they could really build a program with the money.

      1. This Alabama team has scored an average of 49.7 points per game.
        As we “discussed” earlier in the season, ND virtually never scores 50 points.
        And I highly doubt it will break out of that drought in this one, no disrespect to Tommy Rees.

      2. I was thinking on doing the same, but after looking at Bama’s Roster these guys are huge and fast! I don’t see us being able to withstand all that for 4 quarters! Just hope we keep it respectable! Go Irish

  6. I can understand some limited criticism of Kelly but what do you guys expect? This isn’t the 80s and 90s anymore. He took a team that Davie, Willingham and Weis destroyed over a 15 year period and turned them into a yearly top 5-10 team. Have there been issues along the way? Sure, but he stepped up and made changes for the better. I wasn’t a big fan of his early on but I’ve grown to respect what he has done. We are a MUCH better football program because of him and if you don’t agree, you’re lost. Is he Saban or Swinney? Certainly not, but he’s done a lot with massively restrictive admissions situation compared to the competition. Name one coach you “know” could do better than what he has done…outside of Saban and Swinney I promise you can’t do it. Be glad we have him b/c I’m not sure any alternative would be as good as what we have.

  7. Mac Jones and the Alabama receivers will run wild unless a pass rush pressures him. Line backer pass coverage will have to take away shorter routes in the middle third of the field. The defense must keep Names Harris under 100 yards with no run longer than 20. Hamilton and Crawford at Safety must have their best games of the season allowing no more then 2 touchdown passes longer than 15 yards. Overall, the defense must hold Alabama under 40 points. The ND offense, then, must be prepared to score at least 40. There must be three Alabama turnovers, and ND must score touchdowns in the red zone. The offensive coaches must scheme a way to break contain and enable Book to run. The offensive line must far their best game of the year. The Center must block effectively. A receiver other than Javon McKinley will have to step up. The receivers must play more physical to get away from the line of scrimmage faster, and Williams will have to catch some screen passes and dink routes. Chris Tyree will have to break one. In all, a very tall order for the offense, but in big games sometimes you get surprised.

    1. If every ND player performs out of their minds, it could stay tight.
      Then, savvy strategic coaching decisions would decide the game. Brian Kelly is no Nick Saban.

  8. Big recruiting miss for Notredame was losing out to USC for amon ron st brown. Yes the kid is a hot dog but he is the kind of receiver that can give Alabama,Clemson and Ohio State fits. I watched him in a recent game. He was unguardable.

    1. You go into the battle with the troops that you have…..not with the troops that you WISH you had. After the game is over, Kelly will know what has to be done. At least i hope he will know what ND needs to compete w/ the elite. There are about 130 teams in the FBS. ND can beat about 125 of the teams on any given day. Its the other 5 teams that ND needs to hurdle over to get to the Promised Land.

      1. Imo one of the things he needs to do is give more playing time to his young skilled talent. Sure they may make mistakes but the upside is they can make big plays and help you win. For example you recruited some highly rated receivers and a great freshman back with great speed and you are not using them or using them very little. Lenzy, Jordan Johnson, Tyree, should be starting and be a big part of the offense. Those are the elite players you need to play and beat Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Skoronski and McKinley would be the 4th or 5th receiver on Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. Also could you imagine Alabama,Ohio State and Clemson using a walk on as s punt returner. Finally dump Del Alexander and go out and bring in a great receivers coach. Ohio State did that. They dumped that Zach Smith and brought in Hartline and Ohio States receivers are not great both recruiting and development. If Kelly refuses to make these changes expect more big game losses.

    2. Pete, This shouldn’t surprise you that the younger more talented skill position players at ND don’t play much. This has always been Kelly’s MO . I mentioned several times before the season started that we would see very little of Tyree, Johnson, and Mayer. Kelly has always been very reluctant to let the younger skill position players have a significant role.

      1. Yes , Jeff and that is why I think Notredame unfortunately is going to continue losing these big games . I personally would like to see a new receivers coach. Alexander has been to hit and miss with recruiting elite receivers and is not developing them early enough. Look at how good Boykin and Claypool are playing in the NFL and they did nt blossom u ntil their senior year.

      2. I agree Jeff and that is why I dont think Notredame is going to win these big games. Kelly needs to hire a great receivers coach.Del Alexander is to hit and miss as a recruiter and doesn’t develop the receivers until their junior practice senior years. Examples ,Claypool , Boykin Mckinley.

  9. My opinion is one of many, but I really think this match up with Alabama will be more humiliating than that of Clemson. I’m a huge ND football fan and the outcome of this game won’t change that, but I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid any longer – haven’t been for some time. Kelly is a coach that brings ND to a good level of competition most of the time, but can’t play with the Alabama’s or Clemsons of today or the past decade. I really hope I can stick my big foot in my mouth when the New Years Day game is over. There’s this little voice of reason in me that says I won’t have to worry about that LOL. It’s wearing thin like my hair that this is where ND football has been for many years, even before Kelly. With all that said, “Go Irish”! ☘️

  10. I would use the “dink and “dunk” strategy on the passing game. Two step drop and the ball comes out. NFL QB’s use it all the time for 5 yd gains. A 5 yd gain is better than a sack. It keeps you ahead of the chains. Running game needs screen plays, mis-direction , toss sweeps, maybe some triple option. Running up the middle gets stuffed. ND O-line loses Patterson and the O line goes all to hell !. That’s ridiculous but, seems plausible. That’s one of the differences between elite and second tier. Bama center Dickerson is OUT for the CFP. Yet. Saban will plug a new guy in who is just as good as Dickerson. No Bama talent drop off.
    We lose one guy and the team goes off the rails. It shouldn’t happen but the depth is not there. ND needs to SCORE POINTS, Get a few stops on D and maybe get a few turnovers. Saban will study the Clemson tape. We need a new game plan. Elite teams are winning w/ OFFENSE. Bama did NOT contain Florida.
    We need ball control, shorten the game and get some lucky bounces.

      1. Correct, “david,” ball control would be ideal.

        I just don’t know if this team can execute that. I guess you can snap every down with a second or two left on the play clock.

        “dooby” has some good suggestions. I just don’t know if it’s in this team’s DNA. Short passes (as a facet, not your whole game-plan, ala Mike Tomlin’s gutless O!) would be helpful to stay ahead of the sticks. I like the idea of some kind of option on short yardage, but I’m thinking of a play UNC executed against Miami a few weeks ago on fourth and goal. It was so well conceived and executed. Look it up. Thing of beauty. Glad they didn’t use it against ND a few weeks earlier! As for screens, Book can’t seem to be able to make it work. Misdirection doesn’t seem to be in Reese’s playbook. I just think this O is very limited athletically and schemes don’t help.

        This thing could get ugly real early. I was really hoping for A&M to take the fourth PO spot. I just think ND would have a better chance against even OK or Iowa or Iowa St.

  11. ” Brian Kelly and the Irish have the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Alabama Crimson Tide and show Notre Dame has improved since 2012.”
    Here’s hoping NDs suspected sad conclusion to this promising season won’t be as sad as the conclusion to this post. I appreciate your reality check that our hopes are to be defeated by less than 28 points- a low bar indeed.
    How long do we try to “establish the run?” How long before we try quick timing pass patterns to avoid another “see Ian try to escape” offensive (and I do mean offensive) scheme? I’d like to see an unexpected wrinkle in our O’ game plan, something on that side of the ball similar to Ara’s “mirror D back in the day. When playing against an elite team with extra time to prepare, I’d hope for something less predictable than what Clemson saw and prepared for, and executed flawlessly. I also saw the missed opportunities you mrntionred, but I saw little chance of cashing in from the first quarter through the fourth quarter re: offense strategy. “Executing better” isn’t the ideal plan if it’s the only plan.

    1. I agree Michael, I’ve just never been impressed with Kelly as this so called offensive guru when he took the job. His lack of a great offense is the sole reason imo why he cant get Notredame over the hump. Can you imagine Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama scoring 10 points in a championship game. 3 points 2 years ago in the playoffs 8 points against Miami. 12 points against Louis ville. Need I go on. Also you have Lenzy and Jordan Johnson and you never play them. On offense it’s not just talent either. Its play calling, game plan, in game adjustments, scheme, structure, personnel. Let’s hope Kelly will look at all of this in the off season and make some changes. I wont hold my breath. But he will be here 3 more seasons so as Bob Davie use to say it is what it is.

    1. This might well be either the death knell or rebirth of ND football.

      Another beatdown will simply affirm what we all know, that this program isn’t near elite.

      However, an upset or even close game might signal a rebirth.

      I just don’t think BK is able to get ND football over the hump. He’s not that good at any one thing. And he’s stubborn at times. The changes he made after 2016 were largely forced on him if he wanted to continue cashing a ND paycheck.

      I hope I get another serving of crow stew, but I don’t think ND has a chance to even keep this to under a twenty point defeat.

      1. My goodness….just a few years ago we were not even close to elite. We’re getting there and may never be a Bama OSU or Clemson until we recruit more five stars. However, the rebirth from has occurred and not beating Bama is far from the death knell.

      2. How about getting blown out by Bama?!

        A close loss on the other hand (while a “moral victory”, and BK himself said ND football needs to go beyond mere moral victories!) would at least mean the Irish belong with the elites. But another humiliation and it might mean ND will never play another PO game. Burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me! (Burn me for the Nth time, and you won’t get another chance!)

        You are right that ND will not be elite until it recruits its share of upper-echelon talent. They’re close, but no cigar. You can’t count on coaching up three-start talent and expect to beat Bama, tOSU, and Clemson. ND is closer to NW than the elites of college football (except I like Pat Fitzgerald’s potential more than BK’s).

        GO IRISH!

  12. If Book plays like he did before this Clemson game like he did the first Clemson game and the games after then Notredame I think can hang with them at least give them a game.Alabamas defense is not that good but it really doesn’t have to be. For them it just cant be bad. I’ve really been disappointed in Notredames receiviers this year. I was expecting big things out of Lenzy, Keys, Austin, Jordan Johnson. I know injuries and off the field issues are part of this but when Lenzy, Keys Johnson and Austin have played they have done very little. Del Alexander should be on the hot seat imo

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