Notre Dame Football Primer: Irish face Alabama in Rose Bowl-Playoff Matchup

In a matchup of college football royalty, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. After a collapse in the ACC Championship, Brian Kelly will have the opportunity for the biggest upset in the history of Notre Dame Football. Can the Irish knock off Nick Saban and the three-headed offensive juggernaut of Alabama? We will find out Friday afternoon with a trip to the national championship game is on the line.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Friday, January 1st at 4:00 PM ET on ESPN
  • Location: AT & T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 5-2 all-time against the Alabama Crimson Tide (Last Meeting 2012: Alabama won 42 to 14)
  • Rose Bowl Appearances: 1925, 2020
  • Current Odds: Alabama -19.5

Alabama Details:

  • Conference: SEC
  • Head Coach: Nick Saban
  • 2020 Record: 11-0 (11-0)
  • 2019 Record: 11-2 (6-2)

Alabama Storylines:

The Alabama Crimson Tide are back in the playoffs. After a one-year absence from the College Football Playoffs, Nick Saban and Alabama will return to the playoffs for the 6th time in the seven years since its establishment. Since taking over in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban has won five national championships. Alabama’s last title was in 2017, which is not long compared to Notre Dame’s 1988 season.

Unfortunately, the Irish can expect Nick Saban’s motivation to be as high as ever.

The Crimson Tide have three players in the top-5 of Heisman voting. Most teams across the country would be ecstatic to have a single Heisman caliber player, and Alabama has three. Quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith headline one of college football history’s best offenses.

Quarterback Mac Jones has been unstoppable. Through 11 games, Jones is 250 for 327 (76.5%) for 3,739 yards with 32 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The Alabama Quarterback has 26 rushing attempts for -9 yards and one rushing touchdown. While running back Najee Harris has 214 attempts for 1,262 yards (5.9 yards per carry) with 24 rushing scores.

DeVonta Smith has 98 receptions for 1,511 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. These are undoubtedly Heisman level statistics for the three stars on the Crimson Tide Offense.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Irish rushing attack has not been the same without Jarrett Patterson. Notre Dame has been back and forth between sophomore center Zeke Correll and senior Josh Lugg. For now, it appears Zeke Correll will get the start against Alabama, according to the depth chart. Since Patterson’s absence, the Irish Offensive line has witnessed bad snaps and missed blocks at the center position.

The rest of the offensive line has remained intact, but for some reason, the Notre Dame Offense has not been able to dominate the running attack like earlier in the season.

Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense must put up points. It appears the Irish Offense was clicking after the victory over Clemson on November 7th, but the ACC Title game took the unit back down to reality. The running attack, Ian Book’s mobility, and physical wide receivers have characterized the offense in 2020.

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of utilization of players like Chris Tyree, Lawrence Keys III, Joe Wilkins, and Jordan Johnson. If the Irish want to win this matchup, they need to find a way to maximize their starting receivers and potentially talented backups.

Can Clark Lea slow down the Crimson Tide? Fortunately, for the Notre Dame defense, they have a lot of tape to watch against Clemson. The unit held the Tigers to 34 points, just a single point over what they allowed in regulation against Clemson back in South Bend. Clark Lea will not have to worry about Mac Jones and his rushing ability like Lawrence, but there will still be many difficulties.

I believe the future Vanderbilt Head Coach, Clark Lea, can slow down Alabama to an extent, but the Irish Offense must maintain lengthy drives. If the Irish Defense is on the field the entire game, no one can expect them to shut down the Crimson Tide.

Head-to-Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. Alabama Defense: The Fighting Irish are averaging 35 points per game, while the Crimson Tide are allowing 20 points per game. Ian Book will have to play the best game of his career through the air and on the ground. The Alabama Defense has developed throughout the season but showed weaknesses against the Florida Gators, where they surrendered 46 points.

If the Irish want to win this game, they must score touchdowns in the red zone and manage the clock. Tommy Rees will have to call a perfect game against Alabama and do something different from what fans saw in Charlotte a few weeks back.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Alabama Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: Steve Sarkisian’s offense is scoring 50 points per game, while Clark Lea’s Defense is allowing 19 points per game. This will likely be the best defense Alabama has played all season, but as the sports saying goes, “great offense always beats great defense.”

I think it will help that Mac Jones will not be running the read-option like Trevor Lawrence was in the ACC Title. Nevertheless, Nick Saban’s team may be one of the best offenses in college football history.

Advantage: Alabama

Special Teams: Alabama’s kicker, Will Reichard, is 12 for 12 on the season with a long of 52 yards. At the same time, Jonathan Doerer is 15 for 22 with a long of 51 yards.

The Crimson Tide have a significant advantage in the punt return game with DeVonta Smith. For better or worse, Brian Kelly has moved away from utilizing speedsters such as Lawrence Keys III or Chris Tyree returning punts.

Advantage: Alabama

My Prediction:

The Irish are back in the playoffs with a historic challenge. If Brian Kelly can pull off this upset, it would be one of the biggest wins in the history of Notre Dame Football and college football in general. I believe that Notre Dame is better in the trenches and overall than the 2012 Irish roster, but so is Alabama.

The Fighting Irish Offense must show something different. Besides Notre Dame Clemson Part I, it just seems as though the Irish Offense has been winning on talent. Tommy Rees is going to have to show why Brian Kelly chose him as offensive coordinator. Whether it is inserting new players, deep balls, screens, RPO’s, or Boise State-like trick plays, the Irish Offensive Coordinator needs to put up points, competing against Steve Sarkisian’s Alabama Offense.

The ACC Title game hurt my optimism. However, I will say that Clemson is just as impressive as Alabama, and the Irish do have room for improvement. I also believe the Irish are just as equipped as the Florida Gators, who almost upset Alabama.

I have the Crimson Tide winning this matchup but will undoubtedly be glued to my TV on New Year’s Day watching my Irish because if there is one thing that I know from watching sports for over 25 years, anything is possible in a one game series.

Prediction: Alabama 42 Notre Dame 27

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  1. Rumor has it that BK purposely held back the ND attack against Clemson just to set up a rematch with Alabama. He’s that confident. It’s gonna be fun.
    Elfie, PKA Ronnie, get your $5 ready, take the 20+ points, start the year positive.

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