It’s All About Mindset For Notre Dame Against Alabama

The nice thing about this matchup is there is no debate about the situation at hand. Against Clemson, in the rematch from their original tilt in November (which Notre Dame won, by the way), there was a thought that maybe the Irish were, in fact, the better team, despite the large point spread. It would have been reasonable for the Irish staff and team to think a similar game plan would prove effective the second time around. Whether that was the case or not, the outcome was a surprise for many. Their plans were thwarted, and they could not adjust.

This week everyone understands Brian Kelly and his team are up against it. And let’s be honest, anyone playing this Alabama team would be in a similar spot. They average nearly 50 points a game and have a point differential of 30. They are a big problem, not just for Notre Dame, but for everyone. Going into this game, the Irish mindset cannot be what it has been.

By mindset, I’m not talking about their belief in their ability to win or compete. If that isn’t already there, then the rest of this doesn’t matter. I remember hearing a quote some time ago, not sure where, you’ve got to love your talent more than anyone else’s talent. It’s ok to be honest. Alabama is the better team. They’ve proven it throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be outplayed, so the Irish must believe they will.

The mindset I’m talking about comes from the staff and the players in approaching the competition. How they approach the offense, the defense, the kicking game, all of it. They don’t need to change who they are per se, but they do need to keep Alabama on their back foot, not their front.

Having The Ball Is Everything

When Notre Dame has the ball, that means Alabama doesn’t, and that’s good. Possession is everything. Field position is not. Notre Dame needs to think about how to stay in control at all times. This includes avoiding punting at all costs, not kicking field goals, staying out of third downs.

This is not an advocation for running the ball a ton, not at all. Notre Dame can control the ball while throwing it and, in fact, should seriously consider not running it on first down on the negative side of the 50. First down runs are a.) very predictable and b.) some of the most advantageous times to throw, mostly because of A. Maybe Notre Dame can shove around Alabama at their will, but I wouldn’t count on that, so throwing when it is most advantageous to do so, is wise. It also keeps them out of the third and long game, probably the least advantageous time for this team in particular to throw. Throw early, mostly on play-action, treat it like a CFL game where you only have three downs to achieve a first instead of four. At least, before the 50-yard line.

Once on the plus side of the 50, Tommy Rees and co. should consider everything four-down territory. Field goals aren’t going to work, especially when a 21 yarder is available to be missed. It also surrenders the ball, which is bad; they need the ball. The only time they ought to think about giving up the ball is when it will lead to a touchdown, like a deep shot or explosive play, which they ought to scheme for, not merely as part of a series of routes. Be deliberate with it.

Don’t Punt, (Almost) Anytime

Punting breaks the rule of not having the ball and doing so when not trying to score a touchdown. Alabama can score from anywhere, so field position isn’t a huge priority; having the ball is. Obviously, there will be situations where you can’t light your defense on fire, but really, really try not to punt.

Turn Kyle Hamilton Loose

There aren’t too many guys on Notre Dame’s team who would start for Alabama. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is one, and Kyle Hamilton is another. Hamilton has been used in a role not too dissimilar to how Jaylon Smith was used in 2015, as the cleanup hitter. Despite missing the equivalent of two games due to injury, and another half due to targeting, Hamilton leads the team in tackles. Some of his best plays this season have been touchdown saving tackles in the open field. He’s good at everything, so he’s made an impact playing this way, but against Alabama, he needs to be free to make more plays.

Mac Jones called him similar to Ed Reed in his media availability, saying he needed to know where he was at all times. The thing about Ed Reed was he was given such freedom to move where he thought the ball was going. The quarterback didn’t know where Reed would be because Reed didn’t know where he was going and until he went there. Hamilton needs to be equally mysterious. It’s a significant role and a big ask, but he needs to be given a chance to be more of a playmaker on defense.

Much like possession is all that matters on offense, stops are the name of the game on defense; however, they come about. Given Alabama’s proclivity for scoring, Notre Dame will have to turn them over, and Hamilton gives them their best shot to do that. He can’t be simply one on one with a tight end or playing a half of the field. He has to be everywhere.

To do this, I’d take the Buck off the field, move JOK more inside, and play Kyle as that third linebacker, although his role would be nothing like a linebacker, and go four across in the secondary. Keep everything in front, invite Jones to throw short, where Hamilton and JOK are roaming, and hang in there with the running game. They’ll likely get run on a fair bit, but then that keeps the challenge at just trying to reign in Najee Harris and primarily as a runner. I know it’s a strange thing to invite the run against an excellent team at running, but this isn’t a typical game, and these aren’t normal times. Notre Dame has to change their mindset to compete here, in more ways than one.

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  1. What’s funny about that picture? Looks like Book is preparing to throw a ‘long-ball’.

    We all know that ain’t happening. Either photo-shopped, or taken during a practice drill.

    Did you see the long-ball attempt of his during Clemson game? He’s got that ‘dying-quail’ thing down pat.

  2. Notre Dame will not be able to move the ball effectively against the Alabama defense which will be a disaster for the Irish defense. This game will most likely turn ugly by mid third quarter when ND’s D gets worn out. Wish I was wrong but I wont be. There are a lot of quality teams out there that ND can beat unfortunately Alabama is not one of them. Stock up the liquor cabinet fellas as this Friday is gunna be painful.

  3. I’d actually consider going ultra conservative on defense if I was Lea. Play a true “bend-dont’-break” defense and see if Alabama makes the mistakes. Send the front 4 only. Stop the run and don’t give up the big plays. Then if they get to the red-zone, the field shrinks and hopefully our D can get some stops so they kick FGs. The reason for this is because we simply do not match up with their athletes at all. We will need to avoid most 1 on 1 scenarios or we are in trouble. Pray that we can make them fumble or get some tipped INTs.

    Of course, this type of defense can really backfire if the offense does nothing. We will tire out pretty quickly if they continue to be on the field all game.

  4. Greg,
    Interesting analysis.
    Varying their D’ set and scheme might happen. I have the utmost confidence in Lea, despite the overwhelming odds he faces vs. Bama. When facing a team that averages nearly 50 points a game, and has improved, you’d think showing different looks on D’ would be a good approach (remembering Ara’ s ‘mirror D’ in one of his bowl games- TX, or vs. Bear w/ Bama??)). But going for quick timing passes on first down (maybe a screen or outlet to Kyren or Tyree), not laboring to “establish the run”, and treating the other side of the 50 as four down territory would be refreshing and, until I see it, unlikely from BK whose mantra is “just execute our offense”. Despite talent gaps vs. the elite in years past, BK has not shown much interest in varying predictable schemes. When playing against a team with superior talent, the unexpected that you’ve been practicing that the other team hasn’t been preparing for would be the smart move, but don’t count on it from Tommy and BK. Bama will pressure on D’ as has every team that has had success vs. Book and I suspect the O’ scheme will remain pound the ball on the ground and then hope Ian can escape the pressure. After getting blown out in most games vs. elite talent, you’d think trying a different approach might be in order
    I’m hoping BK and Rees will make this post of mine completely wrong. Don’t count on it.

  5. I’ve been watching Packer and Durham in dialysis all season long. I love their sense of humor and their show in general. It’s never so ponderous as the ND analysts around here and they have better guests than PF. The ACC is loaded with great coaches…it’s only a matter of time before the ACC eclipses, or at least equals the SEC. I remember about a month ago hearing Coach Narducci say that “ND should make up its mind about being in or out of the ACC in football…and I’ve heard others say that if ND stays out, that would be ND’s decision alone. I disagree. Notre Dame and the ACC have exactly the correct relationship right now…in other words, as it is right now, nobody gets left at the altar, as in the Urban Meyers case a decade ago. This is how it must be while negotiations take place (if there are to be any). Settle the money: it should not be that difficult, though it’s not a “gimme” either. Then, Notre Dame might be well advised to join this conference in football…for the obvious benefits. Yeah, some things have to be worked out with our non-conference games, but I think that could happen. The ACC has been good to us this year…no question about that, and though the cash numbers are not all in yet, I’d say we have been good to them too. So let any final decision (if it’s even a consideration) wait until season’s end, then work it out. I believe there is a lot more to be gained than lost.

    1. BGC
      Best wishes this coming year for health and ND victories.
      ND Admin will always “follow the money”; it’s the American way.
      As a life-long fan, I’d miss the traditional games (excluding Navy, a no-win situation every year).
      But consideration re: joining any conference will hinge, as it always will @ ND, on show them the $$.

    2. I never thought joining a conference was a good thing for Notredame but I agree with you Bruce. I do think the positives outweigh the negatives. I also would like to see Notredame with the 3 or 4 nonconference games play different teams every year. I know Navy has a special relationship with Notredame because of the war but I would like to see Notredame play teams they have never played or teams they haven’t played in many years. For example, West Virginia, Auburn , Oregon, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Indiana, Mississippi.

  6. No , It is not about mindset.
    The only debate is whether ND has any chance of covering the 20 points.
    Alabama scores 50 a game. If ND scored 3 TDs (real ones, before garbage time), that would be a tremendous off. performance.

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