Notre Dame squares off with the heavily favored Crimson Tide of Alabama today in the Rose Bowl with a berth in the National Championship on the line. The Irish are in the College Football Playoff semifinal for the second time in three years, but will the outcome today be better than it was two years ago? Well, maybe. But will the Irish have a chance to slay goliath today?
Tommy Rees & Brian Kelly HAVE to break tendencies
Notre Dame is not good enough to simply lineup and play Alabama how they have played everyone else this year. There is no debating that. They just can’t bully Alabama how they have teams like Boston College, Pitt, and Syracuse. So if Notre Dame lines up and tries to run at them the way they have on lesser talented teams all year long, the results won’t be pretty.
That isn’t to say that Notre Dame shouldn’t run at all. Brian Kelly and Notre Dame talked all week long about the need to run the ball, and that is true. What they can’t do is run it exactly how they have all year – meaning they need to throw in new wrinkles, new misdirection out of the same looks they’ve been showing all year.
Notre Dame runs the ball on 2nd and long more than any team in the country. If they do that today against Alabama at all, it’s like surrendering that drive. On the reverse, Notre Dame doesn’t utilize a lot of play-action despite being a good running team. That has to change today too. If Tommy Rees mixes in more play-action out of 12 and 13 personnel and has Alabama thinking run, they’ll have a chance for some chunk plays.
Screenplays could be a factor today too. We’ve hardly seen them since the beginning of the year, but if the Tide pass rush is getting to Book, a couple of well-timed screens could lead to some chunk plays.
And they HAVE to take chances on offense – a lot of them
Notre Dame needs to go for it on 4th down more than they have all season – especially in the redzone. Notre Dame is not going to have a chance in this game if they kick field goals today. It might make for a better looking final score, but it won’t make for a better opportunity to pull off the upset.
Jonathan Doerer made a 51-yarder in the ACC Championship game before missing a chip shot. If he has a busy day kicking field goals, Notre Dame probably loses big.
We need to see some deep shots down the field today too. We saw them against Clemson in November, but not a couple of weeks ago. That has to change. If Braden Lenzy is healthy enough to have an impact, send him deep a couple of times early. Having enough time to take those shots could be an issue with the challenges along the offensive line since the injury to Jarrett Patterson.
To take those deep shots, Notre Dame needs Ian Book to play much more loose than he did in the ACCCG. He is not going to have receivers running wide open today – in no scenario will that happen save for maybe a couple of breakdowns in coverage. For the most part, Book is going to have to make some tight window throws for Notre Dame to score points. We’ve seen him do that before, just not all the time. He’s got to do that today.
Again, Notre Dame isn’t winning this game – or even being close – if they just try to run their offense today. I’m talking gadget plays, kitchen sink type gameplan. That’s what Notre Dame has to do to be in this game in the 4th quarter.
Notre Dame’s defense has to make Alabama earn their points
In the ACCCG, Notre Dame let Clemson hit chunk plays. That can’t happen today, or the result will be the same. Notre Dame needs to make Alabama earn their points by moving down the field and putting drives together, not by hitting 60 and 70-yard pass plays. Mac Jones is a Heisman, and DeVonta Smith are both finalists, so doing that is much easier said than done, but it’s what Clark Lea has to scheme for today.
Alabama is used to hitting chunk plays and doing whatever they want on offense, so if Notre Dame could make them have long drives, maybe it frustrates them, and they get lucky with a couple of turnovers.
If Alabama has to run more plays and make their way down the field, it also gives Notre Dame’s two superstars – Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah and Kyle Hamilton – more opportunities to get their hands on the ball.
Again, way easier said than done when facing one of the most prolific offenses we’ve seen in college football in recent years, but if that happens, Notre Dame has a chance.
Notre Dame’s front four HAS to make a difference
Clark Lea will have to give his corners help today, or we’ll see those chunk plays that haunted them in the ACCCG. To do that, Notre Dame’s defensive line has to play its best game of the season. Notre Dame has to get pressure on Mac Jones without sending a lot of blitzes, or Mac Jones will pick them apart.
Clark Lea has said all week that even though he is headed to Vanderbilt as their new head coach, this game means a lot to him. And it should. If we’re honest, Lea isn’t going to be coaching in the Playoffs again as long as he’s at Vanderbilt. So, this is likely his last chance at a national title for a while. He also has nothing to lose in this game, so maybe we’ll see the gameplan of his life today.
Can Notre Dame avoid another 2nd quarter meltdown?
I wrote about this at length earlier this week, but I’ll mention it again here. In 2018 and two weeks ago, the losses to Clemson were marred by meltdowns in the second quarter that let the game get away from them. They can’t do that today.
I have zero expectations today if I am candid. I can see a scenario where Notre Dame wins this game. It’s very, very unlikely, but not impossible. Everything has to go right for that to happen for Notre Dame, though, and I just don’t see that happening today. While Notre Dame is better than they were the last time they faced Alabama, the Tide are better than they were then too. Notre Dame is getting better each year right now, but the problem is Alabama and Clemson keep moving the goalposts – they both just keep getting better and better too.
I’ve never predicted a Notre Dame blowout in my weekly predictions, but that streak is sadly ending today. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll be rooting like crazy for the Irish today, and I am certainly not hoping to be right about this, but everything in my head tells me that an easy win for Alabama is the most likely scenario today.
Alabama 45, Notre Dame 21