Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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34 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL T he question had yet to be di- rectly posed, but Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly an- swered it anyway. Only a matter of time before it would be. If anyone played a game of word association with the college football masses, a common first an- swer when mentioning Alabama and Notre Dame would surely be 2012 — the year of that BCS National Cham- pionship Game waxing. The natural follow-up is to wonder what's dif- ferent eight years later, when they're finally meeting again, this time in the College Football Playoff on Jan. 1. So Kelly got in front of it. "We're much better prepared than we were in 2012 in terms of the phys- icality on both lines," Kelly said on ESPN, minutes after the matchup was announced. "And we have the ability to move the football." He has the receipts to support his claim. A defensive line rotation that goes 11 deep. A mauling offensive line that has five potential draft picks when healthy. A Butkus Award win- ner at linebacker who's on his way to being a first-round NFL pick. More one-through-85 depth than at any point of his tenure. One problem, though. Alabama, already an 18-wheeler driving through a herd of Priuses when it dispatched the Irish that night in Miami, has somehow got- ten … better. Or at least more well rounded. The identity is different, but still dominant. The 2012 team was the standard of physicality, size and defense. These last three itera- tions are college football's premier scoring and explosiveness display. All told, the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (and No. 2 Clemson) keeps rais- ing the ceiling, making Notre Dame's own climb seem like it has gained no ground on the elite of the elite. With four straight 10-win seasons, the Irish may be in a healthier, steadier spot than 2012. But eight years later, they're still seen as one of many pro- grams staring up at Alabama. They opened as 17.5-point underdogs, and the line later rose to 19.5. "We understand if we don't play to our standard, we can be beaten pretty bad," Kelly said. Most of Alabama's core tenants that birthed three national titles from 2009-12 are still in place. The program remains a factory of defensive draft picks, even if the unit is not quite the unbending force it was back then. The difference is on the other side. The Crimson Tide can score fast and often. They have averaged at least 7.7 yards per play each of the last three years. They're cutting-edge and rich in skill position talent. Their quarter- backs are coveted by NFL teams. They have an excess of weapons. They re- main a bulldozing rushing attack. "We've probably changed as the game has changed," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "We were more run the ball, play-action pass, NFL-type offense back in the 2012 days. [We're still] NFL style, but also incorporated a lot of the spread con- cepts of RPOs [run-pass options] and those types of things." Alabama (11-0, 10-0 SEC) has scored at least 35 points in every game since the start of 2019. It cruised through defenses this year at 7.83 yards per play and is on a three-game run of topping 50 points. Having three pos- sible Heisman finalists will turn any offense into a deluge no dam can stop. "They have been a buzz saw against everybody," Kelly said. "I'd think there would have to be some ball control — which we can play that kind of game — and limiting some big plays. You have to make then earn it all the way down the field. "Those two components will cer- tainly be part of our game plan." Redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones took over for Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and outdid him in several statistical categories. Jones averages a national-best 11.4 yards per pass, is completing 76.5 percent of his throws and averages 339.9 yards per game. GAME PREVIEW: ALABAMA Facts & Figures COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL • ROSE BOWL NOTRE DAME VS. ALABAMA Game Info Date: Jan. 1, 2021 Site: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas Kickoff: 4 p.m. Television: ESPN Radio: This game can be heard on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: Notre Dame leads 5-2, but lost the last meeting 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. Head Coaches: Alabama — Nick Saban (168-23, 14th season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (102-38, 11th season). Noting Alabama: The 2019 season is the only once since the College Football Playoff began in 2014 that Alabama was not included in the field … The Crimson Tide's 49.7 points per game are the highest scoring average for any Football Bowl Subdivision team that played double-digit games since Baylor (52.4) and Florida State (51.6) in 2013 … Junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, a first-round NFL Draft prospect, has not played since Oct. 24 at Tennessee due to injury. He had 25 catches for 522 yards in four games … In Waddle's absence, sophomore John Metchie III has turned into the No. 2 target, with 782 yards and six touchdowns … Alabama ranks 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed and 32nd in opponent completion rate. New Method, Same Status The Crimson Tide's identity may be a bit different than 2012, but they remain dominant

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