Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

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

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Page 38 of 63 JAN. 1, 2021 39 BY TODD D. BURLAGE ALABAMA RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE With a rushing average of 189.8 yards per game and a No. 43 national ranking for its ground attack, the Crimson Tide hasn't necessarily featured the overall premier running game of previous seasons. Anchored by senior lineman Alex Leatherwood and senior tailback Najee Harris, this Alabama unit remains plenty dangerous. However, it suffered a significant setback in the SEC Championship win over Florida when center Landon Dickerson ap- peared to have suffered a major knee injury. Harris paced the SEC in rushing this season with 1,262 yards — which is third in the nation — and he's the runaway leader in the country with 24 rushing touchdowns. Due in part to its rushing at- tack, Alabama leads the nation with a third-down conversion percentage of 59.2. Despite allowing 219 rushing yards and 8.1 yards per carry in the 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship, the Notre Dame run defense still al- lows only 110.5 yards per game — and now doesn't have to face a running threat at quarterback. Advantage: Even ALABAMA PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE As formidable as the Alabama running game can be, the passing attack led by junior Heisman hope- ful quarterback Mac Jones is of greater concern. Jones has averaged 339.9 passing yards per game (third in the nation) and completes 76.5 percent of his throws (first). He has 32 touchdown passes (second) with only four interceptions, and his 202.3 passer efficiency rating easily leads the country. But as good as Jones and Harris have been this season, senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith might be the most lethal member of the Crimson Tide triumvirate on offense. Smith leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in catches (98) and receiving yards (1,511), and ranks second in touchdown receptions (17). Just as im- pressively, he has only two drops on 106 targets this season. The Irish secondary remained solid all year against an ACC schedule that lacked marquee matchups beyond the two games against Clemson, but those two contests uncovered some coverage problems in the Irish secondary. With star Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence out for the first game against Notre Dame on Nov. 7, true freshman backup D.J. Uiagalelei threw for two scores with no interceptions and hit the Irish with 439 passing yards, the most allowed in pro- gram history during a single game. Lawrence returned in the Dec. 19 championship game and threw for 322 yards with two scores and one pick. Advantage: Alabama Alabama senior tailback Najee Harris led the SEC and ranked third nationally with 1,262 yards on the ground, and paced the country with 24 rushing touchdowns. PHOTO COURTESY CRIMSON TIDE PHOTOS/UA ATHLETICS GAME PREVIEW: ALABAMA On PaPer

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