Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

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

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42 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED CAN NOTRE DAME'S OFFENSE KEEP UP? When a defense faces an offense such as Clemson's or Alabama's, it's not about "dominating." It is about damage control, especially forcing field goals instead of yield- ing touchdowns. Those two programs have regu- larly been averaging 44-49 points per game, so the first objective is to keep them "subpar" by not reaching 40, and having a puncher 's chance. Per CBS Sports, Alabama has scored a touchdown every 10.5 plays this season. On Nov. 7, Clemson tallied 33 points in regulation time versus the Fighting Irish with a freshman quar- terback at the throttle. That is the base line to use. Even in the ACC Championship Dec. 19, Clemson tallied "only" 34 with a generational quarterback. Pretty much any defense in the land would sign up for that against them. Can Notre Dame score at least 35 points against Alabama to have a chance at pulling off the upset? The 11-0 Crimson Tide scored a season-low 38 in the opener versus Missouri, but still finished with a 49.7 average this season. Clemson dropped to 44.9 with its sub-standard 34-point effort versus the Irish. One matchup we like is Notre Dame does not have to deal with the read option against Alabama like it did with Clemson's highly mobile Trevor Lawrence. Unlike D.J. Uiag- alelei in November, Lawrence put the pressure on Notre Dame's defense both with his legs and arm, hori- zontally and vertically. That helped open up far more gaps in the running game, and it showed when the Tigers totaled 219 yards on the ground Dec. 19 as opposed to just 34 on Nov. 7. Facing a pure drop-back quarter- back such as Alabama redshirt junior Mac Jones (minus-nine rushing yards through 11 games) should provide at least one less migraine for Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea and his staff. Furthermore, standout Crimson Tide center Landon Dickerson suf- fered what appeared to be a severe knee injury Dec. 19. As has been seen at Notre Dame, the loss of a center can have a negative domino effect up front and in the overall attack. Alabama had to win shootouts this year versus Ole Miss (63-48) and in the SEC Championship versus Flor- ida (52-46), without even having to play one overtime. The issue is whether Notre Dame can generate that same type of fire- power on offense, especially after scoring only 10 points in the ACC Championship versus Clemson. In Notre Dame's seven losses since 2017, it's the offense — and specifi- cally the running game — that con- sistently sputtered and never quite got untracked. The Irish averaged 13.0 points in those seven setbacks, never tallying more than 20. It rushed for 55 yards versus Georgia in 2017 and 46 last year versus the Bulldogs, plus 47 in the 2019 debacle at Michigan. The 44 yards on the ground versus Clemson Dec. 19 were half of the 88 it tallied against the Tigers in 2018 — and the lowest output overall since the 32 versus Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2013. Most of the time in these champi- onship-level contests, Notre Dame's defense has provided a chance while the offense has given the team virtu- ally none. Even in the victory against Clem- son in November, during regulation time the Irish offense scored a touch- down on its first official play — and then not again until 22 seconds re- mained. That's about 59 minutes out of 60 in between of not crossing the goal line on offense. It's highly doubtful Notre Dame can win this game with a 17-14 or 24-21 result. NOTHING TO LOSE Unless there is a major COVID-19 outbreak for Alabama, a Notre Dame victory would be classified as the biggest upset since the advent of the College Football Playoff in 2014 — and maybe of all time in major bowl annals. As of Dec. 22, Alabama was in- stalled as a 19.5- to 20-point favorite against Notre Dame, the highest in GAME PREVIEW: ALABAMA Top STorylineS Senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith racked up 98 receptions, 1,511 receiving yards and 17 touchdown grabs during Alabama's 11-0 start. PHOTO COURTESY CRIMSON TIDE PHOTO/UA ATHLETICS

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