Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 47 JANUARY 2021 25 ALABAMA RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Senior running back Najee Harris' (15 carries for 125 yards) breathtaking hurdle of fifth-year senior cornerback Nick McCloud on his 53-yard scamper in the first quarter to set up a 14-0 advantage was the prime highlight. The run- ning game was mainly an auxiliary element to keep Notre Dame's linebackers and safeties honest and to set up quick pitch-and-catch plays. Normally, Notre Dame limiting Alabama to 140 rushing yards (about 50 under its average) would prompt us to rate this category as at worst even. But the im- portant stat here is the Crimson Tide averaged 5.6 yards per carry — and Harris went for 5.2 yards per rush even when subtracting the 53-yard run. That's all that was required to keep the Irish defense off balance. ADVANTAGE: Alabama ALABAMA PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Because Notre Dame was bent on not getting beat deep vertically, Alabama from the start used more of a horizontal passing attack with quick hitches and slants, including the opening score on a 26-yard toss from redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones (25 of 30 for 297 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions) to senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith (seven catches for 130 yards and three scores). The blocking on the edges by Alabama was sound and created a huge amount of yards after catch, plus correct pursuit angles weren't always taken by the defense. A 40-yard slant to sophomore wideout John Metchie III set up another touch- down, and Jones also spread the ball well to the tight ends (who totaled seven catches for 70 yards). The quick outs helped nullify whatever blitz pressure Notre Dame attempted to apply. ADVANTAGE: Alabama NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. ALABAMA RUN DEFENSE Sophomore running back Kyren Williams (16 carries for 64 yards) ran with au- thority and the offensive line was able to get some push, but the Irish weren't going to win this game with 139 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry. This offense was built to control the line of scrimmage with the run, and a sprained ankle injury in the second quarter to junior tight end Tommy Tremble, a heavily relied on lead blocker, further diminished the attack. ADVANTAGE: Alabama NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. ALABAMA PASS DEFENSE From one extreme to the other. After using virtually no screens the previous outing versus Clemson, the running backs were heavily involved, but the 12 catches by Williams (eight for 31 yards) and freshman Chris Tyree (four for 37 yards) totaled only 68 yards. Freshman tight end Michael Mayer (seven catches for 62 yards) also found some openings on crossing routes, but the outside for Notre Dame was a non- factor, highlighted by blanket coverage from All-American junior cornerback Pat- rick Surtain II. The top three wideout corps of fifth-year seniors Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek and senior Avery Davis combined for seven catches for 76 yards — with neither McKinley nor Davis nabbing a pass until the fourth quarter. There was virtually zero stretching of the field vertically, which minimized the pressure on Alabama's defense. Book passed for only 105 yards in the first three quarters, and then 124 in the fourth during window dressing time. ADVANTAGE: Alabama SPECIAL TEAMS It was an ominous start when on the opening kickoff Tyree was drilled and Notre Dame was fortunate to recover his fumble at its own 8-yard line. Sopho- more Jay Bramblett's punting was the highlight, but even when he pinned Alabama deep in the first quarter, the Crimson Tide responded with 79- and 97-yard touchdown drives. Senior kicker Jonathan Doerer's late-season slump continued, although the 51-yard field goal attempt right before halftime wasn't a chip shot. Smith had a 21-yard punt return to set up Alabama's final tally, a 41-yard field goal. Notre Dame did recover its first onside kick in ages with under a minute left in the contest, but the outcome had long been decided. ADVANTAGE: Alabama THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Alabama was 6 of 10 (60.0 percent) — right at its nation-leading 59.2 aver- age — while Notre Dame was a more-than respectable 8 of 16 (50.0 percent), and also scored on fourth down with 56 seconds left in the game. On Alabama's first three touchdown drives, it faced only one third down and it converted a third-and-one. The biggest occurred when the score was 21-7 and Alabama was looking at third-and-four at Notre Dame's 16-yard line. The Irish put good pressure on Jones, who then took off on a rare scramble for a nine-yard gain. On the next play, he and Smith connected for the touchdown. ADVANTAGE: Alabama TURNOVERS There was only one, but Book's interception toss midway through the third quarter at the Alabama 38-yard line when the game was still within reach (21-7) set up Alabama's touchdown six plays later that sealed the outcome. ADVANTAGE: Alabama ANALYSIS To limit the Tsunami Tide to 31 points after it had scored a minimum of 41 the past 10 contests, 35 in the last 24 and was averaging 49.7 this year was laud- able. Yet it still felt like Alabama could score "when it wanted to." The Irish shortened the game enough to limit Alabama to four possessions in the first half and remained within striking distance at 21-7 midway through the third quarter before the interception toss by Book. Notre Dame battled hard, but the "tide" never really turned the Irish way after Alabama opened with touchdown drives of 79, 97 and 84 yards on its first three series. It became a little less aggressive on offense after moving ahead 28-7, but the Irish also did not wilt on defense. Physically, Notre Dame has closed the gap, if not evened it, in the trenches. The chasm with "The Big Three" of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State remains at the skill positions — quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, and to a lesser degree running back — where the aforementioned triumvirate is replete with NFL first-round selections. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones picked apart the Fighting Irish defense, connecting on 25 of 30 throws for 297 yards with four touch- downs and no interceptions. PHOTO COURTESY COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - January 2021