Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

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

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28 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED Observations and numbers from Notre Dame's 31-14 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Passing The Time Away Much was made over Notre Dame's ability to control the clock and keep Alabama's offense on the sideline as much as possible. Looking at time of pos- session, Notre Dame did that, holding the ball for 33:43 and running 25 more plays than the Crimson Tide … but still lost by 17. There is a lot more to it than raw time spent possessing the ball. Third Downs Misleading If the goal is to hog the ball while also keeping pace with a score-at-will of- fense, most of the possessions need to actually end in scores. That's hard to do when third downs — especially third-and-long — keep popping up. Those will end a lot of possessions. Avoiding them as much as possible is vital. Notre Dame's 16 third-down attempts, 7.7 average yards to gain on third down and 4.7 yards per play are the crushing stats that make a 50.0-percent third-down conversion rate a bit misleading. Tide Rolls Efficiently Alabama faced only 10 third downs all game and just four in the first half. Only five of its first 18 plays were on second or third down. Notre Dame didn't necessarily need to match the explosiveness, but it needed to match the ef- ficiency. The minus-six differential on third down and seemingly endless second-and- longs tanked those hopes. Chunk Plays Missing Notre Dame had only four plays of more than 15 yards before the fourth quarter started. One That Got Away Fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book's lone meaningful downfield pass of the first two-plus quarters might have been the game's most pivotal play. The play, an interception on his throw intended for freshman tight end Michael Mayer, turned a chance at trimming Alabama's lead to 21-14 early in the third quarter into a 28-7 Alabama advantage six plays later. Mayer had a couple yards' separation on sophomore linebacker Christian Harris, but Book's pass was underthrown. It came while he was rolling to his right, an area where he's usually comfortable and accurate. All The Right Moves Alabama's run-pass options (RPOs) were as advertised. Senior wide receiver and Heisman Trophy betting favorite DeVonta Smith's second touchdown, a 34-yarder, came on an RPO with two pulling guards that drew all three line- backers up to the line of scrimmage and ensured no one was in the throwing lane over the middle. The same play produced a 40-yard gain to sophomore wide receiver John Metchie III in the second half. Give Him The Heisman Smith was as advertised with his separation ability and releases at the line of scrimmage. He cruised to 130 receiving yards, which was "only" his eighth- highest total in 12 games this season. No Moral Victory Notre Dame held Alabama to its lowest point total since the start of the 2019 season and covered a 19.5-point spread. Neither of those is any grounds for a moral victory in a game that Notre Dame never truly threatened to win after Alabama took its 14-0 lead even if it prevented it from becoming a 2012-esque laugher. Running Left When Notre Dame did pick up meaningful yards on designed runs, it was often in fifth-year senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg's direction. He opened several holes on Notre Dame's first few drives for running back Kyren Williams and had a key block on running back Chris Tyree's 27-yard screen pass catch- and-run. Eichenberg is a fine illustration of Notre Dame's ability to match Alabama's physicality. Havoc Missing A defense that generated consistent disruption all season finished with a havoc rate below 15 percent for the second straight game. No coincidence both were defeats. Notre Dame had four tackles for loss and two passes broken up on 55 defen- sive plays, a 10.9 percent havoc rate. The Irish's lone sack was on an intentional grounding call. Perimeter Attack Alabama's offensive plan was to feed the ball to its skill players on the perim- eter and stress Notre Dame's defense there. Crimson Tide senior running back Najee Harris did most of his damage (19 touches for 155 yards) off tackles and beyond, namely his 53-yard run where he hurdled cornerback Nick McCloud. Screens to tight ends Miller Forristall, a fifth-year senior, and Jahleel Billings- ley, a sophomore, often were successful. Defensive Stalwarts In a perimeter-oriented game, sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton was active, unsurprisingly. He had two of the six havoc plays and seven tackles. He and senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah also had some good moments in coverage against Smith. More Touches For Tyree Tyree had no touches in the ACC Championship until his 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He was heavily involved in the Rose Bowl, however, with nine total touches. Outside of the big gainer on the screen pass, though, he was quiet, with 26 yards on the other eight chances. INITIAL THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Alabama executed its run-pass options on multiple occasions, including a 40-yard gain to sophomore wide receiver John Metchie III that set up the Tide's fourth and final touchdown. PHOTO COURTESY COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

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