Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

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

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30 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH START OFF SLUGGISH, TENTATIVE After winning the coin toss, Notre Dame elected to receive the opening kickoff and planned to announce its offensive presence with an authorita- tive score. Instead, the Irish sputtered along on a five-play, 17-yard drive, which was significantly set back thanks to an errant backward pass that went out of bounds for a five- yard loss on first down. Punt. The next drive stalled for a similar reason. On second-and-three, sopho- more running back Kyren Williams bounced an inside run outside and ran backward in an attempt to escape pursuing defenders. The result was a four-yard loss and, once again, the Irish were forced to punt after stringing together a drive of fewer than 20 yards. Early in the game, the Notre Dame defense wasn't better. In less than five minutes and over the course of two possessions, the Crimson Tide started the game by running 12 plays for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Worse, Notre Dame defenders looked uncertain and, at times, lethargic. "We were a little tentative," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We shut our feet down. And you can't do that against highly skilled players. You have to be aggressive and attack those skill players in space. If you shut your feet down for a second they are gone." With 4:19 remaining in the first quarter, Notre Dame had dug itself a 14-point hole. In the final three quar- ters, the Irish were outscored by the Crimson Tide 17-14. That included a missed field goal and two other of- fensive possessions that ended in the red zone with Notre Dame failing to put points on the board (albeit one missed opportunity came at the very end of the contest). "We got better at that and started to swarm to the football better," Kelly said. "But it put us in a hole early on by not being decisive and aggressive." OFFENSE COULDN'T KEEP UP Trailing 21-7 early in the third quar- ter, Notre Dame was in the midst of a methodical drive. The Irish had pro- duced 27 yards on seven plays and it appeared the offense was primed to have continued success on the ground. Then on second-and-seven at the Notre Dame 38-yard line, fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book escaped the pocket and looked to have enough daylight to run for the first down. At the last second, Book saw a streaking freshman tight end Michael Mayer and decided to take his first shot downfield. But the throw was short and suddenly a drive that began with so much promise ended with an in- terception by Alabama sophomore linebacker Christian Harris. "He just needed to put a little bit more on that, he kind of floated it a little bit," head coach Brian Kelly said of Book's pick. "If he had an- other shot at it, that would have been a fastball instead of a level two with some touch to it." While Kelly didn't blame Book for taking his shot, it was also quickly evident that Notre Dame couldn't overcome such a deflating turnover. The Irish were actually competitive with the Crimson Tide in terms of total yards, getting outgained just 437-375. The problem was a lack of explo- sive plays. Notre Dame didn't use any wide receivers with the ability to stretch the field. Long, clock-eating drives are a great way to win time of possession, but it also provides more opportunities to make mistakes. The Irish produced just 4.7 yards per play, a much lower total than the Crimson Tide's 7.9-yard average. After the interception, redshirt ju- nior quarterback Mac Jones led Ala- bama on a five-play, 62-yard drive. Down 21, the game was all but out of reach for such a deliberate offense. "They just made more plays than we did tonight," Book said. "We talked about that all week. We were going to try to win the time of pos- session and then when it's time to make a big play, make a big play. "They made more big plays. That's why they came out victorious to- night." Alabama also never turned the ball over. PROMINENT UNDERCLASSMEN PLAY BIG ROLES ON OFFENSE Senior right tackle Robert Hainsey enjoyed the new faces as much as the ALABAMA GAME NOTES BY ANDREW MENTOCK AND PATRICK ENGEL Fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book and Notre Dame's offense averaged just 4.7 yards per play com- pared to Alabama's 7.9. PHOTO COURTESY COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

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