This is the Rose Bowl, but it’s not in Pasadena, and it doesn’t feature Big Ten and Pac-12 teams.  Instead, we have No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 4 Notre Dame to kick off the College Football Playoff Friday afternoon from AT&T Stadium in Texas.  It’s a bit strange, but that is the 2020-21 college football season for ya. Nick Saban and the Tide will be looking to make their fifth CFP Title Game appearance in six years, while Brian Kelly and the Irish are seeking their first CFP win.

Championship Game Performances

In the SEC Championship game, Alabama defeated then-No. 6 Florida by a score of 52-46.  The Tide offense went off, amassing 605 total yards of offense, and QB Mac Jones completed 33-of-43 passes for 418 yards and 5 TD’s.  RB Najee Harris ran 31 times for 178 yards and 2 TD’s, and WR DeVonta Smith caught 15 passes for 184 yards and 2 TD’s.  It was a points barrage, and the Tide offense continues to be nearly impossible to stop.  However, their defense (mainly the secondary) did have some trouble against Kyle Trask and the Florida offense.  Trask threw for 408 yards and 3 TD’s, and as good as the Gators were through the air, the Tide defense was strong up front and limited Florida to just 54 rushing yards.  It will be interesting to see the front four of Alabama go up against Notre Dame’s big and experienced offensive line.  For the Irish, their ACC Championship game was a forgettable one, as they got stomped by then-No. 3 Clemson 34-10.  ND got up 3-0, but after that, it was all Clemson. The Tigers were able to avenge their October loss to the Irish in South Bend, when they were without Trevor Lawrence.  Lawrence was fantastic in this one, throwing for 322 yards and 2 TD’s, while also rushing for 90 yards and a TD.  The Irish never had an answer, and the game ended in a 34-10 rout.  Irish QB Ian Book could never get into a rhythm, and Notre Dame managed just 263 yards of total offense (Clemson had 541).  Nonetheless, that was Notre Dame’s first loss of the season, and they were still able to get the nod of the committee to head down to AT&T Stadium for a Rose Bowl showdown with the Tide.

Is Notre Dame Ready to Prove They Belong?

After losing nine straight bowl games from the 1995 Fiesta Bowl to the 2007 Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame is on a decent bowl run, winning four of their last six and six of their last ten bowl games. However, they have struggled in the big ones. Under Brian Kelly, the Irish have won the Camping World, Citrus, Music City, Pinstripe, and Sun Bowl, while losing the Champs Sports Bowl, the BCS Title Game, the Fiesta Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. Not only that, but as a program, in the last six *big* bowl games that Notre Dame has played, they are 0-6 SU, as well as 0-6 ATS (*2018 Cotton, 2016 Fiesta, 2013 BCS National Championship, 2007 Sugar, 2006 Fiesta, and 2001 Fiesta).  They lost those games by an average of 24 points, and no game has been closer than two touchdowns.  They just got blown out by Clemson in the ACC Championship game, and now find themselves as near three touchdown underdogs against Alabama.  At 20 points, this is the biggest spread we have seen in a CFP game in the College Football Playoff era.  The last time the Irish faced Alabama was that Jan. 7, 2013 BCS National Championship Game that was a 42-14 blowout win for Saban and the Tide.  Obviously this Notre Dame team is different from those other six ND teams, but after that ACC Championship Game performance, there are college football fans all over the place waiting for ND to fall flat in a big game once again.  Their selection to the CFP has been questioned, and the Irish will be looking to prove they belong on this stage.

Tide Rolling

It is no secret that the Alabama offense is insane.  The Crimson Tide offense has been nearly impossible to stop, as they have scored over 50 points in more than half of their games (6 out of 11), and have put up at least 41 points in each of their last 10 outings.  The Tide are 5th in the entire country with 543.9 yards per game, and they are 2nd in points per game with 49.7.  QB Mac Jones and WR DeVonta Smith are both Heisman finalists, and they lead this Alabama offense up and down the field with ease.  Jones has completed 76.5% of his passes for 3,739 yards with 32 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, while Smith has the most receiving yards in the country with 1,511, along with 17 touchdowns.  RB Najee Harris may not be in the Heisman conversation like Jones and Smith, but he should be.  He is one of the best running backs in the country.  Harris is 3rd in the nation in rushing yards this season with 1,262, and his 24 touchdowns are by-far-and-away the most in the country among RB’s.  Notre Dame’s defense has been strong this season, allowing just 18.6 points per game, but facing Alabama’s offense will be an immense challenge.

Notre Dame Game Plan

Led by senior QB Ian Book, the Notre Dame offense is 23rd in the nation with 455.1 yards per game.  Book has completed 64% of his passes for 2,601 yards with 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  Although those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page (certainly not like Jones’), Book is a good game-manager who takes care of the ball.  He will have to focus on controlling the pace of the game when ND has the ball, as well as not forcing any throws which could lead to turnovers.  Book is also a good runner, as he has the second-most rushing attempts on the team with 101, and has rushed for 430 yards and 8 touchdowns.  The Irish like to keep the offense balanced mixing the run with the pass, and their leading rusher is Kyren Williams, who has ran the ball 195 times for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns.  However, if they cannot get the run game going, the offense really suffers.  This was evident in the ACC title game against Clemson, as the Tigers were able to stifle the Irish rushing attack, holding them to just 44 total rushing yards in the game.  The Irish got an early field goal, but with hardly no rushing attack, Ian Book was asked to do too much, and ND could not muster up any points until the last few minutes when the game was already well out of hand.  Against Alabama, ND needs to establish the run so that they can methodically move the ball down the field.  Their veteran offensive line needs to generate a push to give Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, and Ian Book some running lanes.  That opens up the passing game, as well as helps to control time of possession which can keep Mac Jones and company on the sidelines.  The Irish are excellent at making teams play at their pace, holding the ball an average of 34 minutes a game.  The question is: Can the Irish do it?

Answer: I am not so sure.  The way to find the end zone against Alabama is through the air.  Alabama’s defense was absolutely gutted through the air against Ole Miss (379 passing yards allowed, 48 points allowed), and Florida in the SEC title game (408 passing yards allowed, 46 points allowed).  Those were two very bad outings for the Alabama secondary, and they were against up-tempo teams who love to throw the ball.  That is not who Notre Dame is.  Notre Dame relies on their offensive line and their running game, and that might be a problem because Alabama is much better at stopping the run.  Opposing offenses are only averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 107.6 total rushing yards per game against Alabama’s defense this season.  Alabama is also second in the SEC with 32 sacks.  The front four of Alabama will need to have a solid day against the veteran Notre Dame offensive line. I think the main matchup to watch in this game will be Ian Book throwing the ball downfield against the Alabama secondary. I think how that matchup goes will determine how this game plays out.

PREDICTION

As mentioned, this is the biggest spread we have seen in any College Football Playoff game.  This is Year 7 of the CFP format, and Alabama is making their sixth appearance.  In their last four semifinal games, the Tide have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 131-47.  Saban is experienced in these types of games, and he will have his guys ready. Mac Jones, Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, and John Metchie lead the explosive Alabama offense that I think will have a big day.  Notre Dame’s defense has been solid (18.9 points per game), but even in their biggest win of the season against Clemson in October, they gave up 439 passing yards to freshman DJ Uiagalelei in just his second start, and first on the road.  The ND secondary hasn’t faced a whole lot of air-it-out type teams, but the Irish still surrendered over 200 passing yards six times, and over 300 in both games against Clemson.  I think that Alabama’s air-raid attack will be firing on all cylinders in this one.  Additionally, I think Najee Harris is going to be a problem.  I think he is somewhat forgotten about when discussing this Alabama offense given the fact that two of his teammates are Heisman finalists, but he really is tough to slow down.  He averages close to six yards per carry, and ND’s rushing defense gave up well over 200 rushing yards to Syracuse and Clemson in their last two games.  Yes Alabama loves to throw, but Harris is a force running the ball out of the backfield, and he can catch passes as well.  He brings a different dynamic to the table for the Tide, and I think Steve Sarkisian will make him a big part of the game plan.  I see Alabama putting up a lot of points, and Notre Dame will have to try to keep up, and I just don’t think they will be able to do so.  Alabama has looked most vulnerable against up-tempo pass-heavy teams, and that is just not who Notre Dame is.  The Irish want to run the ball, control the clock, and win the line of scrimmage.  While their offensive line is very strong and experienced, they were completely thrown around by Clemson, and that left Ian Book on an island where the offense sputtered all game.  Alabama has strong lines themselves, and I think their defensive front four will be able to limit the ND run game, which puts the ND offense in a bit of a tough spot.  I think the Tide roll past ND and into the Championship Game. Tide -20.

Alabama -20

@stadium_times

Title Photo: Irish Breakdown

1 Comment

  1. Good stuff here. As the world’s foremost, die hard, Irish fan, I hate saying that I agree with your analysis/prediction, but stats and experience don’t lie. This is the most complete ND team we’ve seen in a long time, but still not at the caliber of Bama/Clemson/OSU…but really, who is? Those 3 seem to have cornered the college football marketplace…

    Like

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