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The 2020 College Football Playoff Preview: #4 NOTRE DAME VS. #1 ALABAMA

This game, which pits #1 Alabama against #4 Notre Dame, will feature the largest spread in College Football Playoff history.

BCS: Alabama vs Notre Dame by Matt McGee is licensed under CC BY ND-2.0

The 2020 College Football Playoff Preview: #4 NOTRE DAME VS. #1 ALABAMA


Estimated Reading Time: 9 Minutes

The College Football Playoff semifinals begin with No. 1 Alabama playing No. 4 Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. The “Granddaddy of Them All” has been moved from Pasadena, CA to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas this season for the second time ever. The game will feature #1 Alabama taking on #4 Notre Dame in a rematch of the 2013 BCS Championship where Alabama won 42-14.

  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • Date: Friday, Jan. 1, 2021
  • TV channel, streaming:  ESPN
  • Location: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
  • Spread: Alabama –19.5
  • Over/under: 65.5

Alabama comes into this game after squeaking by Florida 52-46 to win the SEC Championship while Notre Dame was blown out by Clemson 34-10. This will be Alabama’s sixth trip to the College Football Playoff and Notre Dame’s second appearance. This game will also feature the largest spread in College Football Playoff history at 20 points.

Let’s check out the matchups:

WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL

Alabama has the most exciting offense in the country, averaging an absurd 49.7 points per game and 543.9 yards per game (5th Nationally). Quarterback Mac Jones, Running Back Najee Harris, and Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith are the first teammates since 1946 to be Heisman Finalists. Jones has the highest completion percentage in the nation at 76.5%. Smith has been the best receiver in the country with 98 receptions for 1,511 yards and 17 TDs on the season. Harris has 1,262 yards on the ground with 24 TDs, 32 catches for 316 yards, and 3 TDs through the air. Let’s not forget receiver John Metchie (We can go on and on)…

The Fighting Irish are giving up 18.6 points (16th nationally) and 335.1 yards per game (22nd nationally) on defense. Notre Dame excels against the run (See North Carolina game) but struggles against the pass (761 yards given up to Clemson in 2 games). Captain linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leads the team with eleven tackles for loss. Notre Dame is 6th in the country at stopping other teams on third down (29.37%). They may have met their match in Alabama, however. The Crimson Tide leads the nation, converting 59.20% of their third downs.

ADVANTAGE: ALABAMA

Notre Dame does not have the athletes to keep up with the Crimson Tide. We should expect Alabama to score early and often.

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL

The Irish are averaging 35.2 points per game and 455.1 total yards per game (23rd Nationally). Their leader is fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book, who has 2,601 yards passing, 15 TDs, and 2 INT on the season. Senior wideouts Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek are his primary weapons combing for 65 receptions, 1,095 yards, and eight touchdowns. He loves to play action to tight ends Michael Mayer (35 catches, 388 yards) and Tommy Tremble (19 catches, 218 yards). The focal point of the offense, however, has been the run game. Book can run, as evidenced by his 430 yards and 11 TDs on the ground, but Kyren Williams has carried the load. Wiliams has over 1,000 yards on the ground and 12 TDs.

On defense, Alabama allows 19.5 points and 351.2 yards per game (20th and 31st Nationally). The Tide is stout against the run, allowing 107.6 yards per game but they struggle against the pass – giving up 243.5 per (79th Nationally). The unit has come on in the last four games led by Will Anderson and Christian Barmore‘s thirteen combined sacks. Led by Barmore, Alabama must put pressure on Ian Book, forcing him to make bad decisions.

ADVANTAGE: ALABAMA

Alabama struggled against Florida since Kyle Trask was the first good Quarterback the Tide played all season. While Book is a reliable game manager at Quarterback, he will never be why a team wins a game. All Alabama needs to do is get pressure on Book early, and eventually, mistakes will happen.

KEY STORYLINES

THE HEISMAN SHOW
As we mentioned above, Alabama has three of the five Heisman finalists in this game. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith will have one final chance to shine in prime time. I believe the wide receiver will win the award. Smith is looking to become the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard did it in 1991.

WILL NOTRE DAME GET BLOWN OUT AGAIN?
Since 1998, Notre Dame has never won a big game:

  • 34-10 loss against Clemson for the ACC Championship on December 19th
  • 30-3 loss against Clemson in 2018 in the College Football Playoff
  • 44-28 loss against Ohio State in 2016 in the Fiesta Bowl
  • 42-14 loss against Alabama in 2013 for the National Title
  • 41-14 loss against LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl
  • 34-20 loss against Ohio State in 2006 in the Fiesta Bowl
  • 41-9 loss against Oregon State in 2001 in the Fiesta Bowl

That’s a combined score of 266 to 98 for one of College Football history’s iconic programs.

THERE’S A HUGE TALENT DIVIDE HERE
Since 2017, Notre Dame has recruited only one five-star player while Alabama has brought in twenty-one. In that same period, the NFL has drafted thirty-one Alabama players vs. sixteen Notre Dame players. The talent gap between these two teams is relatively large, and we will see that on the field.

WILL LANDON DICKERSON’S ABSENCE HURT ALABAMA?
Dickerson was named first-team All-SEC and first-team All-America and will be out for the rest of the season. We will have to pay attention if there are any snapping issues early on and if the loss impacts the run game in the fourth quarter as it did against Florida.

COACH’S CORNER

The Rose Bowl brings us two older and more mellow coaches as opposed to the other game. Alabama Coach Nick Saban surprisingly talked up Notre Dame’s Ian Book here:

“I think it’s certainly going to be a challenge for our defense… and the quarterback’s ability to make all the throws as well as extend plays with his feet, scramble and run. He’s certainly a dual-threat guy that presents a lot of problems for us, and we’re going to have to be very disciplined in terms of the way we play and everyone doing their job if we’re going to have a chance to be successful against Ian Book and the Notre Dame’s offense.”

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban

Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand, is still defending his team’s credibility:

NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS IN THIS GAME

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (6’2″, 215)
In his first full season as the starter, Jones has risen up draft boards in a Joe Burrow like fashion. Think Kirk Cousins – he has a pretty deep ball, is a solid decision maker, and is very cerebral.  Dane Brugler from the Athletic mock drafted him to the Saints:

“With above-average receivers, running backs, blockers and play-calling at Alabama, Jones is a tough quarterback to separate from the situation. But he makes smart decisions, moves well in the pocket and is very accurate. Jones won’t be an ideal fit for everyone, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sneak into Round 1 in the right situation.”

Dane Brugler, The Athletic

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (6’2″, 230)
Najee Harris’ gigantic stature evokes memories of Derrick Henry for Alabama fans. Matthew Valdovinos has more on the best back in this class:

Harris is one of the nation’s most productive rushers while also being one of the 2021 NFL Draft classes’ most talented running backs. He has potential as a three-down running back in the NFL with his natural receiving chops. He has the size to eat and breakthrough weak tackle attempts, and his vision has shown flashes of brilliance.

Matthew Valdovinos, Pro Football Network

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (6’1″, 175)
DeVonta Smith has been one of the most electrifying players in College Football in the past decade. Despite his skinny stature at 6’1, 175 lbs, Smith’s route running is crisp, and his hands are like glue. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared him to Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison BEFORE this season, while Dane Brugler has him sneaking into the Top 6 of his mock, citing that he will be “an immediate playmaker in the NFL.”

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (6’2″, 205)
Despite Alabama’s issues defending the pass, Surtain has been rock solid. He has only allowed 19 completions all season. He will be a top ten pick and a top press corner in the NFL for the next decade.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame (6’2″, 220)
Oswusu-Koramoah has ideal size at 6’2, 220 for a linebacker who can also play defensive back (Think Jeremy Chinn). He can blitz, cover tight ends and go sideline to sideline. We will have to see what position he will play in the NFL, but we will see him in round one. Check out this excellent fumble recovery he made against Clemson:

WHAT HAPPENS?

HOW DOES NOTRE DAME WIN?
I’m going to break this down into ten steps. At least seven of these must happen for an upset to occur:

  1. Notre Dame must play near-perfect football in every phase.
  2. Quarterback Ian Book must complete passes downfield to open up the run game early. Kyren Williams must rush for at least 100 yards.
  3. The Irish must control the time of possession, as Alabama will score quickly.
  4. An effective run game will open the play-action passing game to tight ends Michael Mayer and Tommy Tremble. Ole Miss’ Kenny Yeboah (181 yards, 2 TD’s) and Florida’s Kyle Pitts (7 receptions, 129 yards, TD) torched Alabama in their matchups. 
  5. Notre Dame cannot settle for field goals in the red zone. (7’S NOT 3’S!) and must attempt every 4th and less than 5 in Alabama territory.
  6. Again- Ian Book must take chances downfield. Weird stat: every time Javon McKinley catches over five passes, Notre Dame scores at least 39 points in those contests. 
  7. On defense, they will need their 6th best third-down defense to stop Alabama’s best third-down offense at least three to four times.
  8. They must take the ball away once or twice.
  9. They need some form of luck (Think onside kicks, trick plays for TDs…). 
  10. Alabama must under-estimate Notre Dame and sleepwalk through one to two quarters.

Anything can happen in College Football if the game is close after three quarters.

As you can tell, Notre Dame doesn’t have much of a chance.

HOW DOES ALABAMA WIN?
Alabama needs to continue playing its brand of football. If Notre Dame gives them soft coverage, they will methodically beat them down the field, and Harris will run them to death. If Notre Dame is aggressive, Jones will find Smith and Metchie over the top. On defense, the Tide must be stout against the run and force Ian Book to make plays. You can bet Book will turn the ball over if that happens. (I write this as a native Chicagoan who likes the Irish)

Alabama blows out Notre Dame 52-20

All Stats are courtesy of teamrankings.com

Tim is a grateful believer, husband to Kristin, Father to Isabelle living in Los Angeles as both an actor and Claims adjuster. He was born and grew up eight blocks from Wrigley Field and is a die hard Chicago fan (Especially Bears). He is incredibly grateful to The Turf for giving him a chance to pursue a passion of his.

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