College Football Playoff Preview: Alabama vs. Notre Dame

Photo By: Gary Cosby Jr - USA Today Sports

Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42

College football fans, this strange 2020 season has gone by quicker than I would have imagined. As we roll into the New Year, the bigger bowl games have arrived, most importantly the College Football Playoff semifinals. The first semifinal game is the Rose Bowl which features two historically great programs. The Alabama Crimson Tide came into this season with high expectations with a loaded roster and they have lived up to them. They finished the season undefeated capped off with a 52-46 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship. Coming in with the daunting task of knocking off the machine that is Alabama is a team that also had pretty high hopes heading into this season but have been even better than expected. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have had an outstanding 2020 season, finishing the regular season undefeated. Unfortunately, they were on the receiving end of a revenge game for the Clemson Tigers as they lost 34-10 in the ACC Championship Game. Even with that loss, make no mistake about it, the Fighting Irish earned an opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff and will look to prove themselves in a major fashion on Friday. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at this year’s Rose Bowl and College Football Playoff semifinal between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Can This Alabama Offense Be Stopped?

While Alabama has been known in the past as a hard-nosed defensive football team, they have produced quite a bit of NFL talent on the offensive side of the ball. That still remains the case this year as their offense has put on a show this year, led by two Heisman Trophy finalists in quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Jones has put on quite the performance in his first full season as the starter, throwing for 3,739 yards with 32 touchdowns and only four interceptions. It helps that he has who I believe should be the Heisman winner and a future NFL star in Smith. With the injury to Jaylen Waddle, Smith took over as the clear-cut go-to option for the Crimson Tide, catching 98 passes for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns. The senior will be joined in the passing attack by sophomore receivers John Metchie III and Slade Bolden along with senior tight end Miller Forristall.

This electric passing attack will be facing a Notre Dame secondary that has been solid against the pass this season. The Fighting Irish have allowed 224.5 passing yards per game and ten total passing touchdowns while coming away with seven interceptions. Their secondary is led by a talented sophomore free safety, Kyle Hamilton who is tied for the team lead with 56 total tackles and also has one interception on the season. He will be joined in the secondary by senior Shaun Crawford at strong safety with senior Nick McCloud and freshman Clarence Lewis starting at the corners. Junior Tariq Bracy will also rotate in at corner.

As great as their passing game has been, Alabama has a running back that I believe could’ve very easily been their third Heisman finalist. Najee Harris has had an outstanding senior season, proving that he is one of the top running backs in the country. He has carried the ball 214 times for 1,262 yards and 24 touchdowns. Harris has also provided some production in the passing game with 32 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow senior Brian Robinson Jr. is a pro-caliber running back as well and will look to prove himself when his number is called.

Harris and company will be going up against a Notre Dame defense that has been very good against the run, for the most part, this season (minus the ACC Championship Game). They have allowed 110.5 rushing yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Their front seven is led by outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who has truly made a name for himself in his final season with the Irish. He is tied with Hamilton with a team-leading 56 tackles along with a team-high 11 tackles for loss. Owusu-Koramoah will be joined in the linebacker core by junior Shayne Simon and senior Drew White. Junior Bo Bauer will also see some time in the linebacker rotation. In front of them, the defensive line consists of four talented seniors in Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji at the ends with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa at tackle and Kurt Hinish at nose.

Will Notre Dame Be Able to Keep Up on the Scoreboard?

Much like their opponent, the Fighting Irish have had very good production on the offensive side of the ball this season. This offense is led by fifth-year quarterback Ian Book who has stepped up big time in his final season, throwing for 2,601 yards with 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has also done some damage on the ground with 101 carries for 430 yards and eight touchdowns. His top target this season has been senior wide receiver Javon McKinley who has 40 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns. McKinley is joined in the passing attack by fellow seniors Ben Skowronek and Avery Davis. Skowronek leads the team with five receiving touchdowns. They also have a very talented freshman tight end in Michael Mayer who has been a big part of the offense this year.

Book will be up against a very talented Alabama secondary that has plenty of NFL caliber talent. Their secondary has given up 243.55 yards per game and 14 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 11 interceptions. This group is led by one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft in junior Patrick Surtain II, who has ten pass breakups and one interception on the season. He will be joined in the secondary by fellow juniors Josh Jobe at the other corner spot and Daniel Wright at free safety along with a very talented sophomore in Jordan Battle at strong safety. Freshman Malachi Moore will start in the “Star” position and leads the team with three interceptions.

While Book has been outstanding this year, he has benefited from a sophomore running back that has burst onto the scene this season. Kyren Williams has been incredible this year, carrying the ball 195 times for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has also been a factor in the passing game with 27 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown. Williams will be looking to redeem himself after a rough outing against Clemson in the ACC Championship. Behind Williams, freshman Chris Tyree and junior C’Bo Flemister will see some carries.

This rushing attack will be facing an Alabama front seven that bolsters NFL talent but has been up and down against the run this year. The Crimson Tide have allowed 107.6 rushing yards per game and 11 rushing touchdowns this season. This group has been led this season by two impressive linebackers in senior Dylan Moses and sophomore Christian Harris. The pair are tied for the team lead with 68 total tackles while Harris has seven tackles for loss compared to 6.5 for Moses. They are joined in the linebacker core by junior Christopher Allen and freshman Will Anderson Jr. In front of them, the defensive line is led by sophomore defensive end Christian Barmore who has 6.5 tackles for loss and six sacks this season. He will be likely joined in the starting lineup by two fellow sophomores in DJ Dale at nose and Justin Eboigbe at the other end. Junior defensive ends LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis will also be very much involved in the rotation and could very well see themselves getting the first reps once the time comes.

Final Predictions

As I mentioned, this game features two of the most prominent programs in college football history. These two teams are expected to do great things by their fan bases every year and they have both delivered this season. While both of these teams deserve to be here, there is one that is clearly better than the other in my eyes. Alabama is favored by 19.5 points but it could get even worse than that. This Crimson Tide offense will prove to be too much, especially in the passing game as I see the Jones to Smith duo continuing their dominance. On the other side of the ball, Book will have to prove himself against a very talented Alabama defense. If the Fighting Irish wants any chance to keep this game close, they must have a close to perfect game from their senior quarterback. Unfortunately for them, I simply don’t see that happening on Friday as I have the Crimson Tide running away with this one 45-21.


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