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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Alabama 31 Notre Dame 14

January 1, 2021

Notre Dame can hang with Alabama the line of scrimmage. They couldn’t in 2012 and that was obvious.

They could not match Alabama’s talent at the outside skill positions. That was the story heading into the game and it’s the story after it.

The Irish secondary was overmatched in this game and it was obvious almost every completion for Alabama. If they were out leveraged by a step, they didn’t have athletes who could make up that ground. If they were outnumbered inside or on the perimeter, they were in serious trouble with Mac Jones continually dicing up the defense with RPOs.

I don’t have the after the catch numbers right now, but I promise they are prolific. DeVonta Smith in space was exactly who we thought he was.

But anyone who was paying attention to the analysis prior to the game knew this would be the case. Alabama’s offense is historically good. Notre Dame was going to give up points. They just had to do everything they could to shorten the game and put up points to keep up.

They accomplished the first part. Not so much on the second part.

The idea behind the strategy was a good one. The execution of it wasn’t good enough minus one long scoring drive that lasted 8:03 seconds. The score looks more respectable after a garbage time touchdown, but this one was never really in doubt for Alabama.

- Alabama had six plays of 20-yards or more, but those came on only 55 snaps. They averaged an explosive play on every 9.2 snaps. Notre Dame ran 80 plays in this game and only had four explosives (one every 20 snaps) One of those came in garbage time too.

I was all for playing keep away from this Alabama offense and it worked with them scoring their lowest point total of the season. They came in averaging 0.7 points per play, the third best in the last 14 seasons. Holding them to 0.56 per play might not seem great, but that was a win for the Notre Dame defense.

It would only matter if Notre Dame could score enough to threaten Alabama. It was going to be impossible to drive the field with double digit drives again and again. They needed some big chunk plays mixed in to help. They weren’t getting that in the running game and they never even attempted to push the ball down the field until the game was over.

The first 19 1st down plays, the Irish rushed 13 times. That was a mistake.

I thought Tommy Rees had to mix in more play-action, attack the middle of the field more, and at least attempt some 50/50 balls down the field.

- It’s pretty obvious that Notre Dame didn’t have any trust in their receivers to win whether that was Rees or Ian Book. Looking back at the first Clemson game, Notre Dame had big plays from Javon McKinley and Avery Davis. That was missing tonight.

It’s not as simple as saying Alabama has DeVonta Smith and Notre Dame doesn’t, but boy, the Irish could sure use a Smith or two. That’s an issue when you’re playing against this level of competition.

- Notre Dame has one NFL player starting in their secondary. Maybe Clarence Lewis makes it two after a few years in the program, but they basically have one elite athlete there. Defensive back recruiting was a topic after the 2018 Clemson game when Julian Love went down and it’s still a topic two years later.

It’s a reality that Notre Dame needs to be better and deeper in their back four.

- Tommy Tremble is in the top-three most valuable players on offense. Losing him early in the game was a significant blow.

- If we’re taking positives out of this, Kyren Williams is an absolute baller. Minus bouncing it outside once when he needed to settle for a short gain, he ran the ball really well and continued to prove he can play at an extremely high-level.

I liked how Chris Tyree ran as well and his reception on that screen was a highlight. The future remains bright in the backfield.

- I’m sure some are wondering why Notre Dame could shut down the skill talent of North Carolina and have this happen against Alabama, but the reality is that no player on that UNC O-line would start for Alabama. Maybe a couple of them crack the two-deep.

This Alabama offensive line is great and it complements the skill group perfectly. Throw in Steve Sarkisian, who is awesome as a play-caller, and I’m not sure Clemson or Ohio State is going to have much more luck shutting down Alabama.

- After a rare tackle for loss for Notre Dame to force a 3rd and long, it was a clock management malpractice for Brian Kelly to not take a timeout knowing that Alabama was getting the ball first in the second half.

The way Notre Dame has managed the final part of the second quarter hasn’t been great for awhile and it hurts when they always take the ball first to start the game.

- Book is going to be criticized for what he did and didn’t do in this game. It goes with the territory of playing quarterback at Notre Dame.

I thought we were in for a classic Book “improv” moment when he decided to throw it up to Michael Mayer after starting to scramble. It was a great idea. It was not a great throw.

That interception was a killer and essentially ended any realistic thought of Notre Dame getting back into the game. Book was 30-5 as a starter. He provided plenty of great moments at Notre Dame and led two teams to the College Football Playoff.

The Irish have had a lot of mediocre quarterback play over the last three decades. Book was a very good player and deserves to be praised for what he accomplished.

I think most fans will hope that he’s the Tajh Boyd and then whoever is next can be Deshaun Watson. That’s for another time, though.

For tonight, fans will mourn the season that ended on a disappointing note. I hope they also celebrate Book and the other seniors for what they did over the course of their time in South Bend.

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