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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Key Plays vs Alabama

January 17, 2021

It was just over two weeks ago that Notre Dame lost to eventual national champion Alabama. It feels like it finished about two months ago.

A lot has happened since then. Several Notre Dame players entered the transfer portal. The Irish gained a new quarterback and new defensive coordinator. They also lost a defensive backs coach and a stud tight end to the NFL Draft.

All of that and the fact there was no game after the College Football Playoff semi-final meant that there was no rush for a “Film Don’t Lie” piece after the Alabama game. But with recruiting kicking into high gear and another coaching addition on the horizon, there’s no time better than now to revisit some key plays from Notre Dame’s final game of last season.

RPO part 1

DeVonta Smith. Pretty good at football. That could sum this up, but there is more to it than that on Alabama’s first touchdown.

First off, this is a great design from Alabama. Notre Dame is in man coverage (cover 1) and Clarence Lewis is coming in motion following Smith. He starts out wide, motions in, and bubbles back out.

We’ll get back outside in a second, but peaking back inside, Notre Dame has eight in the box and it’s a called run. Quarterback Mac Jones could have handed it off here, but he elected to pull and throw this for a couple of reasons (in addition to knowing the guy he is throwing to).

The first is that he has even numbers outside. It’s two one on ones. The second is that Smith is about three yards back off the line of scrimmage and the corner who has him, Lewis, is 10 yards off of that. That’s a gap that can be closed, but giving that amount of space to Smith is a matchup that favors Alabama almost every time.

Lewis closes on this quickly, but instead of attacking, he breaks down for a split second. That works on just about every receiver. Not this one.


That gives Smith an opportunity to accelerate and no one does it like he does. Lewis does use the sideline as an extra defender, but Smith is too quick for Lewis to force him out. He’s out of the gate down the sideline.

Kyle Hamilton is the single high safety and he doesn’t take the right angle here. Again, this is probably an okay angle for most receivers. Smith has that extra gear, though, and Hamilton can’t get there.

The other corner, Nick McCloud, has to run with the vertical threat here, but needs to do a better job getting off the block. He doesn’t and it’s six on the board for Alabama.

RPO part 2

This is another beautiful design from Alabama. They are motioning Smith again and this time it’s zone. That’s why you see McCloud bump out rather than Lewis running across the formation following Smith.

It’s a run call up front and Jones pulls and throws to Smith and the key here is the same on the first play: space. Smith has plenty of it and he has two blockers out in front of him, one of whom picks up Marist Liufau and the second who takes McCloud.

If those guys don’t beat the block, the result of the play is almost inevitable.


Shaun Crawford is the deep safety to that side and you can see him heading downhill to play the run because that is what the line was showing. That’s why he has a bad angle getting back to Smith and this becomes another explosive play.

If Notre Dame could have had a do-over, then they should have had the backside safety, Crawford, only having eyes on Smith to help rather than being that extra guy against the run. This still would have been a good gain, but not a big play if they did that.

They got out leveraged here and Alabama has the numbers advantage.

Play-action bust

This had to be the most confusing play of the game for the Notre Dame defense. There weren’t many busts for them in this game. When they got beat, they got beat physically. This was an exception and it’s not just on the players.

This isn’t an RPO. This is straight play-action and you can tell with the line pass blocking.

The Notre Dame linebackers were sucked in by the guard pulling across the formation. They saw that and stepped up to play the run.

McCloud is lined up opposite Smith at the top of the screen. Smith is running across the field and McCloud is going with him with Hamilton, the single high safety, stepping to there as well.

Was McCloud supposed to run with him or pass him off? I don’t know for sure, but the fact that no one was deep on the other side of the field makes it a fair question.

Notre Dame has 4-4 personnel on the field. Someone pointed this out to me after the game, but I said I thought they weren’t in that. I was wrong, so my apologies on that.

They went into this because Alabama came out in heavy personnel where they had an extra lineman on the field. Obviously that was all to help set up what they would run.

Hamilton is the only safety. When the tight end is running across the formation with no other safety on the field, this is either supposed to be McCloud taking this (and not running with Smith) or a Liufau dropping back and having this carried to him.

Maybe it was supposed to be Liuafau, but if that was the case, who had the back leaking out? 4 is uncovered after chipping the defensive end.


Even if the tight end was covered, the back is probably strolling in for a touchdown with no one on him. Was the defensive end supposed to peal there? Was that supposed to be Bauer’s responsibility?

Clark Lea is gone, but I would have loved to ask him how Notre Dame was supposed to play this or if he just made a mistake by switching to a 4-4 here.

Play-action boot, but no throw

The game is already pretty much over at this point, but Tommy Rees did open it up a bit and called this play-action boot with Michael Mayer running an out-and-up. I would have liked to see this a bit sooner, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that Ian Book was outside the pocket and had space to make this the throw to Mayer. It would have been a very difficult throw and maybe he doesn’t have the arm to make it, but it was there and he had no one in his face at the moment he should have let it go.


If not that throw to Mayer, George Takacs was running a drag from the opposite side. This would have been another extremely difficult throw to make and the window was exactly big, but there was something there.

Book ended up throwing it away and then a late hit got Notre Dame 15-yards, but this was dialled up to be a big play. Book just needed to take a shot at it, but perhaps the previous interception had him questioning it.

I wanted to add this play in because this is the kind of play Notre Dame would have needed to make more than once to beat Alabama. It would have required a big time throw to get it done and it’s fair to ask if Book could have made it, but this kind of throw is one you’d like to see the next Notre Dame quarterback make.

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