The success of Alabama’s offense over the past couple of years against defenses good and bad is well documented. The Tide has not been held under 40 since the season opener when they scored 38, and has played a couple of defenses that are as good or better than the one they will face on Friday. Still, this Notre Dame unit is far from a pushover unit and has in fact been one of the best defenses in the ACC this season.
Departing coordinator Clark Lea is an up-and-comer who will be moving on to head coaching duties at Vanderbilt after the game. His scheme is generally called a 4-2-5, a one-gap scheme up front that tends to keep safeties deep and limit big plays. They are a fundamentally sound unit for the most part and can execute some exotic stuff up front.
The name to know on this side of the ball is “rover” linebacker-safety hybrid Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He is by far the most heralded NFL prospect and is used flexibly. Owusu-Koramoah is a high IQ player who also runs in the 4.4 range at 220 lb. He is adept in all phases of the game, including the well-timed blitz. Center Chris Owens will have to aid Mac Jones in finding Jeremiah on every snap, lest he get some free runs into the backfield.
In the secondary, safety Kyle Hamilton calls the shots. The sophomore has grown well into his leadership role, but the secondary has been maligned recently, surrendering over 1400 passing yards over the past five games including a whopping 761 yards on 63 attempts and four passing TDs in the two Clemson games. This is a position group that is a little light on talent, and they will undoubtedly play somewhat safe on the back end against the vaunted Alabama passing game.
Of course, the best way to limit a great passing attack is to get after the quarterback, and Lea has a ton of experience in the front seven that allows him to get creative. The Irish will start four seniors across the defensive line. DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji is the most accomplished pass rusher of the bunch, leading the team with 5.5 sacks. The line is a bit light with zero players listed at 300 lbs. and only one above 290, so the Tide may be able to blow open some sizeable holes for Najee Harris. The MLB is senior Drew White, who weighs in at only 227 lbs. himself. There are yards to be had here, particularly if the Irish choose to go with a lighter box to limit big plays as they are wont to do.
Notre Dame has shown itself to be a solid defense this season, but we have seen what usually happens to solid defenses when they face the best offense nowadays. They will be charged with picking their poison as all of Alabama’s opponents have been. If I had to game plan against Alabama, I would probably try and force Mac Jones to stay patient with short passes and live with some gains on the ground in exchange for stopping the big plays. Notre Dame won’t win this game without multiple turnovers, and Mac getting a little antsy to put points on the board is the best path to those. Of course, finding ways to get pressure in the backfield would go a long way as well. In any case, if the turnovers happen you can bet that Owusu-Koramoah will be in the middle of it.