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Rose Ball Preview: When Notre Dame has the Ball

Ian Book is a prolific scrambler, and Alabama will have a tough task keeping him bottled up

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Vs. Boston College Eagles At Alumni Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Averaging 35 points per game, the Notre Dame offense has been generally very efficient all year long, outside of a random fiasco against Louisville and in the ACC Championship when Clemson’s defense stepped up in the rematch to hold them to limited production. They’re about as far from turnover-prone as you’ll see in a college football offense, and do a good job of keeping the ball moving as long as they can dictate the game flow.

The Irish offense reminds me a lot of the Jimbo Fisher’s offense at Texas A&M this year. The bulk of the production comes from 7-yard curls and crossing routes out of bunch and stack combined with inside zone runs from Kyren Williams.

Williams has nearly 200 carries for over 1000 yards on the season, another 200 through the air, and 13 touchdowns. He’s a definite top-10 level running back in the NCAA. He’s a short, smaller guy, but runs with a lot of toughness. He’s mostly a one-cut and go kind of back that’s going to blast through a sliver of an open hole at a moment’s notice and will always find away to elude a big hit and pick up 2 more yards than he should.

His backup, Chris Tyree, is even smaller and is a speedy big play threat that’s averaging over 7 yards per carry. Tyree is mostly used in 2-back sets, and Williams will motion out to wide receiver. If defenses key in on Williams, Tyree will take a speed sweep around the end to make them pay.

The passing offense hasn’t been quite as dynamic, but it’s one that keeps drives moving. Though the offense mostly tries to stick to the quick timing routes like curls and drags, Ian Book is a smaller QB that’s quite elusive and likes to dodge the first rusher, then roll out in either direction and hit someone coming open in the middle of the field.

Despite holding the ball for much longer on any play than most NCAA QBs, Book doesn’t attempt too many deep passes other than the occasional scripted shot down the sidelines. He takes the snap, looks at his primary read, then prepares to dodge a rusher and scramble if the first man is covered. He’s a pretty good runner that can make a defensive lineman miss, but he’s far from impossible to tackle and runs into a fair share of sacks.

At receiver, 5th year senior Javon McKinley is a big-bodied dude who, though lacking speed, is surprisingly nimble in the open field. He’s got a knack for grabbing a 7 yard curl at the sideline, making the corner miss, and picking up 15 yards. On the opposite side, grad transfer Ben Skowronek is nearly the size of a tight end, and has been finally starting to mesh in the offense in the last 13 of the season. He’s got surprising straight line speed for a 230-lb guy and and can eat up a lot of yards in a hurry after catching a drag route across the middle and speeding to the sidelines.

Slot man Avery Davis has 300 yards of his own, as well as the occasional carry out of the backfield. He’s a solid slot guy with some quickness and is a favorite for quick screens.

Adding to the passing game is 5-star freshman Michael Mayer. He’s the team’s second leading receiver and has some really nice athleticism to jump over guys for contested catches or speed up for some extra yards after the catch. He’s a go-to target for Book on 3rd downs, and usually the first guy he looks for when scrambling out of the pocket.

Finally, TE Tommy Tremble is a decent receiving option, and is one of the most violent blocking tight ends in college football. He may not show up in stats, but almost every great play from the Notre Dame offense has him making a key block at some point.

The Irish offensive line is a well-coached unit that is Alabama’s chief competition for the Moore Awards. They’re the reason this offense works. There’s a lot of seniority, and the overall chemistry with each other shows. They’re a zone blocking unit that move in tandem in both the run and pass game, picking up stunts and blitzes, better than most any I’ve seen in any level of football. For all of that, though, they aren’t the best in short yardage, and have had some continuity issues at center due to multiple injuries throughout the year.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, I think Alabama’s defense matches up with this style pretty well. Expect a lot of mush rush from the Alabama line to try and convince Book to scramble rather than take quick throws. He may pick up a few first downs that way, but Alabama will take that in return for some free sacks.

While the Tide has struggled mightily with tight ends this year, and Mayer looks to be a guy that can give them problems, I don’t see Book really trying to target him down the field against the safeties too often.

As long as the Irish keep throwing quick passes, the Alabama secondary will be perfectly happy to swarm and make quick tackles all game long.

And if the defensive front can make sure not to let Williams start gashing them up the middle while also clamping down on the quick passes, Book will start scrambling, and it’ll turn into a long game for the Irish.

That first if is a big one, though, and I think it’s the key to the game. Keeping Williams from wiggling free all game long is going to be a task of endurance and concentration from the Tide front seven.... And I think they’re able to do it.

I’m expecting 17-24 points from the Irish.