Stacking Up: Notre Dame Offense vs Alabama Defense

A look at how the Notre Dame offense stacks up on paper against the Alabama defense
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Notre Dame is a huge underdog against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, but that isn't because of the matchup between the Fighting Irish offense and the Crimson Tide defense.

The matchup between the Notre Dame offense and the Alabama defense is much, much closer in talent and on paper. Let's take a look at just how the Fighting Irish offense stacks up statistically against the Alabama defense.

Notre Dame Scoring Offense vs. Alabama Scoring Defense

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Advantage: Even

I was tempted to go with Notre Dame in this matchup, but the bad taste from the ACC title game is still in my mouth.

Looking at the raw data and this is an even matchup. Alabama has a slightly higher ranked scoring defense compared to the Irish offense, and Notre Dame has a better total offense ranking than the Alabama total defense. Alabama dominates in the red zone, Notre Dame dominates on third-down.

Where the numbers could tilt in Notre Dame's favor is how the two teams performed against the better teams on their schedule. Alabama played a relatively soft schedule when it comes to opponent offenses. 

Alabama played just four top 40 scoring offenses this season, and just two in the top 30. Alabama gave up 47.0 points per game in its two games against top 25 scoring offenses (Ole Miss, Florida) and 33.8 points per game in the four games against top 40 scoring offenses.

Notre Dame played three games against top 40 scoring defenses, which includes two games against Clemson. The Irish scored 39.0 offensive points in the two regular season games against those opponents, and 32.0 points per game in regulation. The title game rematch against Clemson dragged the average down to 29.3 points per game.

If Notre Dame's offense didn't have such a poor track record in games like this I probably would have gone with the Irish in this matchup, especially when you consider Alabama is coming off a SEC title game in which it gave up 46 points to Florida.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Alabama Rush Defense

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Advantage: Notre Dame

This is another close matchup that could be considered even, but I'm going with Notre Dame because it is more battled tested. Notre Dame played three games against opponents that ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense while Alabama played just one team that ranked in the top 25 in rushing offense (Ole Miss).

Ole Miss racked up 268 in the game, and if you take away two team lost yardage plays that had nothing to do with the run game, the Rebels racked up 291 rushing yards and averaged 5.3 yards per game.

Notre Dame's 115 rushing yards against the Pitt run defense that ranked fourth in the country is similar to Alabama holding the No. 27 ranked Texas A&M rush offense to just 115 yards. Notre Dame, however, racked up 208 yards on the ground in its Nov. 7 win over a Clemson squad that ranked ninth in the country in rush defense, and Alabama doesn't have a comparable game against a top opponent.

Irish sophomore running back Kyren Williams rushed for 1,061 yards (5.4 YPC) and 12 touchdowns this season, and he is the first 1,000-yard back the Tide faced this season. Notre Dame also has the most physically talented offensive line that Alabama will have faced this season. 

Alabama also hasn't been an overly disruptive front against the run (it ranks 39th in tackles for loss), and we haven't seen the Tide show the aggressive blitzing against the run that has given Notre Dame problems this season.

Of course, that could change when the game is played, but from a pure on paper standpoint these factors give the Irish the slights advantage.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Alabama Pass Defense

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Advantage: Even

Notre Dame's pass offense has been inconsistent and hasn't always taken advantage of its talent. Alabama's pass defense has been inconsistent and hasn't always taken advantage of its talent.

This matchup will be the make or break area for Notre Dame in this game. 

Both teams rank 31st in yards per attempt and their pass efficiency numbers are similar. Alabama's numbers are a bit inflated by playing against a few teams that are really poor at throwing the ball (Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn). In the three competitive games Alabama played this season (Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida) opposing quarterbacks averaged 352 passing yards per game.

With Notre Dame, it depends on which version of the pass offense you are getting. If the version that we saw in the first four games of the season, against Georgia Tech or against Clemson in the ACC title game this will be advantage Clemson. 

If we see the version of the pass offense that showed up against Pittsburgh, in the Nov. 7 win over Clemson, against Boston College and in the first half against North Carolina this will be advantage Notre Dame.

If you want to know which version has shown up, look for whether or not quarterback Ian Book has attacking with throws to Javon McKinley. The fifth-year senior wideout is the key to the Irish offense playing at a high level. 

In the six games where McKinley caught at least five passes the Irish offense averaged 39.0 offensive points per game. In the five games where McKinley caught fewer than five passes the offense averaged 26.4 offensive points per game, and that includes 45 offensive points in a win over South Florida. If you look at just Power 5 opponents it falls all the way down to 21.8 offensive points per game.

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