(MCT) — Notre Dame enters Monday’s BCS National Championship Game as 10-point underdogs to Alabama, and while outward appearances of Irish players and coaches are cool and confident, the Notre Dame camp knows that they’ll have to play their best game of the season to down the SEC champion.
Amid the rehearsed answers of media days and press conferences, the Irish did offer insight to their behind-closed-doors conversations, about how they expect to pull off the upset and finish the season as undefeated national champions.
1. Get in the end zone
Obvious? Yes, but it’s been a problem for the Irish this season, especially in situations when it should be easiest to score. Notre Dame boasted the sixth-worst red zone (inside the opponent’s 20-yard line) touchdown rate in the nation, having punched in the ball from close range on less than half (46.55 percent) of their 58 opportunities.
The only five teams that were worse than Notre Dame this year in red-zone scoring combined for a 15-46 record (nine of those wins coming from Toledo).
Notre Dame coaches know that they needed to brush up on their red-zone game planning for Monday’s game, but in looking at Alabama’s tape, they didn’t find much insight.
“There’s just not a lot of clips of teams getting down there,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “And the few clips when teams get inside their 10, so you can really game plan and organize a good plan, the score is typically 48-to-nothing, and there’s none of the starters on the field for Alabama.”
In those instances where Alabama does allow an opponent in close to the end zone, the Crimson Tide stopped the opponent from scoring any points a nation’s-best 37 percent of the time.
Notre Dame has practiced trick plays and a goal-line Wildcat formation this week, and it could roll the plays out in Monday’s game.
2. Force field goals.
Giving up points is never good, but for Notre Dame, holding Alabama to field goals will be seen as a positive Monday night. The Crimson Tide’s downright-dominating run game has resulted in Alabama scoring nine out of 10 times they have been in the red zone this season. When they do score, 80 percent of the time, it’s a touchdown. That’s efficiency, and while Notre Dame has had some sensational goal-line stands this season, they haven’t faced an opponent as good as Alabama.
3. Protect Golson early
Much has been made of sophomore quarterback Everett Golson and how he’ll play in Monday’s game. Notre Dame surmises that if Golson has anything close to a career game, the Irish have a good chance of winning.
The ingredient for a good game? The word that frequently came up this week was “confidence.”
Confidence is established early in the game, but that’s when Alabama, one of the nation’s best teams at rushing the passer, will likely institute extra blitz calls to prevent Golson from establishing a rhythm with his receivers. Golson is looking to counter-punch.
“Well, I think not only our offensive line, but I think we, as a team, want to kind of make a statement,” Goslon said.
4. Make more mistakes?
Yep, that’s the plan, as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly explains:
“What I meant by that is that you have to be aggressive in this game,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to sit back and hope that it’s going to come your way, you’re going to miss. ... This is one of those games where you have to be aggressive, and you’re going to make a mistake. I’m not talking about catastrophic mistakes, throwing picks for touchdowns, but you may make a mistake.”
5. Tap into the luck of the Irish.
Notre Dame plotted a few narrow escapes this season, and they’ll need that “luck of the Irish,” as well as all their other resources to be on full blast Monday. Kelly won’t game-plan luck, but he’ll take it.
“So if it’s destiny, that would be fine with me,” he said.