By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
Alabama is 11-0. Two weeks ago they won their 5th SEC championship in the last 7 years, by outscoring Florida and Kyle Trask 52-46.
On both sides of the ball this team is loaded with 4 and 5 star talent. That talent would seem to be tilted towards their offense. They are 5th overall in total offense, and score 49.7 points per game, 2nd best nationally.
6-3 Junior Mac Jones is the triggerman and completes 77% of his passes good for 3,739 yards. He has tossed 32 TD passes and thrown just 4 interceptions. Not known for his running capability, but scrambling is typically not needed thanks to a great offensive line, quick release and reliable receiving group.
Leading that group is 6-1 senior Devonta Smith, 98 catches, 1500 yards, 17 touchdowns. He is an absolute gamebreaker. If you manage to slow him down there is sophomore John Metchie III who is a productive, clone like counterpart.
The running game is keyed by Senior Najee Harris. A big back at 6’ 2”, 230-he averages 5.9 yards per carry, has rushed for 1,262 yards and has scored 24 touchdowns, the most of any back in the nation.
On defense the Tide has shown some vulnerability. They have been soft on third down and gave up 48 points to Ole Miss and 46 to Florida, Despite these numbers, they rank among the 20 best scoring defenses in the nation, average 2.9 sacks per game and give up just 3.2 yards per carry.
They are young overall, technically sound but not particularly flashy. Stout against the run, outside linebacker Will Anderson leads the team in sacks and quarterback hurries. Patrick Surtain is the big name in a secondary that seemed to be improving as the season progressed until they were hit by 408 yards and 3 TDs by Kyle Trask in their last game.
Will Reichard has been perfect as a place kicker, converting all 73 extra points and 12 field goal attempts with a long of 52 yards. Devonta Smith can be a dangerous punt returner averaging 24.9 yards per return and he has brought back one for a TD.
The path to success for the Irish won’t be easy but seems pretty clear: find a way to slow down the Tide offense, definitely take some deep shots, and establish Kyren Williams, in order to shorten the game.
New Year’s Day Game coverage on ESPN starts at 4 PM South Bend time.
Alabama is a 20-point favorite, over/under is 66.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: the Irish need Crimson Tide mistakes but unless there are 4 or 5 of ‘em, The Tide will roll 40-21.