The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Alabama Crimson Tide are the nation's two greatest defensive powerhouses. When they meet January 7th for the BCS national title game in Miami, fans of great defense will be in for a treat. On the other side of the ball, the two teams are not so evenly matched, though.
Alabama is ranked 15th in the nation inside the red zone, scoring on 41 of its 51 trips inside the red zone. Notre Dame, on the other hand, scored just 27 touchdowns on its 58 opportunities.
“We’re still in process there. We’re not there yet. When we start clicking down in the red zone, we’re gonna be really good.”
So what can the Fighting Irish do to bring their red-zone game up to par?
Golson must find Tyler Eifert.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson must acclimatize to throwing the ball in the red zone, and coach Brian Kelly needs to trust him. We've seen that Golson can throw the ball, but when he gets in the red zone he holds back. Perhaps Kelly has not fully exorcised the memories of the 19 turnovers—many in the red zone—committed by Tommy Rees last season.
Whatever the case, Kelly must allow Golson to throw the ball, particularly to 6'6" tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert's height alone gives him an advantage against most defenders who cover him. With 44 catches and 624 yards this season, Eifert is Golson's man in the end zone.
Golson must run the ball.
Which element will be most critical for success in the red zone?
One unique advantage Notre Dame has over Alabama is that Irish QB Golson can run the ball. This season he has rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns. Compare that with Tide QB A.J. McCarron's minus-five rushing yards for the season and one can only conclude that Golson's mobility will be a valuable asset in the title game that Alabama lacks.
When the opportunity presents itself, Golson must run the football into the end zone himself.
The offensive line must create holes for Cierre Wood, George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick.
Braxston Cave and Co. will have their hands full with Alabama's defense. It will not the first time the Irish offensive line has faced a top-ranked defense, though. During Notre Dame's close game with BYU, Riddick, Wood and Atkinson III were able to escape coverage and make significant yardage.
Opening up holes in the Alabama defense, particularly for Theo Riddick—who has five rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, 880 rushing yards, 364 receiving yards this season—will pay huge dividends in the red zone.
If the Fighting Irish can execute the plays listed above in the red zone, they have more than a fighting chance of walking away with the crystal football.