Notre Dame Football: Ways for Irish to Improve Before National Championship Game

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the game against the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Although Notre Dame has already clinched a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, there is still more to accomplish. 

It was almost unthinkable at the beginning of the year that the Fighting Irish would finish the season undefeated. And yet, here we are after 12 wins have gotten the team into the national championship.

However, winning is a different story. The opponent will likely be the winner of the SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama, and both provide some stiff competition.

In order for the Irish to come out on top, they will need to focus on these factors before the big game in January.


Improve Quarterback Efficiency

Everett Golson has been very good when facing mediocre opponents. Against Boston College, Wake Forest and Purdue, he was able to finish with an efficiency rating above 150.

Unfortunately, he has had a much tougher time against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and USC. 

Overall, his passer rating is 131.8, which ranks No. 65 among qualified quarterbacks.

The defense will only carry him so far when the opponent has a great defense as well.

Golson has done a great job of utilizing his legs in recent weeks, and he has not lost a fumble since the Stanford game in early October, but he needs to be a better passer in the next game.

If he can keep his accuracy to around 65 percent, it will help the team sustain drives and eventually lead to more points on the scoreboard.


Force Turnovers

As good as Notre Dame's defense has been this season, it could be even better if the team forced more turnovers. 

The Irish are only tied for 37th in the nation with 23 takeaways this year, and this could be huge in the championship game. 

Aaron Murray of Georgia and Alabama's A.J. McCarron are No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation respectively in passer efficiency. However, both have suffered bad games and could do it again if the defense forces it.

McCarron only had two interceptions all season, both of which came in the loss to Texas A&M. Murray threw three picks against Florida, although the Bulldogs survived that game.

Notre Dame has to do everything it can to get the opposing quarterback out of his rhythm.

Manti Te'o has an incredible seven interceptions at linebacker, but he cannot do everything himself. The entire secondary needs to make plays on passes and try to put the offense in good situations throughout the game. 


Big Punt Returns

One aspect that has been weak all year for Notre Dame is on the punt return.

A big punt return can not only change the momentum of the game, but it can give a struggling offense a boost by putting it in better field position. 

Instead, Davonte' Neal has been little help, averaging only 2.4 yards per return. His longest run was for 11 yards.

Even if he is unable to take one to the house, any sort of big run would energize the entire team. Instead, the offense quietly trots onto the field at the beginning of every series with little enthusiasm.

The good news is that punting team is a bit of a weakness for the SEC foes. Alabama is in the middle of pack with 7.71 yards allowed per return, but Georgia is ranked No. 106 in the country, allowing 11.38 yards per return.

Neal needs to take advantage of this opening and put together a couple of nice returns. In a tight game like the national championship, any small play could end up being huge.



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