Strengths, weaknesses for Irish and Tide
January, 7, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information | ESPN.com
Touchdowns may be at a premium Monday night as the top two scoring defenses in the country, Notre Dame and Alabama, face off in the BCS National Championship Game.
After 34 bowl games, it’s time to crown a National Champion as the top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Alabama Crimson Tide, who are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back BCS National Championships.
Both teams have played at an elite level to earn a spot in this game, but both have areas where they’re stronger than others. Here’s a final breakdown of where these two teams excel, and where they may have a weakness.
Notre Dame’s Strength: Keeping Teams Out of the End Zone
The Irish have the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game this season, but going inside the numbers shows how effective they’ve been at keep teams from scoring touchdowns.
Notre Dame has allowed just 10 touchdowns on the season (nine defensive), which would be the fewest in the FBS dating back to 2000. The next fewest was last year’s Alabama squad, which allowed just 12 touchdowns.
The Irish have gone 628 straight defensive plays since allowing a touchdown from outside the red zone, dating back to the season opener against Navy, the longest streak in the nation. However, Alabama has scored a touchdown from outside the red zone on every 31 offensive plays, the third-highest rate in the BCS.
Notre Dame doesn’t allow many touchdowns from the red zone either, having allowed a touchdown on 24 percent of opponents red-zone possessions, the best mark in the FBS.
Alabama’s Strength: Defense and Sneaky Good Offense
Alabama’s defense leads the nation in total defense and rush defense, and ranks second in scoring defense (to Notre Dame) and pass defense. But, don’t sleep on the Crimson Tide’s offense.
The Tide rank 38th nationally in total offense, but when you look only at game situations with the score within 28 points (eliminating blowout situations), Alabama ranks second in the FBS in yards per play behind the Oregon Ducks, and third in the nation in points per drive.
The offense, in the same scoring situation, ranks second in yards per play and first in points per drive. So, from an efficiency standpoint, the Alabama offense is on par with the Alabama defense.
Notre Dame’s Weakness: Punt Returns
In a game featuring two elite defenses, the game could come down to a field position battle, and the advantage could go to Alabama there.
This season, only five FBS schools averaged fewer yards per punt return than Notre Dame’s mark of 2.4, and four of them finished with four or fewer wins.
Freshman Davonte’ Neal is the only Irish player to return a punt this season, and he has just 44 yards on 18 returns, with a long return of 11 yards. To compare, Alabama has 15 punt returns of at least 11 yards this season.
Alabama’s Weakness: Performance vs Top Teams
Alabama led the nation in scoring margin off turnovers at plus-137 (160-23) this season. However, in its three games against teams in the top 10 entering the bowls this season (Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M), the Tide had a minus-6 turnover margin and were outscored 20-3 on points off turnovers.
Alabama’s defense as a whole slipped in those three games, allowing 24.7 points per game, compared to 6.5 against all other teams this season. The Tide defense also allowed more than twice as many rush yards per game against those three teams than their other 10 opponents.