For No. 4 Notre Dame, Friday’s 1 p.m. Eastern semifinal against top-ranked Alabama in the College Football Playoff can’t come soon enough.
Finally, the Fighting Irish (10-1) will get the chance to show that they belong in the playoff, putting the controversy of their selection behind them. But to do that, they’ll have to at least slow down a juggernaut. Alabama (11-0) has averaged 49.7 points a game this season, trampling everything in its path.
And slowing down Alabama means the Irish will have to bring their best in the semifinal, something they have been unable to do in their two previous trips to college football’s biggest stage when they were woefully outclassed.
And this time, they’re nearly underdogs by 19.5 points.
“We hear it,” senior linebacker Drew White said Thursday. “We’re aware of the noise, we call it.”
That noise sounds like 30-3, which was the drubbing Notre Dame absorbed at the hands of Clemson two years ago in its other trip to the CFP semifinals.
The noise also sounds a lot like 42-14, Alabama’s drubbing of Notre Dame in the national championship game at the end of the 2012 season.
And the noise sounds like the howls following Notre Dame’s 34-10 loss to No. 2 Clemson just two weeks ago, when more than a few critics felt No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1), No. 8 Cincinnati (9-0), or even No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0) were more deserving of a CFB berth this season than Notre Dame.
“We’re playing for each other,” White said. “We’re not playing for credit to the media or whoever’s thinking we don’t deserve a spot. We’re playing for each other. We want to get to the national championship. We want to win the national championship for our teammates. So that’s really what’s propelling us is that right there.”
A close semifinal game would be a rarity in the six-year history of the CFP, as the 12 previous semifinals have been decided by an average of three touchdowns.
With Elliott out, Streeter on Clemson headset
With Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott missing the game against No. 3 Ohio State with COVID-19 issues, coach Dabo Swinney will have quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter upstairs helping with play calls.
Elliott has worked the headsets calling plays through Swinney since 2011, so this could be a significant adjustment for Clemson, but Streeter is hardly new to the system. He is in his 13th in the program as a player, grad assistant, and assistant coach.
Vanderbilt’s new ‘holistic’ coach
Notre Dame Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah credits defensive coordinator Clark Lea as a key to his improvement this season as a “holistic football player.” Lea was hired in December as Vanderbilt head coach, but will still be with Notre Dame through the playoffs.
“He’s been a difference-maker,” the senior linebacker said Thursday. “He’s been a different type of coach. I’ve never had a type of coach like Coach Lea. He doesn’t yell much. He doesn’t complain much.
“All my life I’ve had coaches that had that aggressive nature, that yell, and that has what made me who I am today and I’m appreciative of that. But Coach Lea has a different style. He’s more a technical, analytical type of guy who wants you to understand the philosophies of the world, wants you to understand the philosophies of football.
“And I think that approach has ultimately made me reach this kind of almost holistic football player. I haven’t got there yet, nowhere close. But I think that’s ultimately led me in the right direction with him being a difference-maker for me in every area of my life.”
Roses in the Lone Star State
Although the Alabama-Notre Dame game is being played in Arlington, Texas, it’s still being called the Rose Bowl. The game was moved from California to AT&T Stadium because COVID-19 protocols in California banned fans — including family and friends — from attending.
Only 3,000 fans will be permitted to attend the Sugar and Rose Bowls, primarily family and friends of the teams.
–Field Level Media