ACC

Alabama, Notre Dame matched in unique Rose Bowl

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Alabama punt returner DeVonta Smith (6) returns a punt for a touchdown against Arkansas during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

It’s a huge mismatch on paper and No. 4 Notre Dame can only hope it doesn’t lead to another bad memory when it takes on No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1 at Arlington, Texas.

The powerful Crimson Tide, who have topped 50 points in each of the past three games, are overwhelming 19 1/2-point favorites in the contest, also known as the Rose Bowl after the game was moved from Pasadena to the Dallas area due to California’s COVID-19 protocols.

When the teams last met eight seasons ago in the BCS title game, Alabama trampled the Fighting Irish by scoring the first 35 points of a 42-14 romp. The Crimson Tide pummeled Notre Dame in the trenches, leading to a 265-32 edge in rushing yardage.

“We’re much better prepared than we were in 2012 in terms of the physicality on both lines,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said on a video call. “I think we have the ability to move the football, certainly.”

Notre Dame (10-1) doesn’t want to get into a shootout with the Crimson Tide, but it did top 40 points six times this season.

Its defense, which ranks 14th in scoring defense (18.6 points per game), was superb early in the season by limiting five of the first six opponents to 13 or fewer points. But it sprung many leaks down the stretch by allowing more than 30 in three of the last five games, including a 34-10 whipping at the hands of Clemson in last Saturday’s ACC title game.

“We’ve been humbled about the way we play,” said Kelly, “and this team has always come back with a resilience and an edge about them, and they will against Alabama.”

The Crimson Tide (11-0) topped 50 six times and averaged 49.7 points — second-best nationally — while being led by a trio of big-time performers.

DeVonta Smith has the opportunity to be first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. He has 98 receptions for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns. During last Saturday’s 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC title game, Smith (3,620 yards) passed Amari Cooper (3,463 from 2012-14) as Alabama’s all-time leader in receiving yardage.

Quarterback Mac Jones also is in the Heisman mix and has thrown for 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns against four interceptions. Najee Harris has rushed for 1,262 yards and 24 touchdowns and also has three receiving scores.

“We’ve certainly been very productive on offense,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said on a video call. “This has been an unusual year for a lot of teams but I think our players have stayed focus on the right things amid a lot of abnormal things.”

The offensive fireworks aren’t just limited to the current season. Alabama has scored 35 or more points in a major-college record 24 consecutive games since losing to Clemson 44-16 in the CFP title game to end the 2018 season.

The Crimson Tide are 22-2 during the stretch but Saban isn’t much interested in hearing about how the semifinal matchup with Notre Dame is going to be some type of easy stroll in the park.

“I know they have a really good team,” Saban said on ESPN. “I know have a really good quarterback. They have a tough defense. They have some skill guys who can make plays.

“You don’t win 10 games in a season without having really good players.”

Quarterback Ian Book has a 30-4 record as a starter for the Irish. He has passed for 2,601 yards and 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions in 314 attempts.

Book ranks second in school history with 8,719 yards and 72 touchdowns. Brady Quinn (2003-06) is the leader in both categories (11,762 yards, 95 TD passes).

Kyren Williams has excelled on the ground with 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns for an offense averaging 35.2 points, which rates 22nd nationally.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had a team-best 11 tackles for loss and he was named winner of the Butkus Award on Monday as the nation’s top linebacker.

Malachi Moore has three interceptions for the Crimson Tide, who are 20th nationally in scoring defense (19.5).

The winner of this game will face either No. 2 Clemson or No. 3 Ohio State in the national championship game.

–Field Level Media

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