The Semifinals is a beautiful thing to be a part of. Two teams come in, one step away from being able to play for all the marbles. Alabama didn’t make it this far last season, and this is Notre Dame’s first playoff appearance since season one. Put those two pieces of the puzzle together, and you get one heck of a scenario for tonight, but let’s dive into the minutia of it.
Talk about your prayers being answered. Alabama played extremely well in the Quarterfinals, putting up 39 points. Quarterback Balion Siege looked phenomenal, putting up 363 passing yards and four total touchdowns. Clearly, this postseason run is hinging on the dual-threat ability of Balion Siege and his weapons on the outside in tight end Houston Freeman and receivers Baron Adams, Akamu Lee, and Zack Strickland. This offense has taken off the training wheels at the right time, and they’re ready to rock. Now, if they can get Ferrell Norman to have a higher level of production, this offense will be nearly impossible to stop.
What’s more impressive than the offense is the Alabama defense. Sure, they gave up 36 points. But, when the chips were down the Crimson Tide stepped up and did what they needed. From a boundary standpoint, that is undoubtedly their weakness, but they’ve found ways to combat that weakness. Pressure. Namely, extra pressure in the form of linebackers Tyson Cane Blade and Jeremy Mosley. They’ll need to generate turnovers as much as possible. Having to cover Dijon Swann is going to be a really big challenge for this defense, and they better be prepared.
The Fighting Irish are making their first playoff appearance in six seasons. The last time they made the playoffs, they won the National Championship, but they have to get their first. Signal-caller Leo Asiata is going to play a big part in that. His connection with Dijon Swann will play a major role in that, but tailback Kaiden Saint III will need to do his part as well. And as we’ve seen, when given the opportunity, he’s been explosive enough to help deliver wins to the Fighting Irish. Swann and Asiata will need that explosiveness to open up those shots downfield and attack the Alabama corners.
The toughest challenge for this defense will be to slow down Siege and keep him contained. That’s easier said than done. Safeties Alastor Jericho and Minkah Solo will both play a big role in that, as they’ll need to come downhill if Siege were to break contain. A larger part will be linebacker Shoto Pence finding a way to generate pressure and force Balion Siege into mistakes. And the Fighting Irish better pray to Touchdown Jesus that if Siege fumbles, a member of the defense better come up with that football.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Two very different offenses are taking the field. While Alabama has shown their capacity for quick, explosive strikes, their tendency is to be more of a ball control offense so as to kill clock. Notre Dame, on the other hand, tends to be looking for the dagger, the deep shot. Two very different styles of offense, and this is a game that could come down to who has the last possession.
Safeties Lamar Fant and Zachrey Carter will have their hands full tonight. Due to the lack of coverage on the outside, they’ll be the ones responsible for taking on Dijon Swann downfield, assuming the pass rush can’t get to Asiata. Obviously, stopping Swann is impossible, but if these two safeties can limit his downfield production? The Crimson Tide will be in good shape.
Wide receiver Dexter Jackson finds himself facing a unique opportunity. With the Crimson Tide defense likely zeroing in on Dijon Swann, Jackson will have to step up and carry his weight for Asiata, especially early. Quarterbacks need confidence, and a few early drops by Jackson could derail the Notre Dame offense early on. Can they overcome a slow start? Absolutely! But it’s best for Asiata and the Fighting Irish if it doesn’t come to that.
Tom Pence’s Predictions:
Alabama 31, Notre Dame 34
This is the game I’m most excited to see. Bama’s running attack against The Irish passing game. But now we have a wrinkle, both teams have included the other parts of their offenses and we could have a good old shootout. ND gets the turn over in the end and finds their way to the Natty.
Houston Freeman’s Predictions:
Alabama 36, Notre Dame 35
What a crazy first round win for Alabama, after trailing for most of the 4th quarter, the Tide rose to the occasion and were able to overcome a 12 point deficit in the last 3 minutes and survived a a last ditch effort by Oregon to regain the lead. With the momentum behind them, Notre Dame is going to have to do everything they can to not come out flat after sitting for 2 weeks. The X-factor in this game is Dijon Swann and how many times can he break free or will the Tide keep him grounded? As always with Alabama, this game will be decided in the last minute.
Jeff Melinyshyn’s Predictions:
Alabama 28, Notre Dame 38
Alabama is looking to keep their foot on the gas pedal after narrowly escaping with a win just 2 nights ago. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has been sitting around waiting to finally hit someone and tonight they will. Notre Dame is by far the superior team but in the playoffs anything can happen. I am taking ND in this one to punch their ticket.
DAVID ROY’S PREDICTIONS:
ALABAMA 38, NOTRE DAME 35
Yes, I’m fully aware that Alabama’s defense is on the wrong side of a mismatch tonight, but here me out. Leo Asiata has struggled when under duress and if the Crimson Tide can generate that and force a turnover or two, especially if they can maintain their offensive output from the quarterfinals? Then yeah, the Crimson Tide should be in good shape. I like Alabama to make their first ever National Championship game appearance.