FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – For starters, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin is concerned about actually getting into the red-zone (inside the 20-yard line) with his Fighting Irish offense. After that is accomplished, then he can begin to figure out how exactly his group will figure out a way to cross the goal-line against Alabama in Monday's BCS National Championship Game in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).
“We looked at all parts of red zone,” Martin explained. “Particularly since they don't give up many opportunities.”
Alabama is good, but certainly not great, at stopping opponents from scoring touchdowns once inside the Crimson Tide 20-yard line. Alabama (12-1) has allowed opponents to score a touchdown 51.9 percent of the time that they've had such an opportunity, which ranks 28th in the country. However, that percentage, according to Martin, is skewed.
“Unfortunately you're trying to study the opposing's tape, and there's just not a lot of clips of teams getting down there,” Martin said. “And the few clips when teams get inside their 10 so you can really game plan and organize a good plan, the score is typically 48 to nothing, and there's none of the starters on the field for Alabama.
It's hard to game plan against what they do late in the game when they're up by 50 points. That's the other task for them is you're trying to see how you can attack them and what they're going to do against you or certain formations, and you know they've got their backups in and they're just kind of finishing out the game.”
During Friday's practice session, the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) may have shown their hand at what needs to be done to attack the Alabama defense within a short field.
The Irish practiced a fake field goal at one point, and they also mixed up their offensive play selection in a myriad of ways.
Notre Dame implemented an unbalanced offensive line at one point, practiced some misdirection runs and even had a rep of work while running the triple option. Perhaps they are trying to throw the Crimson Tide off (the Notre Dame coaches knew the media was watching and would be reporting such things) or maybe Irish coach Brian Kelly honestly feels that his team needs some trickery against that defense.
Martin doesn't believe that scoring against the Crimson Tide is that confounding schematically, it is just actually having your plans work that will prove to be challenging.
“For us it's like any other part of the field, it's execution,” Martin said, “it's playing physical, it's in the run game, carving out some space for our running backs, and then obviously in the pass game, giving (quarterback Everett Golson) some time and then him making sure he figures out that coverage and where to get the ball and put the ball in the right place.”
The Irish have struggled in this regard – and they haven't been playing the defending national champions. Notre Dame ranks behind 118 other programs (46.6 percent) in scoring touchdowns once in the red zone. But Martin does believe that his unit will have opportunities to fare better against the Tide.
“I don't think there'll be issues structurally for opportunities to make plays,” Martin said. “But they're a difficult defense, a difficult defense to get the ball in against.”