Here are five keys for No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) when it plays No. 1 Alabama (11-0) at the College Football Playoff semifinal on Friday (4 p.m. EST on ESPN) in Arlington, Texas.
Limit the bleeding
The Crimson Tide have not scored fewer than 38 points in a game this season, showing they can move the ball and put up plenty of points against any defense. So the Irish should not look to be superheroes. They need to prioritize damage control. No long runs from running back Najee Harris. No 80-yard touchdowns from wide receiver DeVonta Smith. For Notre Dame to have a chance, Alabama needs to score field goals. Not touchdowns. The Irish are equipped to play with a lead. They are not built to overcome a double-digit deficit, especially against a high-powered offense.
Control the line of scrimmage
This season, Notre Dame dictated its successful ball-control formula in almost every game by winning the battle up front. Sustaining long drives and effectively running the football helped the Irish hold opposing offenses to a limited amount of plays. They rank No. 7 in time of possession (33:57 average). Notre Dame will not be able to deploy this style if Alabama jumps out to an early lead. But if the Irish establish an advantage in the trenches early, they could control the flow of the game.
Win third down
The improbable task the Irish face could be determined simply by how they perform on third down. Notre Dame feasted on third down while winning all season before meeting Clemson in the ACC Championship game. While the Irish offense went 3 of 12 in those situations, the Tigers converted 8-of-14 third-down opportunities in their 34-10 win on Dec. 19. Alabama overwhelmingly leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage (59.2) but ranks No. 70 in third-down defense (40.6 percent). Notre Dame comes in at No. 6 on defense (29.4 percent) and No. 9 on offense (49.3 percent).
Seize red zone opportunities
Failing to score touchdowns in the red zone likely would keep Notre Dame from pulling off the upset. The Irish struggled in those situations all season, ranking No. 94 in red-zone efficiency. Alabama’s offense could make them pay for squandered opportunities. So Notre Dame cannot make mistakes like turnovers, dropped passes and penalties. Settling for field goals cannot happen either. The Irish also must find an answer if standout cornerback Patrick Surtain II locks down his side of the field for the Crimson Tide, as usual.
Win the turnover battle
To defeat Alabama as a 20-point underdog, Notre Dame probably needs to win the turnover battle. Crimson Tide turnovers could lead to scoring opportunities and help the Irish build momentum. Notre Dame (10) and Alabama (11) lost almost the same amount of turnovers through their 11 games. Quarterbacks Mac Jones (32-4) and Ian Book (15-2) own impressive TD-INT ratios. Alabama (7) and Notre Dame (8) have coughed up the football plenty of times, though. The Irish would need to capitalize on these opportunities unlike the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame did not take advantage from winning the turnover margin against Clemson 1-0.