Ten for a Title
The plays were as memorable as they were essential to victory: A throwback score from 34 yards out to John Goodman, one that put Notre Dame's initial dent in the scoreboard at East Lansing. A 24-yard corner route to a leaping, double-covered Tyler Eifert to forge a fourth quarter tie against Stanford. A 62-yard burst up the gut by Cierre Wood to seize early momentum against Oklahoma. Three of Notre Dame's most thrilling touchdowns of the 2012 season also rank among its most important, with each of the trio occurring from beyond the opponents' red zones. And with just 27 total touchdowns scored by head coach Brian Kelly's offense in its 58 red zone trips, its likely each added four points to their contest's final margins. Kelly though believes is Irish have evolved and improved in close as the team's triggerman, Everett Golson, became more comfortable with the red zone plan. "Everett was learning along the season and he's gotten better as we've gotten closer (to the goal line)," Kelly said. "So we think we've addressed those (inefficiencies) through maturity and understanding. We'll continue to work on our red zone efficiencies and specifically spend more time in practice so (Golson) becomes more comfortable in that area of the field." Irish Hitting it Deep Notre Dame enjoyed the benefit of just nine touchdowns scored from outside the opponents' red zones in 2012. One was a 77-yard fumble recovery by defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the season-opener vs. Navy, a play that ranked as Notre Dame's longest of the season from either side of scrimmage by Irish player or foe. Below is a list of scores by Notre Dame's offensive personnel that originated outside the red zone in 2012: 1.) George Atkinson -- 56-yard run vs. Navy in Game One. 2.) John Goodman -- 36-yard catch vs. Michigan State in Game Three. 3.) George Atkinson -- 55-yard run vs. Miami in Game Five. 4.) Tyler Eifert -- 24-yard catch vs. Stanford in Game Six. 5.) Cierre Wood -- 62-yard run vs. Oklahoma in Game Eight. 6.) Cierre Wood -- 68-yard run vs. Wake Forest in Game 11. 7.) John Goodman -- 50-yard catch vs. Wake Forest in Game 11. 8.) T.J. Jones -- 34-yard catch vs. Wake Forest in Game 11. Notre Dame completed just one of its six red zone surges in the regular season finale at USC with a touchdown, and scored just six touchdowns in a combined 17 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line during close wins over Stanford, Brigham Young, and Pittsburgh. The Irish were relatively successful at Oklahoma, scoring two touchdowns in their four forays near the Sooners' goal. But none of those defenses matched Alabama's red zone prowess. The Crimson Tide were the nation's best defense in close, allowing scores -- either touchdowns or field goals -- on just 17 of 27 drives. (Notre Dame's defense was tied for second overall, though easily ranked first in red zone touchdowns allowed: 8 vs. the Tide's 14.) Alabama's major advantage in the contest might be its red zone offense, one ranked 15th nationally compared to the 75th-place Irish. "They're certainly in a position where they can run the football effectively; play-action pass; they've got a guy that can go one-on-one and match up if you go man," said Kelly of the Crimson Tide's season-long red zone success. "So they have a lot of the elements that you need to be successful. And we think we do, too. We feel we've been there and just haven't made the plays necessary. Again, you could use the USC game as an example. A number of field goals that needed to be touchdowns. "We're going to need to score touchdowns when we get in that area against Alabama." More important, they're going to need to hit one from outside the Alabama 20-yard line as well, something the Irish offense did just eight times in 2012, with three of the eight occurring against lowly Wake Forest on Senior Day. Notre Dame's offense will move the ball, but converting once from outside the red zone would help ensure those yards aren't relegated to meaningless stat sheet fodder at the season's final gun.