Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
The Notre Dame defense stopped its opponents in almost every goal-to-go situation this season.Flash back to Nov. 24: USC trailed Notre Dame by nine points and had just four minutes remaining to erase the deficit. USC needed a touchdown.
The Trojans had the ball at Notre Dame's 1 and had just received a new set of downs after Marqise Lee drew a second consecutive pass interference penalty in the end zone.
On first and second down, USC lined up with two tight ends and tried a quarterback sneak with Max Wittek. Notre Dame denied both attempts. On third down, the Trojans went with a handoff to Curtis McNeal. He never made it back to the line of scrimmage. On fourth down they tried play-action, but the pass fell harmlessly to the ground.
It was second time USC had failed to score a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation in the quarter and the 10th time for a Notre Dame opponent this season.
Notre Dame's defense has been great all season when it had its back to the wall. Of the nine offensive touchdowns that its defensive conceded, only five were in goal-to-go situations, the fewest among FBS teams.
Notre Dame Defense This Season
The Irish did bend a few times on defense but rarely broke.
They allowed 33 percent of opponents' goal-to-go drives to end with a touchdown, tied with the 2010 Miami Hurricanes for the lowest touchdown percentage for any defense in the past eight seasons. BYU was the only opponent that scored a touchdown on all of its goal-to-go possessions against the Irish this season.
Run defense has been the key. The Irish allowed minus-5 total yards on 39 goal-to-go plays this season, the fewest yards and lowest average in the nation. Against the run, their opponents had minus-28 yards on 24 carries.
Opposing offenses were unable to gain any yards on 14 of those 24 carries (58.3 percent), the highest percentage for any FBS defense this season. Even more impressive, the Irish allowed only one rushing touchdown on a goal-to-go run. Every other team gave up at least three such touchdowns.
Alabama Offense This Season
Notre Dame’s defense will be challenged by an Alabama offense that leads the SEC with 124 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns in goal-to-go situations.
The Tide have scored at least two goal-to-go rush touchdowns in four straight games, the second-longest active streak in the nation.
They also have had success throwing the ball in these situations: six touchdowns in 13 attempts. Yet two of AJ McCarron’s three interceptions this season were at their opponents' goal line.
(For a visual explanation of Notre Dame's red zone defense, click here.)