Here are some early Next Level stats from ESPN Stats & Information for the Discover BCS National Championship between No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) and No. 2 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC):
Alabama is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on designed running plays this season, the highest average in the SEC. On these runs, the Tide are averaging an SEC-best 4.2 yards before contact. They have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 35.1 percent of their designed runs.
Alabama runs downhill with 67.4 percent of its designed running plays coming between the tackles. The Tide average 6.6 yards per carry on such running plays with about one in every five attempts going for at least 10 yards.
On designed running plays, Alabama averaged 9.0 yards per rush inside the tackles against Georgia, its second-highest average in a game this season. The Tide have averaged over 7 yards per attempt on such plays since the loss to Texas A&M. Speaking of the loss to the Aggies, Alabama finished that game with a season-low 66 yards on designed runs inside tackles.
Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation against Georgia. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.
AJ McCarron has completed 70.8 percent of his passes this season with two or more tight ends in the formation, including eight of nine attempts against Georgia in the SEC Championship. With this personnel grouping, McCarron has five touchdowns, including his 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper against Georgia, and no interceptions.
McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off play action this season. That is six more than he had all of last season. He has not thrown an interception off play action since the loss to LSU last November. That was the only game in McCarron’s career that he had more interceptions than touchdowns off play action.
McCarron has attempted 56.6 percent of his first-down passes off play action this season. Nine of his 11 play-action touchdowns have come on first down.
McCarron is completing over 60 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, an increase of more than 25 percentage points from last season. Play action has been the key. McCarron is completing 76.2 percent of such passes off play action this season, including eight of his 11 touchdowns.
Alabama and Notre Dame rank 1-2 in the nation in scoring defense this season. The Tide have allowed the fewest yards per game (246.0) and plays that have gained 10 yards or more (105). The Irish, on the other hand, have given up the fewest touchdowns (10) and allowed the lowest percentage of opponent’s possessions to end in a touchdown (6.9).
Notre Dame’s defense excels at limiting touchdowns. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions this season, the lowest percentage for any FBS defense in the last eight seasons. The second-lowest percentage was last season’s Alabama team that produced six defensive players selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Red-zone defense has been key for the Irish. They have allowed a touchdown on 24.2 percent of their opponents’ red-zone drives, the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons. Overall, Irish opponents have eight touchdowns and five turnovers in 33 red-zone possessions.
Alabama has allowed the fewest yards per game (246.0) and rush yards per game (79.8) in the nation this season. The key has been limiting yards big plays. The Tide have allowed the fewest plays (105) and rushes (27) that have gained 10 yards or more.
Alabama has scored 160 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and the fourth most in FBS. The Tide have given up 23 points off turnovers, tied with South Carolina for the fewest in the SEC and the third fewest in FBS.
Notre Dame has given up eight touchdowns in 33 red-zone possessions (24.2 percent) this season, including one in four possessions against USC. That is the lowest touchdown percentage for any FBS defense in the last eight seasons. The key has been great defense in goal-to-go situations. The Irish have allowed -5 total yards on 39 such plays, the fewest yards and average in the nation.
Notre Dame’s defense will be challenged by an Alabama offense that leads the SEC with 124 rush yards and 24 rush touchdowns in goal-to-go situations. The Tide have also had success throwing the ball in these situations with six touchdowns in 13 attempts. Yet, two of McCarron’s three interceptions this season were in goal-to-go.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has completed at least two-thirds of his passes from inside the pocket in each of his last three games. It is the longest such streak in his career. Golson has four touchdowns and no interceptions during the three games. That matches his touchdown total from the pocket in his first eight games of the season.
Golson completed 10 of 16 passes thrown 10 yards or longer against USC. It was his third straight game in which he completed at least 60 percent of such passes. Before this stretch, Golson had never completed 60 percent of his 10-yard throws in two consecutive games.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed 7-of-14 passes thrown 15 yards or longer against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Murray’s seven completions were the most such passes completed against the Tide in the last three seasons. Georgia was the third straight FBS team and the fourth in the last five games to complete at least half of its passes thrown 15 yards or longer against Alabama. Before this stretch, no team had completed half of such passes in a game against Alabama since Cam Newton did it in the 2010 Iron Bowl.