How Oklahoma, Notre Dame pull off upsets

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  • Tom LuginbillESPN Analyst


    • Senior National Recruiting Analyst for
    • Coached in four professional football leagues
    • Graduated from Eastern Kentucky and Marshall

Notre Dame and Oklahoma are two-score underdogs in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Clemson and Alabama, respectively. And on paper, it’s warranted. The Sooners and Irish must get creative on offense and win the matchup battles in space and create a numbers advantage at the point of attack.

Notre Dame has to score points, as Clemson is too good to keep out of the end zone. The Irish are 49th in rushing offense (190 yards per game) and Clemson sits stoutly at No. 3 in rush defense, giving up a measly 92 yards per game and 2.4 yards per rush. It has a front loaded with NFL talent leading the charge. The Irish need to push the ball downfield and rely on the arm and accuracy of quarterback Ian Book, who is fourth nationally in completion percentage. They also need to isolate their playmakers one-on-one and exploit the Tigers’ secondary, which has shown vulnerability. Notre Dame has the height and athleticism to win on the perimeter pass and the speed inside to win up the seam.

For Oklahoma, the task against the Tide might prove more difficult, but it is playing with the most explosive weapon in college football. The Sooners need to create offensive balance with their Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. His dynamic skill set and ability to run will set up explosive downfield pass plays. The Sooners essentially need to make Alabama account for Murray as a runner to bring more defenders into the box and fewer defenders in coverage for the most efficient passer in the Power 5.

Oklahoma’s key to an upset: QB run

Alabama’s kryptonite has often been an athletic QB who is used as a designated runner. It allows for a more even playing field, as Bama traditionally dominates against the run when numbers are even. In-game adjustments to QB run alignments on an every-down basis is a daunting task.

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