First off, can someone please clarify this for me? Is it “Noh-TRA” Dame or “Noh-der” Dame?
Big game tonight. I bet you’ve heard about it. Two of college football’s all-time elite programs square off…it’s been some time since these two teams played, but even in their storied histories, there is some shared results.
The games played so far between these two teams have been largely dominated by the Fighting Irish. I expect that to change as of around 11:47pm EST time tonight.
When Alabama Has The Ball
Alabama and first year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have crafted one of the better years in recent Alabama memory numbers-wise, and most of that can be attributed to two things: a great offensive line and two fantastic running backs.
The offensive line, first and foremost, has literally paved the road this year for Alabama. Few teams can run like the Tide can, and do so while very rarely breaking runs to the outside as many teams now try to do. Alabama uses it’s offensive line to put a “hat on a hat” and create holes for their running backs to go through. Once past the first line of defense, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have made quick work of lighter-sized linebackers and defensive backs, with each player gaining over 1000 yards of rushing this year for the first time in Alabama history.
While these numbers are great, they might not’ve been possible had Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart not gone down in the early part of the year with knee injuries, forcing these two running backs to carry the load by themselves for the majority of the season. Lacy, who battled a turf toe injury at the end of last season that lingered on through fall practice, seemed to only get stronger as the season went on. And Yeldon is about as mature a true freshman player as you’ll see anywhere in the country.
Expect a game plan similar to how Alabama came out against LSU in last year’s title game…you’ll see AJ McCarron throw the ball to quick, timed routes and get in a good rhythm. Those expecting to see Lacy and Yeldon immediately start pounding it up the middle in the 1st quarter are going to be disappointed. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the Notre Dame defense is going to be expecting run, and try and adjust to the pass, because the other way around spells certain doom for them. So get McCarron in a good rhythm early then take some shots downfield. Then you’ll begin to see bigger and bigger holes open up for Lacy and Yeldon.
Notre Dame’s front seven are among the best in the country, of that I have no doubt, and with a month to prepare for the game, I’m sure they will give Saban and Nussmeier something to think about with disguised coverages and different blitz packages. But as the game wears on, I expect the Alabama offensive line to get stronger and stronger, and sooner or later, big holes will open up for Lacy and Yeldon.
X-FACTOR: For Alabama, the play of Michael Williams should be huge tonight. Not only is he a big target for McCarron to focus on early (remember how McCarron used Brad Smelley in last year’s title game), but he’s also the best blocking tight end Alabama has and will be counted on to block one of the linebackers, perhaps even Manti Te’o, the vaunted Heisman Trophy finalist.
When Notre Dame Has The Ball
Everett Golson, Notre Dame’s mobile (but not running) QB has made a good many plays for them this year, and they have a couple of good running backs as well in Riddick and Wood. I expect that Brian Kelly, giving a month to prepare, is going to try and put in a couple new looks for Alabama’s defense, because in all honesty, outside of All-American tight end Tyler Eifert, there aren’t a ton of skill players for Alabama to be overly concerned with.
Sure…Notre Dame’s offense has been consistent this year, but it’s far from eye-opening. They’re 75th in the country in passing yards, 29th in rushing yards, and 75th in points per game. So unless Notre Dame does come out in some new formations, there’s a lot to key on for Kirby Smart and Co.
And back to that whole “month to prepare” thing, expect Kirby Smart to do even more to disguise his coverages and blitz packages to further make it harder for Notre Dame to get it going on offense. Alabama’s linebacker package might end up shifting a good bit during the night, with CJ Mosley coming in to guard Eifert. Mosley is easily Alabama’s best cover-linebacker, and this could free up the defensive backs to key on the wide receivers alone, and maybe even play some zone which has been effective at times in hiding some of the inadequacies the secondary of Alabama sometimes show.
X-FACTOR: Golson, without a doubt, will make or break this game for Notre Dame. Alabama is going to come hard for this kid and make him beat Alabama. He’s mobile but not particularly fast or elusive like Johnny Manziel is. Golson can make some plays with his feet but don’t expect to see him running rampant in the Alabama secondary like Johnny Football did in November.
Notre Dame 10