The key to the Irish winning this game is to slow the running game of Alabama, which few teams have been successful doing this season. If there is one team capable of doing it, it’s Notre Dame, and here’s why.
Alabama’s offensive line is the best in the nation, even with an injured Barrett Jones (expected to play). Much of the success the Tide has had on the ground this year is because of this massive lines ability to knock opposing d-linemen off the ball and get to the 2nd level. When they can do this to a defense, it makes life easier for the powerful Eddy Lacy and elusive TJ Yeldon, leading to results like the 350yds rushing they had against Georgia. Don’t forget, the Bulldogs had Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree (heading to the NFL) and Bama still managed to gash the dogs on the ground.
There is no doubt that if the Irish want this game, Golson and the Irish offense will have to make a play or two, but the same holds true for AJ Mcarron and the Bama offense. This will come down to the Irish D-lines ability to handle the push from Barrett Jones, Cyrus Kouandjio, Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen and DJ Fluker.
It all starts with the matchup between NT Louis Nix III and center Barrett Jones. I would pay good money to see these two face-off for a little “Bull In The Ring” and that’s basically what its going to look like for much of the game. Jones gives up about 24lbs to Nix and will surely have his hands full. Nix ability to clog the middle gaps will play a vital role in Te’o and the rest of the Irish LB’s being able to slow Lacy and Yeldon.
On the outside, Kouandjio and Fluker present their own set of issues. DJ Fluker is 6-6 and 335lbs and is about as athletic as possible at that size; Kouandjio is a little less huge at 6-6, 311lbs. The Irish defensive ends aren’t exactly undersized themselves however, with both going well over 6ft and about 305lbs. Both Tuitt and Lewis-Moore present a tough matchup for Fluker and Kouandjio and with Diaco moving them around, it will be tough for the Tide to get a beat on either guy. With Tuitt’s versatility, he can also be moved into the d-tackle position when Prince Shembo puts creeps up to the line of scrimmage. The combination of size, speed and strength the Irish bring up front should keep the Bama offensive line occupied long enough to allow the rest of the Irish defense to fly to the ball like they have all season.
Slowing the run game may force Bama to commit to the pass a little more than they might like too, and this could be where the game is won. The top 3 sack leaders for Alabama are all linebackers and it’s well documented that they don’t have a true pass rusher. Notre Dame does with Stephon Tuitt and his 12.5 sacks. If both defenses are able to slow the run game, the Irish have the advantage because of their ability to rush the quarterback, allowing their linebackers to drop into pass coverage. Neither secondary is stellar, but there is reason to have faith in the young secondary for the Irish and they will have plenty of help if ND can get pressure without blitzing too often.
Pressure on AJ McArron would disrupt timing in the passing game and could force a couple turnovers. Alabama has only thrown 3 interceptions all season, but 2 of them came in a loss to Texas A&M and the other in a nail biter against LSU. The Irish have 16 interceptions on the season and many of these can be credited to their ability to rush the passer.
At the end of the day, this game will come down to the offensive and defensive lines for both teams. If you thought the Stanford game was physical, you haven’t seen anything yet. Outside of the Florida Gators; Notre Dame and Alabama are two of the most physical teams in the country. Watching the best front seven in college football take on the best O-line will be fun. When it’s all said and done, however, the Irish have the edge because a great front seven almost always beats a great offensive line…right? GO IRISH!