Alabama Football: Analyzing Crimson Tide's Blueprint to National Championship
Because there is still over a month remaining before the Alabama Crimson Tide take on Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship, the team's preparation will be far different than it has been for any other game.
Buoyed by top-notch coaches, this full month of work will give both Nick Saban and Brian Kelly ample time to prepare. That means it will all come down to execution on Jan. 7. One squad won't be coming in with any momentum, and it's unlikely that any unforeseen injuries will crop up.
Simply put, the winner will be better coached and will execute better on the field. With that in mind, here is a look at what the Crimson Tide must do to take down the Irish and repeat as national champions.
Dominate the Line of Scrimmage
The best positional matchup between these two teams won't show up anywhere on an individual stat sheet. Instead, we'll have to look at the skill position numbers to see whether the Notre Dame front seven or the Alabama offensive line won the battle that could decide the national championship.
Obviously, the Irish are led by their defense and linebacker Manti Te'o. However, the Heisman candidate certainly hasn't done it all himself, either. Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt have both been scintillating off the edge, combining for 18 sacks on the season.
And with other top-tier veterans littering the linebacking corps, it's almost unquestionable that Notre Dame has the best front seven in the nation.
However, Alabama may possess one of the best offensive lines in college football history. Led by Lombardi Award nominee Barrett Jones, the Tide start four upper-classmen, with 5-star sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio as the only starter who can't get served at a local pub.
With two or three possible All-Americans adorning the line, defensive pressure has almost been at a standstill all season.
How those great players fare against Notre Dame's also-fantastic defensive line and linebackers will ultimately hold the key to Alabama's offensive performance.
Don't Allow SEC Championship Game to Dictate Offensive Game Plan
On that offensive note, it's not hard for Tide fans to be wary of A.J. McCarron after his performance against Georgia. The junior signal-caller completed 13-of-21 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown against an interception. But those final numbers are not indicative enough of his struggles.
Far more indicative is the fact that Alabama essentially abandoned the pass in the second half. After throwing the ball 14 times in the first 30 minutes, McCarron tossed just seven passes in the final two quarters, including only three in the fourth.
Rather than throwing the ball, the Tide pounded the rock to the tune of 45 carries for T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, going charging down the field in the process.
That won't work against Notre Dame. Even if the Alabama O-Line does a masterful job, the nation's third-best run defense and best scoring defense isn't going to fall off a cliff.
Instead, it's going to take a far more balanced approach. It's a very relative weakness, but the Irish did allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 59.4 percent of their passes this season. Even though it almost never resulted in touchdowns, check-downs with McCarron on the outside could help free Yeldon and Lacy in the middle.
Lest we forget that it was McCarron who was the hero of last season's national championship game.
Force Everett Golson to Make Freshman Mistakes
After being embroiled in a bit of a quarterback controversy with Tommy Rees in the middle of the season, Everett Golson has emerged as a late-season star for the Irish.
In the past four games, Golson has averaged 247.5 passing yards and has thrown for seven touchdowns against just two interceptions. It goes without saying that he's come a long way from his dreadful performance against Michigan, where he threw for just 30 yards and two interceptions on eight pass attempts.
Nevertheless, the potential for implosion is there. Golson is still a redshirt freshman quarterback who will be playing in the biggest game of his life on Jan. 7. What's more, here is a little more evidence to satiate the Tide's thirst for blood:
Golson's Stats vs. Ranked Opponents (four games): 42-of-89 (47.2 percent), 526 yards (131.5 average), 2 TDs, 2 INT
Golson's Stats vs. Unranked Opponents (seven games): 124-of-193 (64.2 percent), 1,609 yards (229.86 average), 9 TDs, 3 INT
Based on the evidence that we have, the Tide will have their opportunities to fluster Golson. As always, taking advantage of those chances will be critical.
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