Notre Dame vs. Alabama: 5 Keys to BCS Championship Victory for Fighting Irish
While Notre Dame's date with Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game is roughly one month away, it's never too early to dissect the X's and O's of this juicy matchup.
Both head coaches met earlier in the week in New York City at a press conference within the confines of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, and, as many would have guessed, they did nothing but offer up the obligatory praise of the other's team.
It was a strange exchange of words, but I'll return fans to normalcy here through a detailed explanation of what the Irish must do to earn a victory over the Tide.
5. Avoid Turnovers at All Costs
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Notre Dame's free fall to a disappointing 8-5 record last season was a direct result of a repugnant amount of turnovers; the Irish finished in the cellar of the FBS in turnover ratio at minus-1.15.
The 2012 season has been the polar opposite in terms of turnovers, as the Irish are currently tied for 21st nationally in turnover ratio at .75. That dramatic turnaround has also been a significant factor in the Irish's run to a 12-0 record and a spot in college football's most sacred game.
The Irish must continue to take excellent care of the football, for the Tide has gained 28 turnovers, while only coughing the ball up 12 times.
And against a defense that ranks second to only Notre Dame in points allowed, points will be at a premium, meaning the Irish must maximize each possession. I'll discuss that a little later.
4. Establish the Run Early
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To defeat the beast, run right at it. That must be the Irish's game plan early and often to develop an offensive balance against an Alabama defense that prides itself on stopping the run; the Tide ranks first nationally in rushing defense.
If Notre Dame is able to establish its running game with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood early, it'll open things up for quarterback Everett Golson.
In the Tide's lone loss this season, a 29-24 defeat at the hands of Texas A&M, the Aggies gave the Tide fits through their ability to run the football; Johnny Manziel, Ben Malena and Christine Michael combined for 165 rushing yards.
Their efforts, combined with Manziel's mobility, allowed Johnny "Football" to easily move the football through the air, as he completed 24 of 31 passing attempts for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
While Golson isn't as athletic or elusive as Manziel, he possesses enough mobility to have success against Alabama.
3. Get in A.J. McCarron's Head
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Along with a highly productive rushing attack, Alabama's success on the offensive side of the ball has been due in part to the safe, efficient play from quarterback A.J. McCarron.
The Mobile, Ala., native boasts a 66.8 completion percentage, and he has only thrown three interceptions.
McCarron has achieved those feats despite mediocre protection from his offensive line, which has allowed 23 sacks this season, good for a national ranking of 53rd in sacks allowed.
If the Notre Dame front seven can get into the backfield and knock McCarron around, the second-year starter may be prone to turning the football over.
2. Spread the Field
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Brian Kelly is known as an offensive coach who successfully implemented a high-octane spread offense in his previous job at Cincinnati.
His Irish teams haven't been as offensively inclined, yet Kelly still forces defenses to be honest by spreading the field wit his playmakers. The Irish boast a handful of such players, including tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receivers T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and DaVaris Daniels and running back/wide receiver Theo Riddick.
The Tide defense has been built to stop the run, so if the Irish are able to successfully spread the field while mixing both run and pass, a win will be in the books.
1. Stop the Run, Stop the Run, Stop the Run
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Alabama's offensive attack is quite simple. The Tide is going to run at you, run at you some more and keep running.
Nick Saban's squad boasts two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. It's a nearly unstoppable attack that is led by a monstrous offensive line featuring All-American center Barrett Jones.
To combat this Mack truck of an offensive attack, the Irish front seven must prove its mettle. Manti Te'o, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Co. must come out swinging and throw the first punch to set the tone for full 60 minutes of action on the turf at Sun Life Stadium.
The good news for that front seven is that it is the stingiest rushing attack the Tide will have seen all season.