Somewhere in the world, Alabama head coach Nick Saban is drawing up some of his most creative plays to catch Notre Dame off guard. The brilliant football mind is watching endless tape of the Irish and coming up with anything possible that will give his Crimson Tide the advantage.
These would be called gimmick plays to most football fans, but in reality, it is genius studying of his opponent and something that has made Saban so successful over the years. Anything that you expect from Saban and his football team come January, you should throw out of the window.
The most accomplished head coach of this generation wants to trick you. He wants to keep you on your toes and have your brain exploding with all of the possibilities that could be thrown at you next.
Now let's get things clear, Saban should never be confused with LSU head coach Les Miles. He isn't going to forget how much time is on the game clock and he certainly isn't going to call a fake field goal when his team has to go 12 yards. He isn’t that gutsy or reckless with the play-calling.
However, besides those few things that won't be included in the playbook, you can expect everything else to be thrown at the Irish in a game that is for all of the marbles. This is the time of the year when Saban gets creative and lets it all hang out.
Remember, this is the coach that decided to run a flea-flicker back in 2009 against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The play resulted in a 50-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, as it caught every Razorback defender off guard. Even though Jones was one of the best receivers in the country, everybody bit on the play design and it resulted in an easy score.
In the 2010 Capitol One Bowl, Julio Jones once again was involved in a very well-run end-around play that was taken 35 yards for a score. When watching the play, it is easy to see how the defenders get confused, but once everybody realizes what just happened, it is all too late.
These similar style plays can work against Notre Dame.
One reason is because you aren't really expecting it from a Saban-coached team. Although we have just examined a few tricky plays, this really isn't the type of stuff you usually see from Alabama.
Saban wants to stick with the power running game and wear the opposing defense down. He doesn't care that you know he is running the ball; he believes his guys are bigger and stronger than your guys and he is going to prove it each play. However, that also plays into the hands of the Crimson Tide.
Because you have to respect the running game so much, as it is currently ranked 16th in the country, you have to bite on play-action passes and flea-flicker plays that will eventually end up in the quarterback's hands.
If you don't follow T.J. Yeldon or Eddie Lacy to the outside, there is a chance you will get burned with a big play on the ground. If the safety doesn't cheat up into the box to help in the running game, Notre Dame will face a huge task in stopping this unit without an extra defender. That is a tall order considering the Crimson Tide has run for over 200 yards in eight games this year.
With the Irish defensive front possibly being one the few that is capable of holding its own against this unit, things tend to get even tougher when you have no clue what is going on. This may prompt Saban to dive into his wildcat package that he used so often when Mark Ingram was the superstar in the backfield.
Considering the Irish may have the talent and physicality to make things difficult for the Alabama running game, bringing out the "Wild Tide" would flip the advantage back to Saban and his troops. Taking quarterback A.J. McCarron off the field for a few plays would turn the running game into a one-on-one matchup across the board, just how Saban likes it. This would really be the ultimate test for Notre Dame.
Will we see any trick plays from Alabama?
You also have the surprise of McCarron throwing the ball more than usual. Last season, the starting quarterback only averaged 25.2 passes a game, which was 74th in the country. But in the national championship against LSU, Saban took the handcuffs off and allowed his signal-caller to toss the pigskin 34 times, which is tied for the most of his career.
Due to the element of surprise, McCarron finished the game with 234 passing yards and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes. Notre Dame fans are focused on stopping the powerful running game, but that youthful secondary may be a concern if Saban is preparing a similar approach in this year’s big game.
Whether Saban brings out the wildcat or abandons the run for long periods of time, you will be surprised during the national championship. Alabama is not going to play into the hands of Notre Dame; the coaching staff is going to make the Irish adjust to them.
It is the Saban way.