Notre Dame Football: Key X-Factors in Upsetting Alabama
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Manti Te'o. Everett Golson. Tyler Eifert. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me about the players who really matter.
OK, Notre Dame's top individual players certainly don't deserve the coldest of shoulders like that, but if the Irish are going to knock off Alabama in the national championship, they will need more than the stars to step up.
The Crimson Tide are, after all, 10-point favorites. No one man can beat them by himself.
So let's take a look at some under-the-radar players who must step up January 7 in Miami.
George Atkinson III
In what is expected to be a defensive battle, it's often a big kick return or long play from scrimmage that makes all the difference.
Perhaps no other player is more capable of doing both those things than George Atkinson III.
The speedy—like, Speedy Gonzalez speed—Atkinson doesn't always make an impact but he usually gets around five or six touches per game, and he's a threat to take it to the house on every one.
As a running back, the dynamic sophomore is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. As a kick returner, 20.7 per return.
The holes won't be huge against 'Bama, but if Atkinson can make one man miss, he has the speed to out-run anyone—even a defense full of NFL prospects like this one.
Louis Nix III
Because I've decided to only include guys with Roman numerals in their names.
Really, though, the junior is really listed here because he will be huge in slowing down Alabama's biggest strength: the run game.
The Crimson Tide boast two of the best running backs in the country in Eddie Lacy and T.J Yeldon. Combined, they have 2,182 yards on 6.46 yards per carry. Part of that is the fact they are insanely talented (especially Yeldon), but part of it is they are running behind three potential first-round picks in Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker.
If anyone is going to break down that line and slow down 'Bama's run game, it's Nix. The big nose tackle has 45 tackles (5.5 for loss) on the season and has been integral in Notre Dame's top-10 rush defense.
Still, this unit is unlike any he's faced.
Is there anyway that this game doesn't end 17-14 or 13-10 or 20-17 or something that will undoubtedly anger most fans?
Will this one come down to the kickers?
If that's the case, the BCS National Championship will in fact come down to the kickers.
Should that happen, the Irish have the advantage. Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster have combined to go 15-of-20 this year while Brindza has connected at a similar percentage of 74.2.
But Notre Dame's sophomore has had much more in-game practice. He's attempted a nation-leading 31 field goals and knocked in 23 of them.
That kind of experience will come in handy if he's forced to make the biggest kick of his career.
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