Both Notre Dame and Alabama enter the BCS Championship Game featuring stellar defenses. Those units are going to have to help pull their teams to victory by stopping the oppositions' offenses. On The Program, we've hit on both the Alabama Power-O and the Notre Dame Zone Run as run plays that the opponent must stop.
If you're Alabama, winning this game will be built on a very simple foundation: stopping the zone, the zone-read and the Tyler Eifert in the red zone.
Yes, Notre Dame has more weapons than just those three plays. Yes, they have players like TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels that can come up big for the offense. However, if you cannot stop the zone, zone-read and the Eifert jumpball, then Notre Dame will have their way with you.
Each of these plays can be stopped with a simple solution. They are not complex, unique or even foreign plays that the Tide have not yet seen. In fact, their defense has seen all of these plays through the course of the season and had success against them.
They have also failed against these plays, most notably the zone run against LSU and Georgia. With that in mind, stopping the zone should be job one for the Crimson Tide. That means the front-seven, as they are built to do, has to get ready for a fistfight.
As Jeremy Hill shows us, a well-executed zone run can go for big yards against the Crimson Tide. For the Tide, they need to make sure that discipline, gap integrity and fighting to hold their ground are the name of the game.
Shutting down the zone run is not as simple as getting penetration and disrupting the play. Rather, it is about staying in your lanes and not giving ground as the linemen look to run you side-to-side. Every player has a lane to fill, and as long as that lane gets filled, the running back has to look elsewhere for his success.
Michigan State, even in a loss, was a team that had a good showing stopping the zone run early against the Irish.
Tyler Eifert motions across the formation into the backfield to give the Irish an extra blocker to help seal the edge.
As the play starts, you will see the defense slide into their responsibilities, holding their point and not giving ground.
You'll notice the linebacker filling the hole that Notre Dame was able to open, and giving Cierre Woods no options. Throw in the edge defender bringing down his neck and things are not good for the Irish.
Which all leads to a tackle for a loss and a successful play for the Spartans. This is the type of responsibility that Alabama has to take to the field on a play in and play out basis. Luckily for the Tide, this is something that Nick Saban's defense possess, discipline.
Unfortunately, for the Crimson Tide the zone run becomes more complicated as the Irish work in their next bread and butter play: the zone-read. The offensive line, aside from the play-side guard, takes the same zone approach to the play, and then Everett Golson has the option to give to the running back, or keep it and attack the defense himself.
As you can see in the first play against Oklahoma, the zone-read can create issues as the defense fights to maintain leverage and stop the zone run. Everything is flowing one direction, then the play-side guard pulls and helps lead the quarterback up the field into a vacated area.
For Alabama, this is not new. They saw this against Texas A&M, and in recent seasons they have seen it extensively in contests against Auburn and LSU. They also gameplanned to shut it down against Michigan to kickoff the year. It is not a foreign concept.
Stopping this play is about staying at home, not selling out to stop the zone run and playing more disciplined football.
Here is Stanford, a team that, like Alabama, plays a 3-4 base defense.
The line blocks for the zone and Stanford's front three, plus their play-side linebacker flow to gap responsibilities to stop the zone run. Notice Oregon uses the wing back as the lead blocker, instead of pulling a guard for the keep option.
Staying at home is key and Stanford does just that. They have their backside player ready to attack Mariota, but notice the linebacker also staying home.
Ben Gardner, No. 49, attacks Marcus Mariota, forcing the issue.
Gardner misses the tackle, but because Shayne Skov stayed at home, he is there to make the tackle.
That's a successful job of stopping the zone-read.
Both the zone and zone-read are plays that Alabama can stop. They play a very disciplined scheme where every player does their job and makes their fits where they must. Yes, there will be plays where Jesse Williams gets moved off the point or where Adrian Hubbard pursues to fast and zones or zone-reads gain yards. That said, Alabama is well equipped to stop both of these Notre Dame go-to plays.
Which brings us to the play that no one is really "built to shut down" in college football: Tyler Eifert's red zone passes.
Eifert is 6'6", and he can elevate with the best of them. He's a big body that presents a mismatch for corners and for safeties. He's fast enough to run away from linebackers. The reigning Mackey Award winner is fully setup to be unstoppable. The worst part is you can cover him down perfectly but—because of height, ability to high point the ball, the body to block defenders out and great hands— he is still open.
Alabama's best corner, Dee Milliner is giving up five inches to Eifert. Deion Belue, the guy most teams have picked on, is giving up seven. This facet of the game is going to be something to watch. All Alabama's coaches and fans can expect out of Milliner, Belue plus safeties Robert Lester and Vinnie Sunseri, is for them to fight when the ball is in the air.
In speaking to how to defend it, the best move is to get your hands between Eifert's hands and as he tries to bring the ball down, rake that sucker out. If worst comes to worst, don't be afraid of the fifteen yard pass interference penalty.
Both Alabama and Notre Dame are set to play a great game. Job one for Alabama will be stopping the zone, the zone-read and Tyler Eifert. It is not going to be easy, but when a title is on the line, stopping the opposition's strengths is a must.