Alabama vs. Notre Dame: How Irish RBs Stack Up Against T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy
Both Alabama and Notre Dame are ranked in the top 30 in running the football. The ground game of both teams will be key in winning this year’s national championship and settling what should be a battle for the ages.
A combination of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon of the Crimson Tide will be used often in hopes of bringing Nick Saban his second straight national championship. But the Irish have a solid running game themselves with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood leading the way. Sure, the names aren't as popular with most college football fans, but these guys can get the job done.
Both teams have different style runners and use their guys completely different.
How does Notre Dame stack up against arguably the best one-two punch at running back?
Let's take a look.
Alabama RB Production
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Alabama is ranked 20th in the country in running the football, averaging 224 yards per contest. A combination of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon has produced more than 2,000 yards on the ground and has scored 27 rushing touchdowns.
Needless to say, this is once again Nick Saban's bread and butter on the offensive side of the ball.
There has been eight games this season where the Crimson Tide have cleared 200 rushing yards and 10 games where there have been at least two rushing touchdowns. In fact, there have been at least two touchdowns on the ground in the last eight games, which is simply incredible.
If a defense is planning on getting off the field against this Alabama team, it better be prepared to stop the running game. The team has run the ball 525 times, which is not only the most in the SEC, but is the 24th most in the entire country.
Even though quarterback A.J. McCarron has improved his play, this is obviously still a run-first offense.
Notre Dame RB Production
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Notre Dame doesn't have a 1,000-yard rusher, but is ranked 28th in the country in rushing yards. Thanks to a running back by committee, the Irish have three players that have topped 300 rushing yards and are averaging five yards a carry as a team.
Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood do majority of the heavy lifting, as they have combined for 1,620 yards and scored nine touchdowns. George Atkinson III is somebody that doesn't receive as much shine, but should, as he is averaging more than seven yards a carry and has scored five touchdowns on only 51 touches.
As a team, Notre Dame has topped 200 rushing yards seven times and has scored at least one touchdown on the ground in every game except one.
What makes things interesting is that the playbook is about as balanced as it can get, with the Irish picking up 124 first downs running the ball and 125 first downs in the air.
The 4.99 yards per carry average is the most Notre Dame has seen in over a decade.
What Backs Bring to Alabama Running Game
If you have ever watched Alabama football before, you know that the team is just going to lineup and try to run it down your throat.
There isn't anything tricky with what the Crimson Tide do. They usually line up in a I-formation, show you that they are going to run the ball and then proceed to show you that you can't stop it no matter how hard you try.
Eddie Lacy is a man-child that will run you over if you don't get out of his way. While he does have a little bit of underrated athleticism, he is a stocky runner that isn't afraid of contact and knocking you backwards.
But Alabama has always had the powerful runner that is capable of becoming the workhorse. What makes this year’s team even better is that there is finally that home run threat in true freshman T.J. Yeldon.
The first-year player is the guy that wants to get out in the open field and see how many defenders he can make miss. His vision of the field, elusiveness and his ability to hit another gear once he gets in space is top-notch.
He has added the speed factor to the Alabama running game that it hasn't seen in quite sometime. This makes the running game more complete.
What Backs Bring to Notre Dame Running Game
Unlike Alabama, Notre Dame will show you many different looks that include a spread offense and an I-formation. The combination of running backs isn’t as versatile as the guys on the Alabama roster, but they are capable of contributing in more ways than one.
It doesn't matter which back you would like to pick, whether it is Riddick, Wood or Atkinson, they all lack great size. This makes taking a pounding difficult for the coaching staff and forces them to use the backs in different ways to avoid constant collisions.
Out of all three backs, there have only been two times all season where one of them has received at least 20 carries.
With that said, you have to know where every one of these guys is on the field at all times. They want to spread the defense out and get these shifty backs in space.
They don't just run the ball between the tackles and try to kick it to the outside; you may see one of these backs line up at wide receiver. Screen plays are also popular, and a Wildcat package is not completely out of the question.
Riddick is fourth on the team with 35 receptions, while Wood has also shown the ability to finish the year with 20-plus catches.
All of these guys lack the size you would like to see, but all have speed and are capable of doing different things on the football field.
Which Two-Headed Monster Do You Want?
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While you can't go wrong with either group of running backs, there is no way I am picking against Alabama.
The reason is because of the versatility between the two guys on the field. I have my home run hitter in Yeldon, but also have the workhorse in Lacy that can run between the tackles and wear down a defense over time. With Notre Dame, while all are talented, the traits are pretty much the same in every running back.
The Irish don't have that physical runner that can bring home the victory late in the fourth quarter. So while Notre Dame is averaging 4.3 yards on the ground and scored five touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Alabama is averaging over five yards and has scored 10 touchdowns.
Speaking of touchdowns, the combination of Lacy and Yeldon has produced more touchdowns on the ground (27) than Notre Dame has an entire team. (22)
Because of the versatility between the running backs and the overall production, the Alabama running game has a key advantage over Notre Dame.