We can continue to talk about the coaches, players, different positions and the skills sets of both Alabama and Notre Dame. While all of that is fine and dandy, the BCS title game will come down to one thing and one thing only. The game will simply be won in the trenches, particularly when the Irish are on defense and the Crimson Tide are on offense.
The physicality and athleticism of the Alabama offensive line is the main reason many SEC fans think that team out in South Bend has no shot. It is a group of guys that line up and want to knock you in the mouth every play until you throw in the white flag by the fourth quarter. It is what Nick Saban and his guys have done ever since he took over this program, and we have seen it take place like clockwork.
The most recent display of this power unit was against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs have an offense that features many future NFL players, but Alabama didn't care about that. The team was still able to average 6.9 yards per carry and rack up 350 yards on the ground.
According to Lenn Robbins of the New York Post, head coach Mark Richt had no choice but to admit that his guys weren't prepared to slow down the Crimson Tide.
“They just lined up and knocked us off the ball,’’ Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Don't worry; it has happened to the best of them.
But this is where the defensive line of Notre Dame comes into play. A defense that is only allowing 92 yards a game on the ground has to feel like it has a chance to do a better job than Georgia. After all, this is the same defense that has only allowed two touchdowns on the ground all season, which is by far the fewest of any college football team this year.
Irish senior defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore talked to Robbins about the upcoming matchup.
“That’s something that great defenses pride themselves on is stopping the run and keep the ball out of the end zone.’’ Lewis-Moore said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup and we’re excited for it.’’
Tough indeed, but it will be the key to victory for either one of these programs.
It is no secret that Alabama is going to want to run the football. The 525 rushing attempts are not only the most in the SEC, but are good for 24th in the country. Even in last year’s national championship when quarterback A.J. McCarron surprised everyone and threw the ball 34 times, the team still ran the ball 35 times. That was only four fewer than the season average back in 2011.
No matter what trick plays and gimmicks Saban has up his sleeve, running the ball will remain the top priority. Why wouldn't it? When his team rushes for at least 150 yards, he is nearly unbeatable. In fact, in the 13 loses under coach Saban, 10 of those games have been when his team has failed to top the 150-yard mark on the ground. Out of the 67 victories, the ground game has topped 150 yards 52 times.
Notre Dame must make it its focus to stop or least slow down Alabama and its bread and butter. The team is committed to the running game like none other and is converting a little over 55 percent of its third downs running the football.
The defensive line of the Irish must get the best of the Alabama offensive line and make it tough sledding for the Alabama running backs. This would not only force McCarron to make plays with his arm, but it would ask him to make throws on long-distance downs.
When Alabama has to go seven-to-eight yards on third down, the junior quarterback has only picked up a first down six times on 23 pass attempts (26 percent). When there is at least 10 yards to go on third down, McCarron has picked up five first downs on 16 passes (31 percent).
Forcing Alabama to beat you with its passing game sounds much better than keeping Saban and his offense in third and short distances. When Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are facing third and short (1-3 yards), a first down has been earned 21-of-34 times, which comes out to 61 percent of the time.
It is obvious what has to be done for Notre Dame to win this game.
Notre Dame fans have to feel good knowing that their run defense has only allowed 61 first downs on 351 rush attempts all season. However, I think everybody can agree that it has yet to face a running game as talented, versatile or powerful as the one it will face in January.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how we match up against these guys,’’ said Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta.
So is the rest of the world.
Notre Dame hasn't given up much all season in the run game, and the Alabama offensive line hasn't found anybody that can slow them down. It will be a battle in the trenches that should be remembered for a long time.
It will also decide who wins the 2013 BCS national championship.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.