Notre Dame Football: How David (the Irish) Can Slay Goliath (Alabama)
I'm usually not one for mixing football and biblical prose—especially when it pertains to Notre Dame—and absolutely not at this time of the year. For this game, however, the comparison seems valid.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have managed to navigate a tough slate of games this season, and have come away completely unscathed. They have played their way into the BCS Championship game as the only eligible undefeated and unanimous No. 1 team in the land.
They will arrive at Sun Life Stadium in Miami as a 10-point underdog to No. 2 Alabama who, despite a loss and a couple of close calls, remains as a team that many view as an insurmountable challenge for Notre Dame to overcome.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are a force to be reckoned with. The defending national champions bring in a punishing running game, a steady-handed junior quarterback who makes few mistakes and a steel wall of a defense that is second to only that of the Irish.
Alabama will not beat themselves, and they will force the Irish to earn every yard they gain.
What is more, the Tide have been there before. They are a fixture in the BCS, and have now played in three of the last four national title games. They are experienced in every way after having been battle tested on the biggest stage and emerging victorious on each occasion.
Notre Dame, in contrast, is rather inexperienced on the grand stage. Notre Dame brings in the nation's top-ranked scoring defense (surrendering only 10.3 points per game) but they will also bring a redshirt freshman quarterback, shaky special teams, and youth at wide receiver into the contest.
Many view Notre Dame as bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Most believe that Notre Dame will be merely another speed bump in the path to the yet another national championship team from the SEC.
If there is a path for the Irish, a plan to slay the beast that is Alabama has been laid out for them.
On Saturday, November 10, Texas A&M went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and handed the then No.1-ranked Crimson Tide their only loss of the season.
The Aggies beat the Tide with a mobile young quarterback who was able to extend plays, beat the defensive ends to the edge, and not make mistakes.
Heisman winner and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel connected on 24-of-31 throws for 253 yards and a pair of scores. He also carried the ball 18 times for 92 yards. Most importantly, he did not commit a turnover.
In the game, Alabama out-gained the Aggies in terms of total yardage 431-418, but committed an uncharacteristic three turnovers that even they were unable to overcome.
For Notre Dame, the chances of beating the Tide begin and end with their young signal-caller, Everett Golson.
Golson has to be elusive in the pocket and smart outside of it. He cannot make mistakes and cannot force the ball down field. He has to walk the tightrope of being a playmaker and being his team's spark without forcing the issue and committing turnovers.
Golson has to break the pattern that the Irish have displayed for most of the year—racing into the red zone then settling for a field goal attempt.
Beyond Golson, head coach Brian Kelly must implement an offensive gameplan to take the pressure off the defense.
It is possible to run on Alabama—as the Aggies gained 165 on the ground, LSU gained 139, and Georgia rumbled for 113—so Alabama's plan will be to stack the box, stop the inside runs of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick and make Golson beat them. They will also blanket Tyler EIfert and make Golson find other receivers to move the ball.
It will be up to him to do it.
Apart from Golson, all other "how to win" rules apply: run the ball, stop the run, win the turnover battle and play solid on special teams.
Defensively, the Irish will be tasked with stopping the powerful duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, who each average more than six yards per carry and have combined for 2,182 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The Tide rank 19th in rushing (224.6 yards per game), 85th in passing (214.5 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (10.7 points per game).
The Irish fall at 28th in terms of rushing (202.5 yards per game), 77th in passing (218.8 yards per game) and first in scoring defense (10.3 points per game).
Who will win the National Championship?
Notre Dame faced a tougher path to the title game, and the Irish have to hope that the battle scars earned through a difficult regular season can equal the experience and toughness that Alabama will bring.
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