As the BCS National Championship draws near, both programs have arrived in South Beach to begin final game prep. Both Brian Kelly and Nick Saban have their squads peaking at the right time in what hopes to be an epic title game clash.
With ample star power and must-see matchups across the board, B/R's Michael Felder digs deep inside the Irish and Tide's playbooks to bring fans the most in-depth breakdown of both teams.
Endless storylines make this heavyweight title bout one for the ages. Felder's unique insight into Alabama's and Notre Dame's game plans will give the insider feel you have always wanted.
Every team has its go-to play, and Notre Dame is no different. Felder takes an in-depth look at the bread-and-butter run look of the Fighting Irish: the zone run.
Entering this game, plenty of eyes will be on Barrett Jones versus Louis Nix III; people pumped for that should be equally excited for Braxston Cave squaring up against Jesse Williams. For all you SEC folks, Cave is no slouch, as he was a Rimington Trophy finalist and is one of the nation's top centers.
Williams, we all know, is the point man for this Alabama squad, and he has been phenomenal for much of the 2012 season. The big Australian is not easy to push off his mark, and that is where this battle will get interesting.
Cave (and Notre Dame's zone run) will not be tasked with moving Williams backward through drive-blocking. Rather, they will be looking to push the big nose tackle sideways.
P.J. Lonergan of LSU and, to a certain extent, David Andrews of Georgia were both able to move the bigger Williams off the point through zone-blocking. Will Cave be as successful as those two were when the national championship rolls around?
The Alabama Power-O run game has carried the Tide all year. This is the type of play that ultimately beat Georgia's defense into submission and made Jarvis Jones, the Dawgs' elite pass-rusher, look remarkably pedestrian against the run.
So, how does Notre Dame step up? What should you be looking for here?
On The Program, we get into the X's and O's of this key facet of the ballgame. Notre Dame is a team that likes to play tough, physical football, and the Crimson Tide's big strength is their offensive line and running game. Strength on strength always makes for an intriguing contest, and with these two teams, that is exactly what we have.
Expect the Irish defense to be physical. When we get down to it, this will be a facet of the game won by brute strength. The Tide can either make the block and open the hole, or they cannot. The Irish can either stone the blockers and clog up the middle, or they cannot.
It should be a fun one, folks. This is the type of football that people who appreciate defense and the power attack get out of bed hoping for every day.
If Alabama's defense increases zone looks, you will also see less speed-rushing to get after the quarterback and more controlled rushing to squeeze the pocket and contain Everett Golson. With zone in the back end and a controlled attack on the front end, look for Brian Kelly to attempt to create openings by moving the pocket.
Moving the pocket works because it provides seams in the defense for Golson to hit his targets.
Another facet to watch for in this ballgame will be more likely featured in the red zone, but it could be a factor anywhere on the field.
That is Tyler Eifert against Dee Milliner or any of the Crimson Tide defensive backs. Eifert is a 6'6" tight end who's very comfortable being flexed out in space.
Alabama can play its best possible coverage, and the 6'6" Eifert could still go up over Milliner and make a big play. Notre Dame has to remember it has Eifert as a weapon, and watching how the Irish use him will be an interesting chess match as Nick Saban battles the height issue.
Another way to create space in a defense is through play action. Notre Dame's bread and butter is the zone run. The Irish run zone read-option and stretch zone, and both of those plays make running play action easy.
Here is where Golson, the mobile threat, comes into play in a big way. Play action is great and really sells. However, run action is an even more deadly weapon with a mobile quarterback.
Since run action is even more effective where the mobile quarterback is concerned, if Golson can hit Alabama for a few critical runs—they don't have to be long or spectacular, just timely—then the run-action game can come into play.
Watch for Kelly to implement some of the run action early, after a few scrambles or designed quarterback keepers from Golson. It is a great way to create space for receivers down the field as linebackers and safeties try to play the run.
First-year starter Everett Golson brings a dynamic presence to the quarterback position, and that is the first thing that must be addressed when discussing the Irish's passing attack.
Golson is a pass-first quarterback who brings good arm strength, accuracy and delivery to the position. He also brings a little wiggle that allows him to extend plays with his legs and be a run threat. That's a key factor in how the Crimson Tide will play defense.
Another issue that's been made clear during the 2012 season? McCarron's shaky play in the red zone.
KeiVarae Russell versus McCarron is going to be one to see in the red zone. If Russell can make a Sanders Commings- or Deshazor Everett-type play against the Tide, then momentum can certainly be swung in the Irish's direction.
While running and stopping the run are going to be the bread and butter for Alabama, finding success through the air is a must. McCarron will need a few completions early to gain his confidence against an Irish secondary that has improved as the season has progressed.
Big plays can be had by both sides. Who do you think has the edge when Alabama is trying to throw the ball?
Alabama's big-play potential with the play-action pass is often overlooked. We've seen A.J. McCarron and Amari Cooper hook up deep with the help of play action, and for them to stretch the field against the Fighting Irish, they will have to do this more than once.
Obviously, D.J. Fluker's ability to block the Irish's defensive line is going to be something to watch.