Alabama vs. Notre Dame 2013: How the Fighting Irish Can Keep It Close

Marques EversollAnalyst IJanuary 7, 2013

Manti Te'o may be the best player on the field tonight.
Manti Te'o may be the best player on the field tonight.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are heavy favorites to win a second consecutive national championship on Monday night.

Alabama is a 9.5-point favorite over the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Senior linebacker Manti Te'o leads the nation's top scoring defense, but the Irish have yet to face a team as complete as Alabama.

In order for Notre Dame to keep this game close and prevent it from getting out of hand, the Irish will need to execute a carefully designed game plan and eliminate mistakes.

Throughout the course of the regular season, Notre Dame freshman quarterback Everett Golson completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He's a capable passer and a threat to extend plays with his legs.

When Golson is playing well and taking care of the football, the Irish are tough to beat. But if Alabama's aggressive defense suffocates Golson with pressure and forces him into making poor decisions, this game could get ugly.

Just a freshman on the biggest stage in college football, Golson has his work cut out for him against a defense that allows an average of just 246 total yards per game. Golson will try to move the chains with his arm and with his legs, thus milking the clock and keeping the ball away from a dangerous Alabama offense.

When Alabama has the ball, the Irish must focus on preventing quarterback AJ McCarron from making big plays.

A lot will be made about Alabama's hard-nosed running game on the shoulders of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. But if McCarron can push the ball downfield and score points early, the playing field will be tilted heavily towards Alabama.

But if the Irish are able to contain McCarron and the Alabama passing game, this game could be close late into the fourth quarter.

McCarron had his only multi-interception game in Alabama's only loss of the season to Texas A&M. In that game, McCarron completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 309 yards but threw just one touchdown compared to two interceptions.

The week before against LSU, Alabama narrowly escaped with a victory as McCarron struggled. His 115.4 passer rating was his lowest of the season. Against Georgia in the SEC Championship, McCarron and the Crimson Tide again narrowly escaped with a victory.

In Alabama's only loss and two close wins, McCarron played statistically his worst three games of the season. This team goes how McCarron goes, and junior cornerback Bennett Jackson will certainly try to lock down the Crimson Tide offense on the perimeter.

Jackson's four interceptions are good for second on the team, trailing only Te'o. But the matchup between McCarron and the Notre Dame defense will go further than just the secondary.

Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt leads the team with 11 sacks. If he's able to beat this strong Alabama offensive line, he'll make his defensive backs look a lot better as McCarron has less time to throw the ball.

If the Irish can stop McCarron from making plays, they may have a formula to keep this game close.