BCS Championship 2013: Comparing Notre Dame and Alabama's QBs and RBs
With five weeks remaining until the heavily-anticipated national title tilt between Notre Dame and Alabama, I will begin a weekly breakdown of how the Irish and the Crimson Tide compare and contrast to one another at every position.
To kick off this series that goes inside the matchup between the nation’s top two teams, we will start by breaking down the backfields for both clubs.
For all of the talk about Brian Kelly’s unbeaten squad trying to end the SEC’s string of consecutive national title winners, his team and Nick Saban’s club are similar even in their differences.
Their backfields—which are diverse in style and personnel, yet equally as effective—serve as a shining example of what makes each club so tough to defend.
How do the backfields of the nation’s top two teams stack up against one another?
Find out in this feature comparing Notre Dame and Alabama’s quarterbacks and running backs.
A.J. McCarron and Everett Golson possess completely different skill sets, but they are respectively the perfect trigger-men for the offenses their head coaches prefer to run.
McCarron shed the game-manager label that hovered over his first year in charge at Alabama by leading a totally revamped offense to new heights and becoming one of the nation’s top field generals in 2012.
Meanwhile, Golson endured a season filled with ups and downs as a first-year starter, but the sophomore finished the year on a strong note and played a pivotal role in guiding the Irish to a perfect 12-0 record.
While McCarron is the clear-cut No. 1 option for Alabama, Notre Dame does have a pair of backups with significant game experience in juniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix.
McCarron has been the more efficient passer while Golson has proven to be the spark that Kelly has been searching for to lead his offense since he took over in South Bend three years ago.
Another similarity between the Tide and the Irish is that both teams possess and rely on a stable of backs that bring talent, versatility and playmaking ability to each offense.
Alabama’s duo of junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon have each topped the 1,000-yard barrier while averaging more than six yards per carry and accounting for 29 total touchdowns.
Notre Dame counters with a trio of backs headlined by seniors Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, with the former accounting for more than 1,200 yards of total offense and the latter averaging nearly seven yards per carry this season.
Sophomore George Atkinson III serves as the unit’s changeup, with his world-class speed providing this group with a home-run threat.
Alabama’s tandem of Lacy and Yeldon could rank as the nation’s best, but Golson could be the wild card considering his ability to make plays with his legs when he leaves the pocket.
Lacy gives Alabama a physical and bruising big back that can grind out tough yards between the tackles, but also is blessed with vision and a spin move that is so wicked it ought to be trademarked.
Yeldon defies logic considering that he’s only a true freshman and possesses a deadly combination of speed, vision and power packed into a 6’2”, 216-pound frame that can remain on the field on any down and distance.
The name of the game for Riddick is versatility—a theory best illustrated by the fact that he played primarily at wide receiver over the last two seasons before landing in the backfield in his senior season.
However, the senior has remained active in the passing game hauling in 35 passes and becoming an all-around threat that opposing defense must account for on every play.
Wood—the primary starter at running back for each of the previous two seasons—has provided a solid counter-punch as Riddick’s backup.
Alabama’s duo may win the name-recognition category, but the Irish have enough firepower to keep any defense they face on its toes.
Lacy’s biggest issue this season has been staying healthy, although that concern dissipated over the last stretch of the season where his numbers ascended in each of the last five games culminating with a MVP performance in the SEC title game.
Yeldon had a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter of a loss to Texas A&M, and he has had similar issues in games earlier in the season.
In the Tide’s narrow win over LSU and subsequent home loss to the Aggies in the following week, the ground game struggled in both games in part because of those two issues mentioned above. It could spell doom if either reoccurs against a stacked Irish front seven.
While Notre Dame has a variety of options to choose from in the backfield, the Irish don't have a traditional workhorse back that can take over a game against a defense like Alabama's.
Against the two teams (Stanford and Michigan State) the Irish faced this season with top 10 rushing defenses, Kelly’s ground attack was held roughly 65 yards below its season average of more than 202 yards per game, and Notre Dame averaged less than four yards per carry in those games.
With Alabama leading the nation in rush defense, the Irish will need a monster effort from the likes of Riddick and Wood to keep Alabama’s defense honest.
Keys for Defending Against Each Backfield
The Irish defense will face a challenge in trying to confuse a quarterback in McCarron who is completing nearly 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 26 touchdowns against only three interceptions this season.
Of course, pressure is necessary if they hope to coerce him into mistakes, and pass-rushers like Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Prince Shembo (24.5 sacks combined) will need to make their presence felt early and often.
Notre Dame has faced elite backs this season like Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, but the Tide’s duo will easily represent the biggest test the Irish will have lined up against this season.
Manti Te’o and his fellow linebackers have to swarm to the ball and wrap up against two backs that rarely go down on first contact.
For Alabama, the keys are similar—with its 3-4 defense resembling what the Irish will try to do by clogging the running lanes up front.
Golson will present some additional problems considering his mobility, and Alabama has had issues dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks in the past.
However, if the Tide are successful in slowing down the likes of Riddick and Wood, then they can force Golson to try to beat them with his arm.
In a game where points and yards are likely to be earned at a significant cost, both defenses have the ability to make things tough for the opposing backfields in this game.