Two of the most biggest programs in college football square off on Monday night, to determine the National Championship. Undefeated and top ranked Notre Dame tangles with second ranked and defending National Champions Alabama in Miami. While Alabama is looking to repeat as champions, Notre Dame is seeking their first National title since 1988.
This is a matchup that features the two best defences in the nation, so points will be at a premium. It also features players that could go very high in the upcoming NFL draft. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Alabama centre Barrett Jones are both projected to go in the top 5 in the draft, so expect plenty of scouts to keep a close eye on this one.
When Alabama Has The Ball:
There was talk earlier in the season that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was in the running for the Heisman. However, individual awards weren’t in the plans for the junior signal caller. McCarron did have a quality season for the Tide, completing 66.8% of his pass attempts for 2,669 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. McCarron’s decision-making in the pocket has improved dramatically from last season. He doesn’t force the ball, and has learned to throw the ball away, when there is nobody open.
The running game will feature a thunder and lightning combination of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy supplies the power, as his 6’1, 220 pound frame is extremely difficult to bring down. Lacy led the Tide in rushing, gaining 1,182 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns on the ground. Yeldon provides the speed in the backfield. He is excellent at hitting the holes the offensive line gives him, and can break it outside the tackles. Yeldon gained 1,000 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground.
McCarron’s main target in the passing game is Amari Cooper. The freshman from Miami enjoyed a solid season, with 53 receptions for 895 yards and 9 touchdowns. The big question mark is the health of receiver Kenny Bell. The junior wideout broke his leg against Auburn six weeks ago, and is uncertain on whether he can play on Monday. If Bell can play, he will open up passing lanes for Alabama, as he can stretch the secondary with his speed. It would also force Notre Dame to take away focus on Cooper, and force the Irish to pay attention to Bell.
The critical matchup will be the front seven of the Irish versus the massive Alabama offensive line. Notre Dame’s defensive front has been dominant this season, led by linebacker Manti Te’o. The senior linebacker from Hawaii led the Irish with 113 tackles, while recording 7 interceptions. Te’o is virtually all over the field, using his speed and intelligence to snuff out plays. His ability to go sideline to sideline is making every NFL scout drool with excitement. Te’o is the unquestioned leader of the Notre Dame defence, and he will be called upon to make big plays on the defensive side of the football.
Alabama’s O-Line will be up for the challenge. Centre Barrett Jones should be ready to go despite being bothered by a foot injury. The 2011 Outland Trophy winner can play all 5 positions on the O-Line and is a steamroller when he gets going. Jones is vital to Alabama’s running game, as he can create huge holes for the likes of Lacy and Yeldon. Since Te’o lines up on the outside, it will be a surprise if these two actually meet up, but the overall matchup will be fascinating to watch.
When Notre Dame Has The Ball:
Their is a copious amount of pressure on freshman quarterback Everett Golson. The native of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina enjoyed an excellent first season in South Bend, completing 58.9% of his pass attempts for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. Golson also has a penchant for running with the football, gaining 305 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns on the ground. Golson doesn’t have the strongest arm, but his mobility and decision-making are above average.
The strength of Notre Dame’s offence is their running game. While not possessing a 1,000 yard rusher, the Irish have three different options in the backfield. Senior Theo Riddick led the team with 880 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. Senior Cierre Wood gained 740 yards and scored 4 touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore George Atkinson III gained 361 yards and scored 5 touchdowns, despite being used only in third down situations.
In the passing game, tight end Tyler Eifert is the favourite target of Golson. The senior from Fort Wayne, Indiana led Notre Dame with 44 receptions for 624 yards and 4 touchdowns. Wideout T.J. Jones recorded 43 receptions for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns. One problem is that Notre Dame doesn’t have a true deep threat. So expect a short, conservative passing game from the Irish against an aggressive Alabama defence.
Speaking of the vaunted Tide D, they have no problem getting in their face of their opponent. They fly around with speed and with the intent to cause pain. Junior linebacker C.J. Mosley led the team with 99 tackles, while recording 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. Potential first round pick Dee Milliner only had 2 interceptions this season. That is because teams didn’t want to throw in his direction. Milliner is an excellent cover corner who will use his size and physical edge, to shut down receivers.
There is an issue with Alabama though. Against Texas A&M and Georgia, the Tide struggled with quarterbacks who showed mobility. With Golson being mobile, he could create problems for the Tide. How will Alabama react to that, could decide the National Championship.
The experience advantage definitely goes to Nick Saban, who not only has won 2 National titles with Alabama, he also captured the BCS title with LSU in 2003. Saban knows how to handle the pressure of the event and will always prepare his players to the max. Brian Kelly has never been to the title game, but he has done a superb job in his first year at South Bend. With Notre Dame being underdogs, Kelly will definitely motivate his players, telling them they have no chance, against the mighty Tide. There is much respect between the two, and both are excellent game planners. Expect the battle of the brains to be on high alert.
This will be a close low scoring game. Both teams will try to pound the ball on the ground, and use play-action pass. While Alabama did struggle in their victory over Georgia, Saban will have his team ready to go. Notre Dame will keep it tight, but their lack of a deep threat could make them one-dimensional and vulnerable. Experience will help Alabama as well. Add that up, and I have Alabama repeating as National Champions, 16-10.
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