By Adam Hoge-
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBS) This is the second in a six-part series breaking down Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Today, we’ll take a look at the matchup between Alabama’s offensive line and Notre Dame’s front seven:
Bob Diaco knows the challenge that his defense faces. The Notre Dame defensive coordinator called Alabama’s offensive line “the best line from tackle to tackle that we’ve seen this year.” He said Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan was the best individual tackle the Irish faced, but the Crimson Tide has the most complete unit.
He’s not kidding. I had to resist putting three of Alabama’s offensive linemen on my All-America ballot. I settled on center Barrett Jones — the Rimington Trophy winner (best center in college football) — and left guard Chance Warmack, but right tackle D.J. Fluker nearly made the cut as well. All five guys on the line are talented though, rounded out by sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandijo and junior right guard Anthony Steen.
That said, Notre Dame certainly has the defensive line to compete. It’s just as good if not better than the defensive lines Alabama saw in the SEC all season.
The battle between Jones and Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III will be extremely fun to watch. As is the case on the other side of the ball with Bama nose tackle Jesse Williams and Irish center Braxston Cave, this one-on-matchup will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game. Notre Dame’s cornerbacks are young and it’s questionable if they can handle one-on-one coverage. This would be a lot easier if Notre Dame’s elite pass rush is effective.
Moving between the three and five techniques are defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt. The trio of Nix, Tuitt and Lewis-Moore is among the best in college football and if they put together a good game, Notre Dame will definitely have a chance to pull off the upset.
On the outside, junior linebacker Prince Shembo will work to put pressure on Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron. Alabama doesn’t throw the ball a lot, but they are effective when they do it. McCarron is the nation’s most efficient quarterback (173.08) with 26 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Still, McCarron isn’t the most talented quarterback Notre Dame has seen, and a lot of his success comes from having two 1000 yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to keep the pressure off.
Notre Dame will need to stop the run first, which of course means Manti Te’o needs to play well. Te’o is obviously a great player and deserved all the awards he received this year, but there were times when he disappeared, most notably against Pitt. Alabama’s offensive linemen are good at getting to the second level, so it’s imperative the guys up front keep them occupied so Te’o can be effective stopping Lacy and Yeldon.
If the Irish can stop the run, they’ll make McCarron uncomfortable. That’s when the defense can capitalize on game-changing big plays. If Notre Dame wants to win, its going to have to force some turnovers.
Who Has The Edge? Even. This is a great matchup and one the Irish ultimately have to win. They have to keep Alabama to field goals to give the offense a chance. And it wouldn’t hurt for the Notre Dame defense to score a touchdown themselves.