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South Florida Notebook: Better Off Punting On 3rd & Long Vs Alabama?

Alabama's defense swarms running back Todd Gurley. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama’s defense swarms running back Todd Gurley. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBS) Despite what the SEC pundits want you to believe, there are actually holes in the Alabama defense.

It is not as good as the unit that shut out LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game a year ago.

But Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart do a lot to cover those weaknesses and if they get you in 3rd-&-long situations, watch out.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin went through the entire Alabama season and found out that they’ve forced more fumbles, interceptions or sacks than they’ve given up first downs on 3rd-&-7+ situations.

“If they just punted on third down the whole season against Alabama than actually going for it on 3rd and 7-plus,” Martin said.

That makes it that much more important for Notre Dame to establish the run on early downs to keep the ball moving.

“If you want to get demoralized as a Notre Dame fan, watch the Alabama 3rd and 7-plus tape, which we did one morning, and then we called it a day after that because were all demoralized,” Martin said.

3-4 Or 4-3?

Alabama runs a base 3-4 defense, but they are actually in more of a 4-3 look more than they are in a 3-4.

Sam linebacker Adrian Hubbard lines up as a down-lineman more often than not and has 10 TFLs and six sacks to show for it.

Smart frequently subs personnel and will go 21 deep on defense. Fourteen Alabama players have at least three TFLs this season, compared to just eight for Notre Dame.

One way to combat that subbing is to speed up the offense, but Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has repeatedly said his team has to stick to what they’ve been doing all season and Martin hinted Friday that the Irish won’t go no huddle very much.

“It seems like a good idea when they’re subbing to try to get them on their heels, but they typically just get off blocks and just run and makes plays anyway,” he said.

We’ll see Monday if Martin is bluffing.

Golson Still Has Basketball Itch

Some people might not know that Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson actually prefers playing basketball over football.

“Obviously basketball is my love,” he said Friday. “That’s what I love. But my primary right now is football.”

Golson said he exchanged words with Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey about playing basketball, but it wasn’t anything “too solid to stick.”

Has he ruled out dressing for the Irish on the basketball court though?

“I’d like to say I would like to have the chance of playing basketball someday here, but like I said, football is my primary and what I’m focused on right now is the National Championship.”

Golson picked Notre Dame over North Carolina, where he may have had a chance to play both sports.

“Maybe so, but you can never say,” he said.

Golson Not Manziel

A common misconception from some down here in South Florida is that Notre Dame can follow “the Johnny Manziel blueprint” to beat Alabama.

The Heisman Trophy winner ran for 92 yards on 18 carries and completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards on Alabama earlier this year, giving the Tide their only loss of the season.

But while Golson and Manziel are both mobile quarterbacks, they run entirely different offensive systems and Notre Dame won’t be running what Texas A&M did against the Tide.

Can Golson turn on the A&M tape and learn some things? Sure. But he can’t use it as a “blueprint” to win Monday night.

Scout Team QBs

For those wondering, sophomore backup Blake Sims has been simulating Golson on the Alabama scout team, while 6-4, 210 pound freshman QB Gunner Kiel has been simulating A.J. McCarron on the Notre Dame scout team. Kiel was a highly regarded recruit from Columbus, Indiana who is redshirting this season.

Follow Adam’s coverage from South Florida all week long at @AdamHogeCBS and read more in our BCS National Championship Game hub.