“It will be at least 22, if not 122, or even 222 years” said ESPN College Football Live host, Reece Davis when talking about when Notre Dame will return to the national title game. As the season began college football “experts” around the nation tore apart the Notre Dame football program calling it “irrelevant” and that it no longer deserved any consideration among the nation’s top. ESPN columnist Rick Reilly wrote a column ripping everything about the Irish and predicting an at best, 7-5 season. Reilly also added that “you don’t even want to know what USC will do to the Irish in the Coliseum.” Well Rick, you were wrong.
Here we are,just five months after irrelevance and criticism, Notre Dame is preparing the face the “all mighty” Alabama Crimson Tide for the BCS National Championship. After a undefeated, 12-0 season in which the Irish experienced all types of adversity and challenges, they find themselves just one win away from becoming the first Notre Dame to win a national championship since 1989.
Say what you want about Notre Dame not having much of a chance in this game as a major underdog. That’s what the analysts were saying, besides the old ball coach Lou Holtz, before the Irish headed to Oklahoma and ended up putting a 30-13 smack down on the Sooners. Yes, Alabama has won two of the last three titles and have a lot more experience, but this game will be a lot closer then the oddsmakers think.
Three keys for Notre Dame:
- Louis Nix and the front seven: Alabama will feature the best running attack the Irish have seen all season as they rank 20th in the nation with an average of 224.6 yards on the ground a game. This strong rushing attack setups up the nation’s most efficient passing attack lead by quarterback A.J. McCarron. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, they need to stop the run with seven men in the box. That is why Louis Nix and the front seven are the biggest key to the game. Nix becomes a big factor in the this game because he will determine what Alabama can do with their guards. If Nix can’t create penetration one-on-one against center Barret Jones, then that allows the guards to head straight for the Notre Dame linebackers, creating gaps for back Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. This would then force the Irish to move an eighth man into the box to help stop the run, which would then open up the passing attack and create more one-on-one coverages. A big advantage for the Tide. However, if Nix can create pressure against Jones, Alabama will be forced to pull one of their guards to help out, allowing Manti and the rest of the Notre Dame linebackers opportunities to get into the backfield, make tackles, and stop the run without an eighth man. Keeping four guys in the secondary prevents deep passes and will make it tougher on the speedy Alabama receivers. Football is usually won in the trenches and I expect nothing less in this matchup.
- Everret Golson: It has been big growing season for Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson and his biggest challenge awaits him Monday Night. In the first half of the season, Golson showed flashes of excellence in the game against Michigan State. However, he also made his fair share of freshman mistakes and was benched against Michigan after two bad interceptions. But Golson grew up before his coaches, teammates, and the rest of the nation in the second half of the season. He proved he could handle the big stage when he helped lead to Irish to victory in Oklahoma. After the Sooners tied the game in the fourth, he lead his team right down the field and put his team back on top. But his biggest growing up moment happened in the next game against Pittsburgh. Golson was benched in the second half of the game when the Irish trailed against Pittsburgh. He would later return to the game, throw two touchdowns and run for the game winner. The young freshman will be facing the nation’s second best defense in Alabama. He doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns to win the game, Golson just needs to control the game and not turn the ball over. The Tide will be tough against the run which is another reason why Everett is so important. If he can make throws, expand the pocket, and force Alabama to keep to prevent the pass, running lanes will open up for backs, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. People questioned if McCaron could make enough plays to win heading into the championship last year and he ended up throwing for 234 yards and no interceptions.
- Theo Riddick: The Notre Dame senior running back is a nightmare for defensives and will be a big focus of the Crimson Tide defense. Riddick is a very versatile back because of his ability to run, catch, and route run. Splitting time with Wood, Riddick still rushed for 880 yards and five touchdowns while catching 35 passes for 364 yards and one touchdown. He may appear a little undersized at only 5-11″ 200lbs but don’t be fooled because if you didn’t watch the game against USC, Riddick can certainly break tackles. When he lines up in the slot, Theo makes a matchup problem for the defense. His speed and route running ability make it tough for linebackers to cover him. If Riddick shows up big for the Irish, the offense will be able to have success against the Tide’s defense.
Yes, Alabama has won two out three championships, but I don’t think the Tide are as good as they were last year. The defense has been exposed in their three toughest games. LSU’s offense struggled heading into their matchup against Alabama but quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for 298 yards and one touchdown, easily his best game of the year. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel both had a lot of success against the Tide as well.
Everett Golson and his ability to escape pressure and keep the play alive will create a lot of problems for Alabama. Look for tight end Tyler Eifert to find room in the middle of the field and create problems as well.
The offense will do just enough to win and the Notre Dame defense will do what it has all year, lead the Fighting Irish onward to victory.
24-20 Notre Dame.