Continuing his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy previews the BCS National Title Game.
We have one bowl game left and boy is it a doozy. This matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama is one of the more highly-anticipated national championship games in memory.
Really, everyone won when this was the game we ended up with. Casual college football fans won because these are two brand-name teams that they will more than likely be interested in seeing. The television networks, in our case ESPN, love this matchup because those casual college football fans I speak of will watch the game in droves. Hardcore college football fans will love this game because it matches up two fantastic, very talented teams. And writers love it because there are no shortage of storylines going into the game.
I anticipate a real war of attrition on Monday night. Both teams are at their best when they are playing physical defense and running the ball hard.
For Alabama, this is nothing new. Defense and a physical running game have been staples of the Crimson Tide in the Nick Saban era.
The Tide finished second in the nation in scoring defense, as they allowed opponents to average just 10.7 points per game. In only two games did they allow their opposition to score more than 17 points.
The average fan might not be able to name a single player on the Alabama defense, but I think that’s a compliment to how good they are collectively.
Sophomore linebacker Adrian Hubbard leads the team with ten tackles for loss and six sacks, but there are a whole host of players that also contributed a lot. Fourteen players recorded at least one sack and that same exact number had three or more tackles for loss. Junior linebacker C.J. Mosley emerged as the do-everything leader on the defense. He leads the team with 99 tackles, is third on the team with seven tackles for loss, is second on the team with four sacks and he tallied two interceptions for good measure.
Veteran cornerback Dee Milliner became as one of the bigger ballhawks in the country this season. His interception total, two, might not be anything to write home about, but he defended a total of 20 passes. If a few more of those are caught rather than just batted down, his interception total jumps.
On offense, the Tide were led by two running backs, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy, a bigger, more physical runner, leads the team with 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns. Yeldon, the more elusive of the two backs, rushed for exactly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron isn’t going to blow you away with big numbers or with freakish athletic talents, but he leads a team about as well as any quarterback in the country. The junior completed 66.8% of his passes this season and finished with a stellar 26/3 touchdown to interception ratio.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are built very similarly.
The Irish defense is just as good as the Alabama defense and they might actually be better. They are first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of just 10.3 points per game.
Unlike the Bama defense, though, Notre Dame has a headline star and that’s linebacker Manti Te’o. The Heisman finalist had a fantastic season. He led the team with 103 tackles and seven interceptions.
Te’o is far from alone, however. Linebacker Prince Shembo contributed 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt leads the team with 13 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. You also can’t overlook the big guys up front for the Irish. Louis Nix III is a space-eating defensive tackle that frees up space for everyone else on defense.
Offensively, Notre Dame will look to run the ball and then run the ball some more. Running back /wide receiver hybrid Theo Riddick leads the team with 880 rushing yards. Cierre Wood, a more traditional running back, is second on the team with 740 yards.
Quarterback Everett Golson was shaky early on after replacing Tommy Rees as the starter, but he came on as the season progressed. All told, he threw for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns. On the ground, he gained 305 yards and found the end zone five times.
This is going to be one physical, ugly, low-scoring game. Both teams want to run the ball and both defense are adept at stopping running games. I compare this game to the Rose Bowl between Stanford and Wisconsin. The teams do many of the same things, but one team does those things just a little bit better. In that case, it was Stanford. In this case, that will be Alabama.