For the next month, you are likely going to hear about Alabama and Notre Dame quite a bit. With the national championship matchup still four weeks away, one of the things that is most intriguing is the Notre Dame defense squaring off against the Crimson Tide running game.
SEC fans will tell you that there is no way the Irish have a chance to slow down the dynamic attack of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Notre Dame fans will tell you that they have heard this talk before and will prove it come January.
So is Notre Dame physical enough to shut down this Crimson Tide running game?
Just because this isn't a football team that plays its ball in the SEC does not mean that this isn't a defense that is capable of getting nasty. The Notre Dame run defense is currently ranked fourth in the country and has held eight opponents to under 100 yards on the ground.
Big and physical runners such as Stepfan Taylor, Le'Veon Bell and Silas Redd all have had trouble running against this talented unit.
One of the common excuses that come from the SEC homers is that the opponent doesn't have the size to matchup with the massive Alabama offensive line. The Crimson Tide does have a gigantic and experienced unit, but that reason isn't going to work when it comes to the Irish.
Let us just breakdown the overall size of Notre Dame and some of the top SEC squads.
The total size in pounds of the Notre Dame front seven comes out to 1,928. This makes the LSU Tigers look tiny, as the front seven of their defense comes out to 1,731. Even the Florida Gators are a smaller unit, with their total coming out to 1,830 pounds.
Simply put, this is an SEC caliber defense when it comes to weight. This isn’t an Oregon or Big East team that will be overwhelmed by the overall strength and size of the Alabama athletes.
But as I'm sure you have heard before size isn't everything, and that is why we can also include the speed factor to the equation. Even with all of that weight being carried around, this defense can fly to the football and make plays.
They have put together 33 sacks and 66 tackles for loss on the year.
Stephon Tuitt is a few pounds over 300, but leads the team with 11 sacks. His explosion off the football is impressive and he is more than capable of blowing by an offensive lineman. Tuitt is somebody that could be playing for a SEC program right now.
Kapron Lewis-Moore is another guy that can make plays in the backfield and use his 306-pound frame to clog up running lanes. This doesn't even include Louis Nix III in the middle, who has a wide body at 6'3", 326 pounds, that often demands double teams.
The linebacker position is also one of the more talented units in the country. We all know about Heisman candidate Manti Te'o, but there is much more than that when it comes to this defense. Players such as Dan Fox, Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams have all shown the ability to cover a lot of ground and limit big plays.
Out of the top 15 tacklers for this Notre Dame defense, seven of them play the linebacker position. This shows remarkable depth and will be key in slowing down that two-headed monster at running back.
Speaking of the linebacker position, Te'o and Shembo aren't going to play the same role as Jarvis Jones did in the SEC Championship. Jones is an elite talent and will be a first-round pick in the NFL draft, but he played soft against the run against the Crimson Tide. He shied away from contact in the second half when Alabama decided to run the ball a combined 28 times in the third and fourth quarters.
Don't expect that to happen against a Notre Dame defense that has already faced multiple physical offensive lines and powerful running backs.
Overall, this is one of the better defensive fronts in all of college football. This isn't the case of a defense being good because of the competition it plays. This front seven gets after it and has the combination of size and athleticism to keep the Crimson Tides ground game in check.
Nick Saban won't shy away from the game plan because he knows what his guys are capable of. He also has never been a coach that mixes things up, as he rather stick to what has gotten him to the big game.
However, don't expect Alabama to run all over Notre Dame like it has done to so many teams in the past.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.
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