Alabama's running game, built on their offensive line and powered by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, is the heart and soul of the Crimson Tide. For Notre Dame, stopping the run game has to be job one. Expect the Fighting Irish to load up the box and focus on maintaining gap integrity to limit the success of the running game.
Due to the importance of stopping the run, and Alabama's ability to use play action passing to successful means, that puts Matthias Farley on notice. Farley, along with fellow safety Zeke Motta, are going to be the key to the Irish's success in the BCS Championship Game.
Farley is a sophomore who was pressed into action following Jamoris Slaughter's season ending Achilles injury against Michigan State. The sophomore from Charlotte, North Carolina had some bumps in the road but with more time he grew into his starting role.
The Irish's ninth leading tackler in 2012 grew from the guy who left open holes against Miami, into the reliable player who helped contain USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Now, against Alabama, Farley will be one of the major factors in limiting the Tide's explosive plays.
Amari Cooper, the freshman wide receiver, has been a monster for the Crimson Tide. With 52 catches, 894 yards and nine touchdowns, Cooper is clearly the central figure in the Alabama passing game. Cooper helped the Tide win the SEC Championship and his big plays have become a welcomed addition to the stout rushing attack.
On January 7, Farley is going to be faced with as big a challenge as anyone else on the Fighting Irish defense. While the general public focuses on the front seven, Farley and Motta will be the last line of defense against the Tide's big play weapon.
Safety play will be the X-factor for the title game. If Farley and Motta get sucked up by play action, or are forced to play more down in the box to help the front seven stop the run, then Cooper and A.J. McCarron will be able to hook up for explosion plays.
However, if Farley and Motta can stop the deep ball and limit the big gainers, then the Irish will be in good shape. Limit the explosion plays and let the front seven focus on getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. That is the recipe for success out of the Fighting Irish and that starts with Farley.
The kid is most certainly capable. He has come up huge for the Fighting Irish this season, including getting a key stop in the goal line stand against USC. Now, Bob Diaco and the defense will need Matthias Farley to have one of his better games. Success will mean that Farley is active against the run, but always thinking pass first to avoid being exploited by play action looks.
In January, keep tabs on the sophomore. His running mate, Zeke Motta, is an experienced, game-tested safety who has shown up in big moments. Farley is young, not just in class but as a football player in general, and getting him to play a good game is going to be essential to the Irish's formula for success.