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BCS Championship 2013: Why Notre Dame Needs to Be Wary of Alabama Passing Game

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the game against the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2013

Alabama strikes fear in opposing defenses by way of its menacing rushing attack, which is constructed with an offensive line that boasts two first-team All-Americans and two running backs—Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon—that have each surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau. 

However, that rushing attack shouldn't be intimidating the Irish defense.

Rather, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's stout bunch should have the Tide's passing attack in mind when it sleeps at night.

Why is this?

While searching for an answer, I perused the box score of last season's BCS National Championship Game, in which Alabama defeated LSU, 21-0.

I stumbled upon the play-by-play of the game, and was immediately intrigued with how Saban chose to attack Les Miles' defense. Just when I thought Saban would be content with pounding away at the Tigers' front seven with former running back Trent Richardson—who was selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 NFL draft—he didn't.

Saban had decided to attack Miles and Co. with a plan that radically strayed from his beloved routine.

On his team's three possessions of the first quarter against the Tigers in last season's championship game, quarterback A.J. McCarron completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 88 yards, compared to just three Richardson rushes for a pedestrian 11 yards.

Saban's inclination to attack the Tigers through the air rather than against their brick wall of a front seven proved effective, as the Tide posted a field goal to end the first quarter with a 3-0 lead. Considering that the two teams' first matchup had a combined 12 points in a 9-6 overtime victory for LSU, those initial three points were crucial.

Now, Notre Dame's front seven isn't as fast as LSU's of last season, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in size.

Defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore, along with a tank of a nose guard in Louis Nix, form a defensive line that has been nothing short of a brick wall this season.

If you don't care for the brick wall analogy, simply enter "Notre Dame goal-line stands" in the YouTube search bar, and you'll understand why it's appropriate.

Saban has likely watched those goal-line stands more than once during his many film sessions of the month-long preparation period that will soon come to an end.

He has also seen a rushing defense that ended the regular season ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense—yes, Alabama fans, I know your team finished first in that category—that may cause him to tweak his offensive game plan that rarely requires any sort of tweaking.

Lucky for Saban, he possesses quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was the offensive MVP of last season's BCS National Championship Game, to move the ball through the air from the start, just as he did so efficiently against LSU nearly one year ago.

And while Alabama lost receivers Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White to season-ending injuries, the team's profound depth has shone through, as freshman Amari Cooper and junior Kevin Norwood have proven themselves as dangerous receivers.

What Saban, McCarron, Cooper and Norwood know is that the Irish secondary, once thought to be a liability, isn't on par with that of their SEC brethren LSU or Georgia, both teams that the Tide defeated this season.

Saban, like Brian Kelly, desires to have his team throw the first punch in order to set the tone, and he understands that his best bet to do so is by letting McCarron sling the ball down to the field to Cooper and Norwood.

Therefore, the Irish defense needs to be cognizant of that potential plan of attack from Saban, who may become a reincarnation of Paul "Bear" Bryant with a victory on Monday evening.

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