By Adam Hoge-
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CBS) After a 45-day layoff for Notre Dame and a 38-day layoff for Alabama, game day has finally arrived here in South Florida.
All week long we've been breaking down the matchup, but now it's time to come to conclusions.
How Alabama Can Win
The game plans for both teams are similar and Alabama will try to establish the run early in the game. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon compliment each other very well and keep each other fresh. Alabama's offensive line is facing one its toughest tests, but they are used to dominating front sevens in the SEC. The key for the Tide is to block well enough that Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta has to come into the box and support the run. That will leave the Irish cornerbacks vulnerable and give quarterback A.J. McCarron an opportunity to make some big plays through the air.
Defensively, Alabama needs to keep Everett Golson contained in the pocket. He is most dangerous when he's able to get outside and decide between throwing and running. There are vulnerabilities in the Crimson Tide secondary, so they need to stop the run and keep Golson contained, otherwise, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert could have a huge game.
How Notre Dame Can Win
For the Irish, it's starts defensively with stopping Lacy and Yeldon. McCarron can't beat you by himself, so if Notre Dame is able to take away the run early, the most efficient quarterback in college football will be vulnerable and may even turn the ball over. Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III has to play well for Notre Dame to have a chance. His individual battle against Alabama center Barrett Jones will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. If he can win that matchup and draw some help, the Irish will be able to keep Motta back in the secondary to support the corners and linebacker Manti Te'o will be in a much better position to make the kind of game-changing plays he has become known for.
But Notre Dame is still going to have to win this game on offense and ultimately, with quarterback Everett Golson. They can't expect running backs Theo Riddick or Cierre Wood to break huge runs against this Alabama defense. The offensive approach will be much more methodical and getting four yards on first down will be important. Golson needs to get help from his offensive line, who have a very tough matchup against the Alabama front seven. They need to establish the run and protect Golson so he can make plays with his feet. The quarterback is going to have opportunities to get the ball to Eifert and receiver T.J. Jones. He can't afford to miss those opportunities. This game could come down to one or two of those chances.
First, let's take a look at who I gave the edge to in our previous breakdowns:
Notre Dame Offensive Line Vs Alabama Front Seven: Alabama
Alabama Offensive Line Vs Notre Dame Front Seven: Even
Notre Dame QB/WRs Vs Alabama Secondary: Notre Dame
Alabama QB/WRs vs Notre Dame Secondary: Alabama
Special Teams: Even
This would seem to suggest that Alabama should win the game, but all this stuff on paper determines is who is the favorite and who is the underdog. It's one reason why Alabama is a double-digit favorite. But the gap between these two teams is not 10 points. This will be a close game that comes down to the fourth quarter. That's where I give the Irish a small edge. Both of these teams are good fourth quarter teams, but Notre Dame has found a way to win all season long no matter who the opponent was. Underdogs are historically scary teams in this game and the Irish have had 45 days to hear about how they can't compete with Alabama.
Not only can they compete, they'll win.
Notre Dame 20, Alabama 17.
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