The Irish allow 10.3 points per game, best in the nation. The Crimson Tide allow 10.7. So the BCS championship should be a defensive struggle, right? Maybe. Those offenses are pretty good, too.
1. Alabama center Barrett Jones vs. Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III.
Jones is a two-time All-American who will be starting his third national championship game. Nix is a 326-pound run stuffer, a magnet for double-teams and a big reason the Fighting Irish have allowed only two rushing touchdowns. How much help Jones needs with Nix will go a long way toward determining whether the Irish can hold up against an Alabama running game that averages 5.6 yards per carry.
2. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert vs. Alabama cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue.
Eifert is an All-American and the leading receiver for the Fighting Irish with 44 catches for 624 yards. He is the type of tight end that is all the rage in the NFL right now. Huge (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) but with the speed and agility to get down the field and make big plays. Alabama’s safeties, specifically Robert Lester, are better equipped size-wise to matchup with Eifert, but Notre Dame loves to get their big target matched up against a cornerback and have him outmuscle the smaller player.
3. Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon vs. Notre Dame inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Dan Fox.
It’s not just about stopping the run. Te’o, Fox and that Notre Dame front seven have been so good in run defense, allowing 3.2 yards per carry. If the linebackers need help containing Alabama’s two 1,000-yard rushers, that leaves cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson exposed.
4. Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt vs. Alabama defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial and strong side linebacker Adrian Hubbard.
The Fighting Irish like to run left. A lot. The coaches make no secret that Martin has been their best lineman. That should keep Square, a solid 286-pound senior, busy. Of course one of the keys to Alabama’s defensive success is its depth. Martin and Watt won’t get any breaks.
5. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson vs. Alabama coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Golson will be making his 11th career start. He has come a long way, but he’s still learning on the job. Saban and Smart are masters of mixing coverage and pressures and making QBs miserable as they try to figure out what’s coming. A confused QB is a mistake-prone quarterback and the Fighting Irish cannot afford Golson to regress in the biggest game of the season.