After nearly three weeks of watching days go by, the Daily Bama Blog countdown to gameday is finally over and the countdown to kickoff is in full swing. While the secondhand circles around the clock (and takes forever doing it), here are some things to watch for as Alabama goes for its 15th national championship.
In the final countdown post, Daily Bama Blog contributor Brett Hudson touches on a few points:
Alabama’s run game: Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 50-0 when it rushes for 140 yards or more. Notre Dame has given up 140 yards of rushing four times this season: however, one of them was in the season-opener against triple option practitioner Navy.
The early stages of the fourth quarter (if it’s close): Alabama fans remember how resilient the Tide proved to be in comeback wins against LSU and Georgia late in the year, but Saban-coached Alabama teams have done this more than once. Under Saban, Alabama has been the No. 2 team in the nation playing against No. 1 three times, coming out with a 2-1 record. Alabama beat the No. 1 Florida Gators in the 2009 SEC Championship Game before being No. 2 to LSU’s No. 1 for both meetings of the 2011 season, which they split.
Notre Dame’s knock for the season, the one weak spot of the resume, is how many close games it has been in with seemingly inferior opponents. But, the Irish have now proven the ability to win in the clutch. The Irish held Stanford out of the end zone in overtime to preserve its perfect record before battling with Pittsburgh for three overtimes, including holding the Panthers to three points in two possessions.
Individual matchups: Notre Dame has two offensive weapons that will line up at wide receiver at times throughout the night, despite starting at other positions.
One is tight end Tyler Eifert, who won the Mackey Award given to the nation’s best tight end.
The other is running back Theo Riddick, who despite leading the Irish in rushing yards and carries, will be a target-of-emphasis in the passing game when the Irish need a big gain.
Milestone watch: While the winner will definitely have their name etched into the history of college football, some Alabama players, or the team as a whole, can hit some historic milestones won or lose. Examples include:
–Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron needs nine completions against Notre Dame to reach 200 on the season.
–A win for McCarron would be his 25th as the starting quarterback for the Tide, tying him for fifth all-time with his predecessor, Greg McElroy. Jay Barker currently holds the program’s high mark with 35.
–Alabama needs 80 yards against the Irish to earn its 3,000th rushing yard on the season as a team.
–Individually, if T.J. Yeldon finds a way to run for a touchdown against Notre Dame, it would tie the school’s record for single-season rushing touchdowns by a freshman, tying the 12 Mark Ingram had as a freshman in 2008.
No matter what proves to be key in deciding the game, expect an incredible battle if the game remains close in the later stages: both teams are battle-tested and then some.
Hudson’s prediction: How do I think it’s going to shake out? I have Alabama winning 20-6. I think you will see the young quarterback billed as the bigger playmaker of the two, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, try just a little too hard to make that play and throw an interception. When McCarron leads the Tide down the field for a touchdown to respond, the game will look like it’s over.
But not just yet.
Up 17-6, Alabama will have the ball with roughly seven minutes left and in desperate need of a few first downs, preferably on the ground, to ice it. The Tide will get just that and bring Jeremy Shelley on to send the game to its final 20-6 score with just a few seconds left for Notre Dame’s offense to turn its school’s greatest specialty, the Hail Mary, into its final play of a losing effort.
That way, the winning team’s defense will be on the field when the game is finally decided: the only way these two teams can end the game.