We have covered the Irish offense, the defensive front seven, and in our final breakdown of what will be on display down in Miami on January 7th, we will break down the Notre Dame secondary and special teams. As the BCS title game edges closer, fans and media are starting to realize that maybe the Irish have more than just a punchers chance at keeping this game close and possibly winning it. We have believed all along that if all three phases of the Irish attack come to play and play to their potential that another National Championship is not out of the question. Once again we will focus on certain players who we feel could have a major impact on the game’s outcome.
Before the season even started, the Irish secondary was considered a work in progress, and that was before injuries to Austin Collinsworth, and Lo Wood. The picture only got murkier a couple of weeks into the season as the loss of Jamoris Slaughter was another setback to a very young group. While fans and media decided that this group would eventually be the downfall of the 2012 season, the players left that were healthy, were having none of that. Enter KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, a former wide receiver and soccer player respectively. Long story short, when the Irish needed this group to step up, they did just that. While no one is ready to label the Irish secondary a group of All Americans quite yet, you would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been impressed with their progression over the course of the year. If you talk to any one individual of the secondary on what the key component was that held them together, they will give you two reasons consistently. Those reasons would be a defensive coordinator who believed in them as a group and as individuals and a strong front seven that allowed them grow and mature and make mistakes.
Zeke Motta –
The Senior safety from Vero Beach, FL has proven to be one of the best run defenders in the nation. His hard hitting, aggressive style has permeated the rest of this young secondary and when things looked bleak early on, his Senior leadership helped keep this group together. While Motta will not penetrate the backfield much or be confused for a shutdown corner in pass defense, he does draw a lot of comparisons to young man playing in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings right now, Harrison Smith. Motta is physical at the point of attack and is always involved in the play. He is a smart, athletic safety who has his head on a swivel, and body that is always under control. As most fan’s know Alabama loves to run the ball first, and pass when needed as evidenced in the SEC championship game. Motta will be called upon to help stop the run game of Lacy and Yeldon, and it will be imperative he helps slow the Crimson Tide’s running attack down. While Motta doesn’t have burning speed, he is smart player and always has his head in the game. We have a feeling that his named could be called often that night, and he will respond accordingly.
Bennett Jackson –
The converted wide-out from Jersey had his concerns about switching to corner for the Irish, but that move has proven to be a great decision. Jackson has great instincts, and very good recovery speed and skills. Jackson was tied for 2nd on team in tackles with 61, had 4 interceptions, and impressively had 8 passes defended on the year. Chances are the Irish will lineup Jackson across from the Tides best receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper saves his best games for the spotlight, as he excelled against the likes of Texas A&M, Auburn, Tennessee, and in the SEC championship game against Georgia, where he grabbed 8 balls for 128 yards and touchdown. We like this match up for the Irish though, as Jackson has the size and speed to match Cooper in man coverage and while he may not stop Cooper all night, we have a feeling he can slow down his effectiveness and force Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron to look for different options. No matter what matchup Jackson has on January 7th, he should be fun to watch, just as he has been all year long. A true emotional leader that wears those same emotions on his sleeve for the world to see.
Grade – B
Others that could have an impact – Matthias Farley, KeiVarae Russell
Irish fans have been blessed with one of the nation’s top defenses, and an offense that has shown flashes of brilliance, as has gotten stronger as the season progressed. The one area that has been a major concern and wildly inconsistent all year long has been the special teams play. From lack of coverage on kick-
offs, to an inconsistent kicking game, to a virtually non-existent return game, the special teams group has struggled all year. Our fear is that in a close battle this group could be a factor in which may cause the Irish to lose the game.
Kyle Brindza –
A season that saw the Irish place-kicker go a very average 23-31 and even more concerning is the fact that he was only 3-7 from lengths of 40-49 yards. What’s even more perplexing is the fact that Brindza made some very important kicks for the Irish late in the year(Oklahoma,USC) but struggled in games where a made field goal would have helped put teams away. Not all is bad as he did hit 26-27 extra points and he had 5 field goals against USC and nailed a 52 yarder to close out the half. We still have some faith in the sophomore kicker from Canton, Mi, but he is going to need to be more consistent before he is considered a strength. Our worst fear is Kyle leaving 3-9 points on the field by missed field goals, which just cannot happen if the Irish expect to win in Miami.
George Atkinson III –
With the speed and athleticism that Atkinson possesses, Irish fans expected more than the pedestrian numbers he put up over the 2012 season. While we will not put all the blame on him, as his blocking up front can leave a lot to be desired at times, he still needs to share some of the blame. GA III has shown flashes of what he is capable of, but at times he looks too timid and reacts late. He has good instincts and maybe it’s just a matter of the maturation process kicking in, before he will stop thinking and start doing. The book is still out on Atkinson as he possesses the necessary tools to be great return man, but he is not their yet – by a long shot. We are not sure what he will bring to the table in the title game, but if the past is a true indicator, fan’s can hope he just secures the ball and gives the Irish decent field position.
Davonte’ Neal –
While the freshman possesses exciting ability, if one looks at his stats for 2012 those skills obviously didn’t translate well to the field in the form of punt returning. He had 15 returns for an amazingly bad 3.3 yard avg. Once again, we can’t throw all the blame on him as he didn’t exactly have the field open up in front of him, but still a 3.3 avg. is just unacceptable at this level of play and with the talents he possesses. As with Atkinson, all Irish fans can hope for is for Neal to secure the ball, and not put the Irish defense in a “backs against the wall” type scenario with a turn-over or two.
Others that could have impact – Cam McDaniel, Ben Turk
Our goal of this three part series was simply to dig deeper into why the Irish have a legitimate shot at winning this game outright. They have as many skill players as the Crimson Tide, and a coach who is just as competitive as the one that will be standing across the sideline on January 7 th. One very important factor that Alabama has on their side is experience in title games, and a lot of it. That doesn’t mean that a Bama win is a foregone conclusion, but it is a plus for them. This game will be won in the trenches and we feel like the Irish match up pretty darn well against the Tide on both sides of the ball. Bottom line is that it will come down to execution, smart football, minimizing mistakes. Whichever team can grab control and excel at the three phases of this game will walk away with another trophy for their display case.