In just a little under a month’s time the Fighting Irish will take the field for the last time as the collective group that Notre Dame fans have come to know over the 2012 season. By now the whole world knows that Notre Dame and Alabama will square off in the BCS National Title Game in South Florida on January 7th. If you have paid attention to any of the media outlets and Vegas, then you also know that the Irish are almost a 7 point underdog. While this is nothing new to the Irish team and their fans, we wanted to take a deeper look at the Irish and see what we are missing that has caused them to be depicted in the role of “David” and why most of the “experts” have decided that Alabama has all but already sealed their 3 rd national title in four years. We will focus on the players who might have the biggest impact in the game for the Irish.
Everett Golson – Obviously Irish fans have witnessed the metamorphosis of Everett Golson over the year and watched a teenager turn into a young man and leader over the course of 4 months. That’s not to say that he has hit the apex of his ability or knowledge of the game, but he has made massive strides over the course of the season. The young Irish quarterback has grown into a leader with the ability to control his emotions and make better decisions. He ended the season throwing for over 2100 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions. He completed almost 60% of his passes and also rushed for over 300 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. As the year progressed Golson has learned how to read defenses better and run through his progressions in a much quicker pace. He still will make the errant throw occasionally, and tends to have happy feet a little too often.
Golson will cause problems for the Alabama defense in a couple of ways. He can throw deep against an average Tide secondary and he has the ability to create space in the pocket and allow his receivers the luxury of getting open. He can also pull the ball down and get that first down when needed, which can be extremely frustrating for a defense. If the Irish QB maintains his composure and limits his turnovers, he can slowly wear the Bama defensive front seven down over the course of 4 quarters, and allow the Irish running attack to become a true weapon late in the game. His main focus through the air will be Eifert and Riddick, but he also needs to utilize the rest of his weapons on the field.
Could also have an impact – Tommy Rees
Theo Riddick – As much as Irish fans have enjoyed watching their quarterback transform, they have equally enjoyed watching their star running back do the exact same thing. Theo has turned into a punishing bruiser and a back who will fight for the extra yard while making sure the ball is secure. Not only has he turned into a pure force behind the line of scrimmage for the Irish, he has become a true weapon through the air. He rushed for almost 900 yards on the season and had 35 receptions for 350 yards and a total of 6 touchdowns. He is extremely versatile and Kelly and staff will rely on him greatly throughout the game. He is going to face a front seven in Alabama that he has not faced this year and it will be interesting to see how effective he can be. How Theo goes will have a big role in how the Irish go, and either way we are excited to see what he can do against what most consider one of the top defensive front seven in the nation.
Cierre Wood – Wood has seen the coaching staff use his talent less in the 2nd half of the season, but that doesn’t mean that he is a forgotten man on the sidelines. He shares time in the backfield with the afore-mentioned Riddick and Atkinson. His best game of the year came against a weaker Wake Forest team when he rushed for 150 yards on just 11 carries. He saw the ball only 8 times in the Irish season finale at USC, but he will be called upon to switch paces against Bama as he tends to be more of speed and finesse back. He is not nearly the receiver out of the backfield that Riddick is, but Irish fans know that he is one of the reasons they finished undefeated. The season didn’t start well for Wood as he was suspended for the first 2 games of the year, but it will be the last game of the year in which he could make his biggest impact.
Could also have an impact –George Atkinson III
Tyler Eifert – What’s left to be said about one of the best receivers’ in the country and one of the best tight ends to ever put an Irish uniform on. The winner of the 2012 Mackey Award should give Alabama fits if the Irish coaching staff use him properly, and will be faster and quicker than any linebacker Saban will attempt to cover him with. Chances are Eifert will be double teamed most of the evening, but with his size and hands he should still have a major impact in the game. If the Alabama defense does make it a point to smother him all evening, that will still allow one-on-one routes for the other Irish receivers. That folks is what we consider a win-win situation for the Notre Dame offense as long as everyone comes to play that night. We cannot overstate how important the All American tight end is to the Irish hopes of winning another national championship, and we are sure he understands this completely.
TJ Jones – The young man from Roswell, GA and son of former Irish great Andre Jones has emerged this season as a very capable receiver and a go-to player in crunch time. Jones ended the season with 43 catches and just over 550 yards. While his stats may not seem overly impressive, any Irish fan will tell you that he was on the receiving end of some of the biggest completions all year long. Jones is slowly showing signs of being a number one target, and should be a lot of fun to watch in 2013. The Junior wide-out will have all the opportunity in the world to make his mark on this game for the Irish and as mentioned before, with Eifert most likely being tag-teamed and someone having to cover Riddick out of the back, it should leave TJ in man coverage all night. If TJ plays like he is capable of on the night of January 7 th, Irish fans just might have a reason to smile all night long
Could also have an impact – Chris Brown
Not considered a strength in the beginning of the season, the Notre Dame offensive line has galvanized as the season progressed and now truly act as a unit on the field, rather than individuals playing a game. Harry Hiestand has done a good job of overcoming some injuries with this group and continued to coach them up all year. It all starts with Cave, who has had a nice year and trickles out to Watt, Golic Jr. Martin, and Lombard. There have been some protection problems throughout the year, and some false start issues(yes – we are looking at you Golic) but overall the group has done a good job of adapting from a pocket passer in Tommy Rees, to the dual threat of Everett Golson. When you have a QB who is nimble and can move all over the pocket in a blink of an eye, it can make a linemen’s job that much more difficult and this unit has finally started to understand that. They will have the uneasy task of trying to keep Jesse Williams, CJ Mosley, Damien Square and Nico Johnson out of the Irish backfield all night. What the Irish have going for them is the same thing Texas A&M had going for them in their win over the Crimson Tide – mobility. If the Irish offensive line can give Golson time to read his routes, and create, it could make for a tough night for the Crimson Tide front seven.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the defense…