Monday, January 7, 2013

The game of football is won or lost at the line of scrimmage

Unless your big meanies are knocking the other team’s big meanies off the line of scrimmage, you’re in for long night. The game of football is won or lost up front and the BCS Championship will be won by the team that controls the line.

Tonight’s epic clash between Alabama and Notre Dame could be one for the ages. The talking heads and internet pundits want to talk about who has the better quarterback and who has the best wide receivers. Those are important because you won’t win without a good signal caller and you can’t win by throwing to guys who can’t run routes, get open and catch the ball.

The passing game doesn’t work well when the quarterback is running for his life. Similarly, the running game isn’t going anywhere if there are no holes to run through.

Both Alabama and Notre Dame play with big, disciplined and physical football players up front. On both sides of the ball, the starting lineups match up well with their opponents’ starters. In the early going, both teams will have difficulty running the football and long developing pass plays probably won’t get first downs.

If you like high scoring shootouts in championship games, prepare to be bored to death. This is going to be a slobberknocker.

Notre Dame’s defensive front is unquestionably good.  But Alabama’s offensive front is a veteran unit that has been playing together virtually intact for two straight seasons. There isn’t a better offensive line in college football today. In this matchup, you have to give the Tide an edge, however slight that edge might be.

Alabama’s defensive front is also unquestionably good, but this season has lacked a dominant pass rusher like Hightower and Upshaw. They have still managed to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have the best rushing defense in the country. Notre Dame counters with a beefy offensive line that is fundamentally sound and built much like Alabama’s. It’s not the road grading unit of Alabama, but they execute well and don’t miss many blocks. This matchup is a push for one reason—Alabama has the depth to vary the front seven alignment on any given snap.

That depth is important, because that’s what ultimately provides the edge for Alabama tonight. Nick Saban is in his sixth year at the helm of the Crimson Tide. This is Brian Kelly’s third year. Kelly is still working with players recruited by Charlie Weis. At 12-0 it’s not very hard to argue that he’s been successful in doing so. But Saban has his guys in every position on the two-deep roster.

Except for Calabrese at inside linebacker, all of Notre Dame’s front seven backups are underclassmen. Conversely, four of Bama’s twos on the front seven are upperclassmen and even the underclassmen are physically imposing beasts. Add the fact that the Tide has seen better offensive fronts in the SEC and not only do you have quality depth, it’s experienced depth.

Alabama is a team with very few weaknesses. Notre Dame is a team with few weaknesses too, but the one that stands out is on the depth chart. Bama’s depth translates to versatility on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame is a very good football team but just isn’t built to take advantage of any weakness Alabama shows.

As the game wears on, that depth difference will be made manifest. In the first and second quarters of the game, no one will enjoy tackling Riddick, Atkinson, Lacy or Yeldon. But by the start of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame will find Lacy and Yeldon a lot harder to bring down.

Look for a physical, close game in the first half. It should be a low scoring 10-7-ish halftime score. But by the end of the third quarter, look for the depth issue to really come forward and Alabama start to pull away, ending the game with a huge time of possession advantage in the last stanza. After all, the game of football is won or lost on the line of scrimmage and Alabama should control it.

Alabama 24
Notre Dame 13

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