A few matchups will determine who wins Tide-Irish clash - WNEM TV 5

A few matchups will determine who wins Tide-Irish clash

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks with reporters. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey) Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks with reporters. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey)
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly answers questions during a press conference. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey) Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly answers questions during a press conference. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey)
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron talks with reporters on the field. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey) Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron talks with reporters on the field. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey)
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert talks to reporters on the field. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey) Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert talks to reporters on the field. (Source: RNN/Tom Ensey)

Miami (RNN) - Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the team that makes the most mistakes may well win tonight. Not a misprint.

He explained that odd statement Sunday at the final news conference before the national title clash with Alabama at Sun Life Stadium. He meant the team that is the most aggressive, takes the most risks, forces the action and makes things happen, will win. When you play like that, you make mistakes. You also force the other guys into mistakes.

That style of play has worked for Notre Dame all season. These guys make you play ugly. They drag you into their briar patch and when you're playing their game, they have the upper hand.

"We want to get this game into the fourth quarter and find a way to win," Kelly said. "We're the Fighting Irish. That's how we're going to play."

Alabama will try to play its steady, deadly, beat-you-flat game.

Earlier in the week, Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack said the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. Coach Nick Saban has talked about doing everything right, playing the way you have all season, keeping cool and playing focused.

Reckless Notre Dame attacking methodical Alabama. The brawler vs. the boxer. Beauty and the beast.

Here are some suggestions on what to look for, based on everything that's been said in the runup to what promises to be a great college football game.

When Alabama has the ball:

Keep your eye on the ball. Especially in the instant after the ball is snapped. The clash between Alabama center Barrett Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III is the little battle that will determine the big battle.

Jones is one of the most decorated players in Alabama history - he will have started at center, tackle and guard and three different national championship games. He's a Bama offensive lineman on the order of college and NFL Hall of Famers John Hannah and Dwight Stevenson. He's an Academic All-American; when Tuscaloosa got hit by a tornado, he got a chainsaw and went around town helping people cut down trees that fell on their houses, and he could play the violin when he was 3 - you can't make this stuff up.

He's also got a hurt foot - he injured it in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. He played on it and destroyed the middle of the Georgia line. He was riding a scooter around campus a week ago. He says he's fine.

Nix is 6'3", 326 and is one of the unsung heroes of the Notre Dame season, according to ESPN play-by-play man Brent Mussburger.

"I don't know all the nose guards in the SEC, but Nix will give Jones a hard time," Mussburger said. "(Jones has) got two great guards on both sides of him to help, but they're going to find that Notre Dame's front seven is built like SEC defenses. They are big and can move. The Irish are hard to block."

Mussburger said Notre Dame's defense is better than LSU's, which gave Alabama fits this year. He added that Notre Dame has played nobody nearly as good as Alabama.

Mussburger's broadcast partner Kirk Herbstreit said if Alabama is able to break running backs Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon loose, it could be a long night for the Irish.

"I've seen every game Notre Dame played this year," Herbstreit said. "They've been able to stop the run with their front seven. That meant the safeties could help the cornerbacks with pass defense.

"If they have to bring the safeties up to help with the run, that will soften the corners and A.J. McCarron will be able to find Amari Cooper and his other receivers for home runs."

It all goes back to Jones vs. Nix. If Jones and his bad foot can control Nix without needing help from guards Warmack and Anthony Steen, the guards will be able to take on Notre Dame's outstanding linebackers.

That will create opportunities for Lacy and Yeldon to rack up yards. First downs in this game are going to be hard to come by, touchdowns will be precious. Notre Dame probably needs a low-scoring game to have a chance.

When Notre Dame is on offense:

Watch QB Everett Gholson, No. 5. He is a freshman who has gotten better every game. But his confidence can be fragile.

If Alabama gets to him early, he could get rattled. If he gets his feet under him, has some early success and is able to scoot around and make things happen,Notre Dame will have the whip hand.

Notre Dame likes to spread it out, pitch it around, create problems and confusion for the opposing defense. They are a lot like Texas A&M - and Alabama fans recall what a dark afternoon it was against the Aggies.

Likewise, keep an eye on Theo Reddick, No. 6, who is an electrifying running back. He'll lay back for play after play then gut you for big yards. He's as good a receiver coming out of the backfield as anybody in football.

He caused a ripple of controversy last week when he said he thought the Irish could create receiving mismatches with the Alabama secondary. He's right. They probably can.

He splits time with George Atkinson and Cierre Wood, who have combined with Reddick to produce well over 1,500 yards and nine TDs from the running back position.

Tight end Tyler Eifert, No. 80, is the best player on the team. He's more like a 6'6", 250 wide receiver than a tight end, and Saban pointed out that the Irish use him much the same way Saban mentor Bill Belichick uses his tight ends in the New England Patriots' schemes.

Herbstreit said he's the guy who makes it go for Notre Dame.

"They'll try to isolate and get the ball to the tight end," he said. "(Alabama DB) Dee Milliner is a top 10 draft choice. The others are not as good. They'll try to move (Eifert) around and match him with (Vinnie) Sunseri."

If Eifter can have some success and open it up, the running backs will go to work.

Herbstreit believes both teams will suffer with the heavy heat and humidity in Miami.

"Alabama won't have an advantage being a Southern team," he said. "It's not too toasty in Tuscaloosa right now. I've watched practices by both teams and they're struggling. It's been like watching two-a-days in preseason.

"A lot will come down to who has done the best job of conditioning, who has the freshest legs in the fourth quarter."

The forecast calls for rain - maybe. It is South Florida, where the weather is fickle. A good cloudburst could change everything.

So could a lot of things, Herbstreit pointed out.

"We talk all the time about matchups that could decide the outcome. You think you know how things will unfold, then you see a different defense, and everything changes."

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