TUSCALOOSA — So, with the constant talk about Notre Dame’s defense and about how it has allowed fewer points than anyone else nationally, do the Irish even have an offense?
“They do have an offense,” Alabama defensive end Damion Square answered. “Every team has an offense. Their offense is good. They do what they do well. It’s sort of like our offense. They don’t do a lot of things, but the things they do, they do well.”
From a quick scan of the statistics, it doesn’t appear Notre Dame’s offense will offer much of a challenge for Alabama’s vaunted defense when the two teams meet Jan. 7 for the national championship.
The Crimson Tide ranks first in the nation in total defense and rushing defense. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has managed 20 or fewer points in five of its 12 games and scored 21 in one and 22 in another. Alabama scored 22 or fewer points only once all season — in a 21-17 win at LSU.
But Square, a Crimson Tide team captain, warned that Notre Dame’s offense shouldn’t be taken lightly. He said the Irish have the ability to burn a defense.
“They are very disciplined in blocking different fronts, creating different formations from other formations so that you can’t get your personnel in and things like that,” he said.
And it is a team that believes.
“Whenever you play against a team that believes, you can never put them out.”
Notre Dame is quarterbacked by redshirt freshman Everett Golson, who managed the scout-team offense last year before taking the starting job in preseason. He has started 10 games, while junior Tommy Rees started the remaining two.
Rees had started 16 of the previous 17 games, and the Irish compiled a 12-4 record when he took the first snap.
However, Golson gives Notre Dame an extra threat besides passing — he can run the ball, gaining 305 yards with five touchdowns this season. Alabama’s running quarterback, sophomore Blake Sims, is playing the part of Golson for the Tide’s scout-team offense.
Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson compared Golson to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who rode a victory over the Crimson Tide to the Heisman Trophy. Coincidentally, Manziel is a redshirt freshman like Golson.
“He’s very good,” Johnson said. “He’s able to throw. He’s able to run. So we’ve got to be on our P’s and Q’s because the last quarterback we played that was able to do that, we lost.”
Square said Alabama needs to show the pass-rush discipline against Golson that it didn’t early against Manziel, who rushed for 51 of his 92 yards against the Tide in the first quarter. The plan will be something similar to what Alabama used against Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who gained only 27 rushing yards in a loss to the Tide.
“You have to rush the guy, be disciplined as a team, as a unit, not be selfish as a player, get the guy on the ground,” Square said.
At running back, Notre Dame has three guys who each have started at least three games: Theo Riddick (880 rushing yards), Cierre Wood (740) and George Atkinson III (361), whose father played safety for the Oakland Raiders team that won the Super Bowl in January 1977.
The top receiver is tight end Tyler Eifert, who has 44 catches for 624 yards. The 6-foot-6, 251-pound Eifert’s father played forward for a string of Purdue basketball teams that made the NCAA tournament in the 1980s.
So, this is what Alabama is expecting: A power running game directed by a running quarterback, who likes to throw to a power tight end.
“When I hear their name, it’s just like smash mouth football and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to,” Johnson said.