Previewing three matchups for the Alabama defense in the Crimson Tide's meeting with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game.
Clinton-Dix's interception against Georgia was his fourth of the season.
Alabama safeties 6 HaHa Clinton-Dix (6'1, 209, So.); 37 Robert Lester (6'2, 210, Sr.) and 3 Vinnie Sunseri (6'0, 215, So.) vs. Notre Dame quarterback 5 Everett Golson (6'0, 185, rFr.) and tight end 80 Tyler Eifert (6'6, 251, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: Seeing as how Notre Dame uses a variety of formations and utilizes personnel in different ways, defending Golson and Eifert will require more than just the safety positions.
For example, Eifert will sometimes split wide to the boundary, which will likely result in the athletic big man matching up with UA corner Dee Milliner. As for Golson, the fact that he can make plays outside the pocket will likely bring inside linebacker CJ Mosley into play.
In the most fundamental of terms, though, Alabama's safeties will play a role in defending the duo, whether its Clinton-Dix and Lester, who have combined for eight interceptions this season, defending on the back end in coverage or Sunseri helping out against Eifert as the dime back. The key for the trio will be to remain disciplined and not leave receivers/coverage areas when Golson bolts the pocket.
From the Notre Dame perspective: Golson is a one read quarterback. While blessed with plus arm strength, he's not at the point in his development yet where he's going to stand in the pocket and progress through to his third option. If his primary guy isn't available, he'll look to improvise, either by running or throwing on the run if pass coverage breaks down. And that's where the discipline part will come in for the Alabama secondary.
Regardless of who you put on him, Eifert isn't a good matchup for an opposing defense. Doubling him with Mosley or Sunseri underneath and a safety over the top isn't going to discourage Golson from going to him. The guy can high point the football as well as any receiver not named Amari Cooper out there.
Who gets the nod?: Look, regardless of what we've been told in recent weeks, we all know Golson isn't Johnny Manziel. More than athletic ability, Manziel has a feel for the game that Golson and most other quarterbacks don't have.
That said, his legs could present a problem to an Alabama defense that hasn't always been assignment sound this season. So look for some designed movement for Golson from Notre Dame's offensive brain trust. You'll probably see some zone keeps, option and pocket movement, which will provide Golson with the half-field reads he's comfortable with.
With Eifert, this matchup will come down to third downs and red zone. Everyone knows the ball is going his way on conversion plays and those will go a long way in determining what kind of night it is for the Alabama defense. Edge to Notre Dame.
Alabama nose tackle 54 Jesse Williams (6'4, 320, Sr.) and defensive end 92 Damion Square (6'3, 286, Sr.) vs. Notre Dame center 52 Braxston Cave (6'3, 304, Sr.); left guard 66 Chris Watt (6'3, 310, Sr.) and right guard 57 Mike Golic (6'3, 295, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: If they didn't know what he meant to the front seven already, Williams' value to the Alabama defense became painfully clear to Crimson Tide fans during the second half of the SEC Championship Game. With the nose tackle sidelined by a knee injury early in the third quarter, Georgia found the inside running game to its liking. Further validation came in the fourth quarter, when Williams, who went from looking to be out for the remainder of the game to back in the lineup, assisted on a critical third-and-1 stop.
Square is in this matchup based on the belief that Alabama will spend a good bit of time in nickel. Assuming that happens, look for Square to spend more time inside than outside.
From the Notre Dame perspective: The interior trio of Cave, Golic and Watt represent three of the four seniors who head up the Irish offensive line. Cave, a two-year starter, is SEC good. He's big, physical and athletic enough to hold his own with most nose tackles.
Golic and Watt are solid, but each have had their struggles in one-on-one situations. This became clear after watching both in games against Stanford and USC.
Assuming he's uncovered, Cave will be able to help out against Alabama's four-man front, but either Cross or Watt is going to have to deal with Williams, Square, Ed Stinson or Jeffrey Pagan. That's a matchup UA should feel pretty good about.
Who gets the nod?: UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said on Thursday that the A and B gaps are where it all starts. Translation: you have to establish dominance at the point of attack and take away the inside running game.
While not as dominant as it was a year ago, the Alabama front seven should be able to limit Notre Dame's success between the tackles. In fact, I look for the Irish offense to be more perimeter oriented in going against the Crimson Tide. Edge to UA.
Alabama inside linebackers 32 CJ Mosley (6'3, 232, Jr.); 33 Trey DePriest (6'2, 245, So.) and 35 Nico Johnson (6'3, 245, Sr.) vs. Notre Dame running backs 6 Theo Riddick (5'11, 210, Sr.); 20 Cierre Wood (6'0, 215, Sr.) and 4 George Atkinson (6'1, 210, So.).
From the UA perspective: Another potential formation dilemma for the Crimson Tide defense where the linebackers are concerned.
Notre Dame will go with two tight ends a good bit, which usually results in a base look from UA that doesn't include Mosley. Here's the thing, though: Eifert is used as much in the slot and split out as he is at the traditional tight end spot, so when the Irish go two tights, it's not the same as, say, when Alabama does it.
For that reason, expect to see Mosley on the field for the duration Monday night. Well, that and it just happens to be the biggest game of the year and he's Alabama's best all-around football player.
From the Notre Dame perspective: In terms of how he's used, Riddick is the running back version of Eifert. Technically, he's a running back but you'll see him in the slot when the Irish go with four wide receivers. He won't be out there just there for looks, either. The senior's 35 receptions rank third on the team.
Meanwhile, Wood and Atkinson are true tailback types who have the speed needed to hit the home run. Atkinson (7.1 ypc), who also returns kickoffs (20.7 ypr), ranks first on the team in yards per carry while Wood (6.7 ypc) is second.
Who gets the nod?: He's not as talented as Wood or Atkinson, but Riddick makes up for it with toughness, vision and better than average quickness. He isn't afraid to mix it up inside and he's excellent when it comes to the cut back. Between coverage and run responsibilities, Mosley will have a lot on his plate, so DePriest and Johnson will need to bring something to the table. Edge to UA.