Previewing three matchups for the Alabama offense in the Crimson Tide's showdown with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game.
Cooper's nine receiving touchdowns are just one off the UA single-season mark.
Alabama wide receivers 83 Kevin Norwood (6'2, 195, rJr.); 22 Christion Jones (5'11, 185, So.); 9 Amari Cooper (6'1, 198, Fr.); and 80 Marvin Shinn (6'3, 198, rFr.) vs. Notre Dame cornerbacks 2 Bennett Jackson (6'0, 185, Jr.); 6 KeiVarae Russell (5'11, 182, Fr.); and 22 Elijah Shumate (6'0, 198, Fr.).
From the UA perspective: As was the case in games against LSU and Texas A&M, the Alabama passing game weathered stretches of inconsistency before coming up big in the fourth quarter of a 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Cooper's winning touchdown reception was his fifth in the last four games. The true freshman has racked up 373 receiving yards in his last three games against FBS opponents.
The question heading into Monday night will be, can AJ McCarron and his receivers put together the kind of complete performance that has eluded the passing game for much of the second half of the season? For that to happen, UA will need more production from Jones and Norwood, who combined to catch one pass for 22 yards against UGA. And, no, I don't expect Kenny Bell to make a significant contribution against the Irish.
From the Notre Dame perspective: If there's been a pleasant surprise for the Notre Dame defense this season it is has come at the corner spots.
Jackson, a special teams stalwart the previous two seasons, has developed into a solid corner, picking off four passes and recording 61 tackles this season. Meanwhile, Russell and Shumate, a pair of talented true freshmen, have stepped forward to solidify the top three corner spots, with Shumate joining Jackson and Russell when Notre Dame goes to its nickel package. Together, the trio have played large roles in the Irish ranking 21st nationally in pass defense.
Who gets the nod?: Believe it or not, the running game will be critical to this matchup. With its strong front seven, Notre Dame has had the luxury of playing a lot of cover two, keeping its corners out of true man situations in the process.
If Alabama has success running the ball against two-deep safeties, one of those guys will have to drop into the box, which should lead to more man-to-man opportunities for the Crimson Tide passing game.
Something else to keep an eye on: Notre Dame isn't afraid to leave base personnel on the field when an opposing offense goes three wides, especially on first down. That approach might lead to more first down throws for McCarron.
The Irish have dealt with talented receivers this season, including the Southern California tandem of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. However, they haven't seen the kind of quarterback-receiver combo that Alabama will present. Edge to UA.
Alabama offensive tackles 71 Cyrus Kouandjio (6'6, 311, So.) and 76 DJ Fluker (6'6, 335, rJr.) vs. Notre Dame outside linebacker 55 Prince Shembo (6'2, 250, Jr.) and defensive ends 7 Stephon Tuitt (6'6, 303, So.) and 89 Kapron Lewis-Moore (6'4, 306, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: From TRips: Three for the O heading into the SEC Championship Game: "Come Monday, if Kouandjio and Fluker are player of the week selections by the UA coaching staff -- as they were following the win over LSU -- there's a good chance you'll be making reservations at Joe's Stone Crab."
Don't forget the Key Lime pie for dessert.
To be fair, Kouandjio and Fluker weren't the only offensive linemen to receive player of the week honors for their play against Georgia. So did the guards, center and tight ends.
It was a group effort against the Bulldogs, no doubt, but Fluker's dominating spirit stood out in the second half. Like the rest of the running game, the big man was not going to be denied.
From the Notre Dame perspective: Between them, Shembo, Tuitt and Lewis-Moore have combined to make 25.5 of the Irish's 34 sacks this season.
Shembo (7.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries) plays Notre Dame's equivalent of the jack linebacker position, while Truitt, a Georgia native who needs 1.5 sacks Monday night to break Justin Tuck's single season school mark, works both inside and out.
For the most part, Kouandjio and Fluker will see Shembo and Truitt in passing situations, although Truitt will occasionally slide inside, where he'll likely draw UA right guard Anthony Steen.
Who gets the nod?: Need to factor in Alabama's tight ends in this matchup. Michael Williams and Brian Vogler turned in dominating run blocking performances against Georgia as the Crimson Tide rolled up nearly 300 rushing yards while working from its two-tight end sets.
The interior of the Irish defense is extremely stout against the run. We'll find out on Monday if Notre Dame's perimeter defenders are capable of setting the edge against UA's tackles and tight ends. Slight edge to UA.
Alabama center 75 Barrett Jones (6'5, 302, rSr.) vs. Notre Dame nose tackle 9 Louis Nix (6'3, 326, rSo.).
From the UA perspective: Will he play or won't he?
The status of Jones' sprained foot was a top storyline during Alabama's early bowl workouts. After spending the better part of two weeks rehabbing, the Crimson Tide's 49-game starter returned to the practice field on Tuesday, showing little to no residual effects of the injury.
As for the game itself, Jones will be confronted by a challenge similar to the one he faced against Georgia as the Irish employ a 3-4 base defense that will position an extremely large human being directly over Jones' nose.
From the Notre Dame perspective: A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Nix is another southerner on the Irish defensive line who turned down offers from SEC schools before making his way north.
In holding down the point of the Irish's 3-4 defense, the redshirt sophomore keeps inside linebacker Manti Te'o clean, serving almost in the same role for Te'o as Jones does for McCarron. More than just a plugger, Nix is also capable of making plays, something he's done to the tune of 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season.
Who gets the nod?: How well/long will Jones' foot hold up? Really, that's what this matchup will come down to.
Unlike Georgia's nose tackles, who often negate their size advantage by playing too high, Nix appears to understand the concept of pad level. He'll look to use that leverage to demand double teams from Jones and one of his neighbors.
Nix is a worthy challenger and Jones' health remains a bit of a question mark. Still, it's hard to go against a guy who is set to make his third national title game start at his third different position on Monday night. Slight edge to UA.
Also see: TRips: Three Irish defenders to watch
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