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Notre Dame passing game could find holes in Alabama’s pass defense

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 9:41 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Asked whether Alabama has the capability to confuse him, Everett Golson offered an unambiguous response.

“Oh, yeah,” Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback said. “Alabama is a great defense. They have a great team, they have a great coach, they do a lot of things that work out in their favor.”

The Crimson Tide’s run defense is stout, but its defensive backs are hardly a secondary concern. Alabama ranked No. 8 in pass efficiency defense during the regular season. Against that, Golson and Co. will need a handful of big-chunk gains to score with any regularity.

Another mobile quarterback, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, befuddled Alabama in its lone defeat. Though he isn’t Johnny Football, Golson similarly can sidestep the rush and extend plays. But the deep, experienced Crimson Tide might not be fooled again.

Irish principals: QB Everett Golson, TE Tyler Eifert, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels.

For most of the season, the player who eventually would win the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end floated in and out of relevance, depending on the game plan and Golson’s functionality.

But the BCS title game is a prime time for Notre Dame to re-ask the question: Exactly who is going to cover Eifert?

As good as Alabama’s defense is, it doesn’t have anyone to match up against the Irish’s 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end with basketball player athleticism and hops. If Eifert can find his way into seams, Notre Dame can have the big plays that will serve as a pressure release on a young quarterback.

A healthy Daniels, back from a broken clavicle, offers another big-play option.

Crimson Tide principals: CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LB Adrian Hubbard.

Asked what set the Alabama secondary apart midway through the season, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze didn’t seize up.

“It’s the most disciplined secondary I’ve ever faced,” Freeze said.

It must live up to that billing against a quarterback mobile enough to tax even the best defensive backs, forcing them to cover for exorbitant amounts of time. It will help if the pass rush, led by Hubbard and his team-high seven sacks, sets the tone.

But the Crimson Tide don’t have that singular, game-changing pass rusher. So Milliner, the All-American cornerback, and secondary mates such as safeties Lester and Clinton-Dix, must take only measured risks. They can’t allow the Irish easy gains. If they do register a takeaway or two, the entire balance of the game shifts.

Analysis: The analogy of Manziel to Golson is ... well, strained at best. Excessive ad libbing from Golson won’t kick off his own Heisman 2013 campaign as much as it will send 2012 to a crashing end. If Alabama forces a couple of mistakes, it will win. But that will require a better pass rush than it has produced thus far. If Notre Dame plays generally error-free, it will be in position to grind out a championship.

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