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Irish offense looks to exploit Tide’s weaknesses for championship win

Allan Joseph | Friday, January 4, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Tyler Eifert and the Notre Dame offense have heard all about Alabama’s vaunted defense. But after weeks of film study and practice, the senior tight end knows one thing.

“They’re not perfect,” he said. “They’re not supermen. They’re a really, really good defense, but they have their weaknesses too.”

If the No. 1 Irish are to triumph over the No. 2 Crimson Tide on Monday, the Irish offense will need to exploit every one of those vulnerabilities. And since the BCS National Championship Game promises to be a tight contest, Notre Dame’s success in balancing its passing game with its running game could be the difference.

“We’ve got to pass the ball and we’ve got to run the ball,” senior running back Theo Riddick said. “You can’t become one-dimensional against this team.”

Junior receiver T.J. Jones echoed Riddick’s sentiments and said establishing the running game was a priority for Notre Dame.

“From what we’ve seen throughout the year, nobody’s really been able to run the ball on [the Tide], and when they bring pressure no one’s really been able to stop the pressure and get time to throw the ball,” he said. “So I think making the right checks and establishing the run will help us out.”

If the Irish can get their backfield trio of Riddick, senior Cierre Wood and freshman George Atkinson success early, Jones said play-action passes could break the game open for the Irish.

“I think in the past games we’ve played, the play action has helped a lot in establishing the run game,” Jones said. “Teams have to protect the run, so play action will [be as] big in this game as it has been in other games.”

Jones said sophomore quarterback Everett Golson will play a key role in Monday’s contest, especially with his dual-threat ability on offense.

“He’s able to take the game into his hands, make plays with his arm and his feet and really just take control of the offense,” Jones said. “A play is never over when he’s in. He can scramble, make plays, he can get 20 yards on the run or get 20 yards on the pass.”

After a season of working with Golson and watching him grow, Jones said he knew how to change his routes to get open when his quarterback looks to break a big play.

“Watching film together, going through practice together, working on different things against our scout team or against our defense, [I know] that he can extend plays if he needs to,” Jones said. “If I’m in a route, I can take an extra step or two and he can shuffle left, shuffle right or run if he needs to and still get the ball to me.”

Alabama senior defensive end Damion Square said the quarterback’s mobility made his job as a pass rusher even more important.

“That’s a great weapon for any team. A quarterback like that [can] make them right for anything that he calls,” Square said. “He can call a play that’s probably busted, and then the quarterback can scramble around for five seconds and create things and create havoc for our defense. So as a defensive lineman you’ve got to rush in the right lanes and have communications with what kind of coverage on the back end and know how to rush and how to keep the quarterback contained, so that receivers won’t be running for an extended time on our DBs.”

Whether dropping back in the pocket or rolling out, Golson has found a wide variety of receivers this year. Five different players (Eifert, Jones, Riddick, sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels and senior receiver Robby Toma) have notched more than 20 receptions, each averaging more than 10 yards per catch. In addition, graduate student receiver John Goodman and freshman receiver Chris Brown have come up with big-play catches, averaging more than 20 yards per catch.

“It gives us different opportunities,” Jones said. “It gives different players the opportunity to catch balls, and defenses can’t really scheme against one player on our offense because we have so many different playmakers at every position.”

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said the talent and depth of the Irish receiving corps made his job of creating defensive schemes much more difficult.

“They do a great job as an offensive staff of managing their players and using their skill players in the right way. I mean, they put [Eifert] and Riddick on the same side, [which] makes it hard to cover,” Smart said. “It forces you to do things that you’re not used to doing. You can’t cheat the system and lean to one guy when they’ve got two guys out there like Eifert and Riddick and the wideouts. They do a really good job.”

And if the talent wasn’t enough of a headache for the Crimson Tide, Jones said the entire Irish offense is motivated by its underdog role.

“I think we’re ready to show the world that Notre Dame is for real.”

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu