By the time the ball is kicked off in the BCS Championship Game Monday night, both Alabama and Notre Dame will be dissected more than an alien autopsy at Area 51.
Here are a few underlying mismatches that may have slipped under your radar heading into the college football finale.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+10, 40.5)Alabama red-zone defense vs. Notre Dame red-zone offense
The Crimson Tide haven’t been as air tight as seasons past but they stiffen up when teams get inside the 20-yard line. Bama boasts the best red-zone defense in the land (just ahead of Notre Dame), allowing opponents to score on just 62.96 percent of their red-zone tries.
The Fighting Irish offense has hit a bit of a snag inside the 20-yard line. Notre Dame is ranked 79th in red-zone offense, scoring on just 79.31 percent of its trips. The Irish haven’t been able to punch it into the end zone either, boasting a 46.55 TD percentage in the red zone – 119th in the land. Settling for field goals may not be enough versus Alabama.Barrett Jones’ bum ankle vs. Notre Dame run defense
Alabama’s all-world center Barrett Jones is nursing a sprained ankle, suffered in the SEC title game, and he just returned to practice this week after sitting out the majority of work this month. Jones is confident he’ll be able to play Monday, but the Irish stop unit will undoubtedly test his bum wheel.
Notre Dame was fourth against the run this season, budging for just 92.4 rushing yards per game and allowing just two touchdowns on the ground. The Fighting Irish run a 3-4 defense and will use their quickness to plug the gaps and get pressure on A.J. McCarron when he does drop back. Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III - who Jones says will be the best NT he’s faced this season - will aim to tie up Jones and allow LB Manti Te'o to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage.Irish TE Tyler Eifert vs. Crimson Tide secondary
Notre Dame is well known for producing some fine tight ends and Tyler Eifert is the latest TE making a name for himself in South Bend. He led the team in receiving with 624 yards and four touchdowns on 44 catches. The 6-foot-6 senior is also used as a split end and faces a smaller Alabama secondary.
The Crimson Tide pass defense ranked second in the land, giving up only 166.2 yards per game. However, the secondary has shown a few chinks in the armor. Outside of shutdown CB Dee Milliner, opposing pass attacks have focused on John Fulton, Geno Smith and Deion Belue. Louisiana State, Texas A&M and UGA were able to move the chains through the air and Georgia split end Tavarres King posted a big day with 142 yards on five grabs in the SEC Championship.
Crimson Tide clean play vs. Irish penalties
For a team that plays such a physical style, it’s amazing how few penalties Alabama is whistled for. The Crimson Tide are among the most disciplined programs in the land and have been flagged for only 32.8 yards per game – seventh lowest in the country. Alabama averages under four penalties per game and had just two infractions versus Georgia in the conference title game.
Notre Dame isn’t “The Mean Machine” by any means, but the Irish are far from saints. They average just under six whistles per game and nearly 43 yards in penalties. That number has trended upward in recent outings. Over its last four games, Notre Dame has averaged 48 yards in penalties including an eight-call, 65-yard display versus Boston College in Week 11. As Alabama’s physicality wears on the Irish, expect the flags to start flying as Notre Dame scrambles for answers.