FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Could Alabama’s lone loss of the year give Notre Dame the clue it needs to beat the Crimson Tide on Monday night?
Only a 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M blemishes Alabama’s record as the SEC champion Crimson Tide (12-1) prepares to face the top-ranked Irish (12-0) in the BCS National Championship Game. The Crimson Tide struggled early to track down the Aggies’ quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and Notre Dame running back Theo Reddick figures his team learned something by watching that game.
“We can take advantage of their secondary,” Riddick told reporters Thursday morning during Notre Dame’s BCS session with reporters.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner said he’s glad Riddick is picking on the Tide’s secondary. He said if Notre Dame thinks the secondary is a weak link, the Tide cornerbacks and safeties will get a chance to prove the Irish wrong.
However, Riddick brings up an interesting point: Could Notre Dame take advantage of its running quarterback the way Texas A&M did Manziel?
Monday will mark the fifth time this year Alabama has faced a quarterback who rushed for at least 300 yards this season: Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1,166 yards), Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace (363), Western Carolina’s Troy Mitchell (433), Manziel (1,181), and Golson (305).
Alabama limited Robinson to 27 yards and beat Michigan 41-14. Wallace had minus-14 in a 33-14 loss to the Crimson Tide. Mitchell rushed for 6 as Alabama blasted Western Carolina 49-0. And even though Manziel finished with 92 rushing yards in the win over Alabama, he managed only 41 after the opening quarter, as the Tide adjusted its pass-rushing scheme.
However, Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards, and that’s what Alabama defensive players say is the real penalty when facing a running quarterback. They have to cover receivers longer, and during that time, someone might slip open, leading to a big pass play.
“That’s a great weapon for any team,” Alabama senior defensive end Damion Square said. “A quarterback like that can make something out of anything he calls. He can call a play that ends up busted, and then the quarterback can scramble around for five seconds and create havoc for our defense.”
Manziel did that on his first touchdown pass against the Crimson Tide. While he scrambled, Alabama lost receiver Ryan Swope, who found himself wide open in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
“The longer (Golson) scrambles, the longer we have to stay with our receivers,” Alabama safety Robert Lester said. “When you have to cover for four or five seconds, it’s easier to lose somebody.”
Clearly, Golson hasn’t had the season Manziel has, even though both are redshirt freshmen. Golson had 13 fewer touchdowns and about 2,100 fewer yards of total offense. But Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said Golson can make athletic plays that not many quarterbacks can.
“Extended plays are how they make big plays,” said Smart, whose defense leads the nation in fewest plays allowed of 10 yards or more, according to ESPN’s statistics information department. “You look at their scramble reel, there’s a lot of plays that the guy has really great arm talent.
“I can see in my mind three plays we watched over and over, he scrambles to his right, throws it all the way across the field to his left to a wide open receiver where the guy just lost him. They had him covered, and they just lost him.”
Alabama has used backup quarterback Blake Sims as the scout-team quarterback to simulate Golson. But Smart said the scout team struggles to duplicate what happens when the quarterback scrambles.
“It’s hard to simulate a play that extends that long,” Smart said. “You can’t do it, you really can’t. You just play with great effort and great discipline and do your job as a defense.”