FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Call Notre Dame’s offense the under-appreciated unit heading in Monday’s BCS National Championship Game between No. 2 Alabama and the top-ranked Irish.
The other three capture all of the headlines.
Notre Dame’s top-ranked scoring defense, led by national darling in linebacker Manti Te’o.
Alabama’s second-ranked scoring defense on the reigning national champions that dismantled LSU in last year’s title game.
Alabama’s offense is a mix of quarterback in AJ McCarron, two 1,000-yard runners in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, game-breaking freshman receiver Amari Cooper and, oh, yeah, the nation’s best offensive line with All-Americans Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.
Notre Dame’s offense simply can’t be classified the same way.
“We don’t get a lot of respect,” said Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame tight end and John Mackey Award winner. “We have played really well at times and have been inconsistent at times and maybe that’s the reason. We think we have a lot of talent on offense and a good scheme to compliment that.”
If you listened to Friday’s press conferences from both teams you came away with the impression that Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is a mix of NFL rookies QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, Eider is part NFL stars Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham and Theo Riddick leads a trio of Walter Payton-type running backs.
There’s little to no statistical proof to back that up but praise flowed in all directions.
Wide receiver TJ Jones said Golson has grown from being a “little boy at quarterback to being a man” and is expecting him to have his breakout game against Alabama.
“He takes control anyway he wants whether it’s running, throwing or play action and even coming onto the sidelines and telling the offense that he has us and he will take care of us,” Jones said.
Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said the Tide has played quarterbacks to prepare for Golson.
“He’s similar to Johnny Mansfield,” Johnson said. “And, you remember how that turned out?”
Of course, Johnson is referring to Alabama’s lone loss this season on Nov. 10 to Texas A&M and Manziel, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, who ran circles around the Crimson Tide.
In regard to Eifert, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said Alabama has not faced a tight end with that much talent and also player that can catch, run and block as well as he can. Linebacker C.J. Mosley said Eifert is basically a wide receiver in a tight end body at 6-foot-6, 251 pounds who lines up absolutely anywhere in the formation.
“We’re going to have to change up a few things that we do,” Mosley said.
It sounds like Eifert will receive plenty of attention from Alabama’s secondary.
“He’s capable of lining up at receiver and playing the receiver position better than a lot of receivers and guys like that bring all types of challenges,” safety Robert Lester said. “I love challenges.”
Riddick leads a trio of running backs followed by Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III. Following is how an exchange at press conference when Smart was asked about the team’s running backs.
When I say "Theo Riddick" as a runner, what jumps into your mind first?
“One step quickness, explosiveness, great receiver,” Smart said.
“Speed,” Smart said.
Robert Atkinson III?
“Them two dudes are fast,” Smart said. “They are really fast. We recruited Atkinson, so we knew that, and the other guy is just as fast. Riddick is probably quicker than the other two. Great one-step quickness, the ability to make you miss, good stiff arm. … Didn't think a former receiver would run with that much power, but he does run with power. They're really good backs.”
Johnson possibly paid the three the ultimate compliment in this part of the country.
“They run physical don’t get the credit they deserve,” Johnson said. “We see big backs week in and week out … they are SEC-type backs that are big and run with a purpose.”
If you go by the coach-speak and respect given by Alabama’s players, Notre Dame should hang some big numbers on Alabama and light up the scoreboard.
But, in reality, I don’t see it happening.
With Golson you still have a quarterback that was demoted to the scout team a year ago, doesn’t complete 60 percent of his passes has rushed for only 305 yards this season. His game-breaking ability includes a long run of 27 yards with his longest completion measuring only 50 yards.
Eifert is the team’s top weapon and leading receiver. But even his longest catch is 38 yards and he averages 13 yards a reception without topping the 100-yard mark once in his collegiate career.
Riddick appears to be legitimate ground threat but nothing Alabama has not already faced this season.
With its core weapons, Notre Dame plans on to march the ball on lengthy drives against Alabama with short-to-mid-range strikes. There’s only one team that has done that to Alabama all season – Texas A&M … and most of that damage came in the first half.
If Notre Dame can do it again on Monday – and win the national title because of it – then the Irish’s offense deserves all the credit that seemed to pass on its way to an undefeated regular season and during the BCS pregame hype.