As the college football nation’s eyes descends on Miami tonight, all the talk is just about over and we can finally buckle the chinstraps and get those pads popping for this physical matchup.
And while all the talk hovers around Bama’s veteran quarterback and massive offensive line and Notre Dame’s sexy defense, three key freshmen have a chance to steal the spotlight. Freshmen usually are seen and not heard, but Alabama’s TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson have been seen and heard in a big way this season. All three are critical to their team tonight, and their play will significantly affect the outcome.
Running back TJ Yeldon totals 154 carries for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he only trails Georgia’s Todd Gurley in yards and touchdowns for freshmen in the SEC. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy will share carries tonight just like they’ve done the entire year, with Lacy probably getting more touches. However, Yeldon possesses more speed than Lacy, and speed is what will impact the big bodies in the Irish’s front seven, not so much power. It remains to be seen whether UND can run sideline to sideline with the Tide’s speedsters, as the massive offensive line looks to get a hat on the Irish’s linebackers at the second level.
If Alabama is able to establish a running game, play action then becomes devastating for opponents. Quarterback AJ McCarron has burnt corners one-on-one when safeties bite on play action and creep closer to the line of scrimmage. And his biggest weapon is speedster Amari Cooper. Cooper caught a team-high 53 passes for 895 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season, and his emergence has been critical for Alabama to get to Miami. Bama had two receivers go down this season due to injury in DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell, and Cooper has certainly stepped into a leadership role and dominated. He’s Bama’s best receiver since Julio Jones. Notre Dame’s weakest unit on defense is the secondary, and the Tide will take some shots down the field. Cooper will be the target.
We know what kind of game Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson must have to lead his team to victory. Golson has thrown for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s done a fantastic job of leading the Irish on offense even though his stats may not impress you. He’s also rushed 89 times for 305 yards and five touchdowns, converting key third downs with his legs. The fact that he’s a dual-threat quarterback bodes well for an upset, because the only quarterbacks – outside of Stephen Garcia – who have beaten Nick Saban’s defense made plays in both phases of the game.
If you’re looking for an underclassman to steal the show tonight, these three freshmen have the best opportunity.
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