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ReFo: Crimson Tide vs. Fighting Irish, BCS Championship
Steve Palazzolo | 2013/01/10
Have you ever wondered what PFF grading would look like for a college football game?
We did too, so we bring you the BCS National Championship Game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sure the game was a blow out from the start, but our grades should give some insight as to how Alabama routed Notre Dame 42-14.
There was a lot of hype coming in about the trench battles, particularly the Alabama offensive line taking on the Notre Dame defensive line. While the Tide’s line fared well, it was running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon who stole the show. The duo combined for 248 yards on the ground, many of which came after forcing missed tackles and picking up yards after contact. Alabama also got a tremendous game from quarterback A.J. McCarron who made some pinpoint throws throughout the night.
While Alabama picked up their third national championship in four years, Notre Dame left the Orange Bowl with a disappointing finish to a near-dream season. The defense that carried them all year looked sloppy and overmatched, while the offense was unable to sustain drives against the stout Crimson Tide defense. Still, the season was very much a success for Notre Dame as their rise back into national title contention created a nostalgic stir throughout the college football world. If head coach Brian Kelly continues to build the team in the trenches, they’ll likely remain in the hunt for the foreseeable future.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the grades and some of the key performances from the BCS Championship Game.
* Disclaimer: This is only a one-game sample. At PFF, we pride ourselves on analyzing every single snap of the NFL season which amounts to over 1,000 plays for some players. The grades for this game should be kept in perspective as they are the equivalent of 1/16th of an NFL season. For example, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett posted a +9.8 grade on opening day this year before stumbling to a -15.4 grade for the year. The grades for this game are just a fun look into the world of college football and by no means are a proper representation of a player’s college production and/or draft status.
(Continue to the end of this article for full game grades for both teams.)
Alabama – Three Performances of Note
Skill Positions Dominate
The tone for the game was set on the second and third plays from scrimmage. McCarron hit wide receiver Kevin Norwood with a 29-yard corner route, and Lacy followed it up with a 10-yard run that featured two missed tackles and a face mask penalty to top it off. That was the story of the day as McCarron spread the ball around on his way to 20 of 28 passing for 264 yards, four touchdowns and a +6.8 overall grade. He hit two more corner routes for big gains, one of which was placed perfectly along the sideline to WR Christion Jones. The other near-perfect pass was a comeback route on a roll out that McCarron put where only WR Amari Cooper could catch it. Of McCarron’s eight incompletions, four were dropped and two were intentionally thrown away. His only real misses came on two deep posts to Cooper that were both inches away from big gains. For the day, McCarron was on point with 24 of his 26 aimed passes for an Accuracy Percentage of 92%.
As for the running backs, Lacy forced a ridiculous 13 missed tackles with 101 of his 140 yards coming after contact. He ran through the defense on his way to a 20-yard touchdown early in the first quarter and he capped off the half by taking a check down and spinning off linebackers Danny Spond and Dan Fox on his way to the end zone. He finished the day at +5.1. Yeldon forced four missed tackles of his own, and 81 of his 108 yards came after contact. He graded at +3.3.
While the offensive line did stellar work, it was Alabama’s playmakers who dominated this game from start to finish.
Mauling at Left Guard
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding left guard Chance Warmack and he lived up to his billing on Monday night with a +6.7 overall grade, including +5.7 as a run blocker. He did a nice job of sealing linebacker Manti Te’o at the second level multiple times in the first half while also having his way with the Notre Dame defensive line. But nothing summed up Warmack’s day like his block on Fox at the 2:47 mark of the third quarter. He pulled around to lead Yeldon through the hole and leveled Fox, taking him to the ground and right out of the play. Warmack surrendered only one pressure on his 30 pass block attempts as he finished his season strong on his way to possible first-round status in the NFL Draft.
Notre Dame was not afraid of All-American cornerback Dee Milliner, but perhaps they should have looked to the other side of the field more often. Milliner got his hands on four passes on his way to a +2.7 coverage grade for the game. Notre Dame went after him on back-to-back plays early in the first quarter as he was matched up with tight end Tyler Eifert. Both fade passes were well thrown, but Milliner got his hand in to move the ball just enough that Eifert was unable to gain control along the sideline. Milliner was later responsible for Alabama’s only interception of the day as he deflected another pass, this time into the hands of free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix who made a circus catch along the sideline. Like Warmack, Milliner has first-round aspirations and this was a fine way to cap off his senior season.
Other Alabama Performances of Note
- Center Barrett Jones played a valiant game given his postgame confession of playing with a lisfranc injury in his foot. He was unable to match the power of Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, but some veteran savvy helped him use Nix’ momentum against him and Jones found ways to seal him off in the running game. Nix certainly won his fair share of the battles, but Jones finished the day at +2.7.
- LB C.J. Mosley picked up four stops.
- RG Anthony Steen was the weak link on the offensive line surrendering three pressures.
- McCarron was pressured on nine of his 29 drop-backs, but he was not sacked or knocked down.
Notre Dame – Three Performances of Note
Not Te’o’s Best
After a season filled with numerous awards and honors, the Manti Te’o Hype Train came to a screeching halt Monday night. Again, we don’t want to crush a player for a poor showing in a one-game sample, but Te’o’s struggles were evident throughout the broadcast and our numbers back up the general perception of his play. He graded at -5.7 overall, with two missed tackles. He was slow and indecisive at the second level where Alabama offensive linemen were easily able to get their hands on him and he was unable to shed and find the ball.
When he did navigate his way through the traffic, he either took a bad angle to the ballcarrier or missed the tackle completely. Notre Dame’s inside linebackers were inexplicably attacking the wrong gaps in the running game that put them in a trail position behind running backs with a speed advantage; not a recipe for success. He had his struggles in the passing game as well where he missed a tackle after a screen pass to Lacy and later found himself biting on play action on the goal line that left tight end Michael Williams wide open for a touchdown.
Te’o is yet another player hoping for a first-round phone call come April, but this was a tough way to go out with the entire league watching.
More Tackling Woes
While a lot of the credit has to go to Lacy for making defenders miss, Notre Dame deserves some blame for their awful tackling display. They finished with 19 missed tackles on the day, with safety Zeke Motta leading the way with six. Motta finished at a game-worst -9.0 for the day from his poor tackling, bad angles, and getting beat in coverage. The Irish had chances to stop the running game, as unblocked defenders swarmed the line of scrimmage with clear shots at the running back, but Motta and others were unable to capitalize. In addition, Spond contributed three missed tackles while CB KeiVarae Russell missed three as well. Not a lot went right for Notre Dame, and poor tackling is right at the top of the list of blunders from Monday night.
Golson to Daniels
Lost in the blowout was some positive play from two redshirt freshmen in quarterback Everett Golson and WR DeVaris Daniels. The chemistry between the two looked strong as Golson made a number of throws to Daniels before his break, and some even came as Golson was under intense pressure. Daniels always seemed to be in the right spot and he finished with 115 yards on six receptions and a +3.5 overall grade. Golson and Daniels were two of the bright spots for Notre Dame, but they were unable to sustain enough offense to keep up with Alabama’s high-powered attack.
Other Notre Dame Performances of Note
- Center Braxston Cave showed great strength by manhandling nose tackle Jesse Williams at the point of attack on one play. Cave finished the day at +3.0 overall, including +1.7 as a run blocker.
- TE Tyler Eifert finished with 61 yards on six receptions, good for a +1.5 grade as a receiver. He stayed in to pass block on seven snaps, surrendering two pressures for a -0.6 pass block grade.
- DE Stephon Tuitt was Notre Dame’s best defender at +0.8.
PFF Game Ball
As great as McCarron was throwing the ball, Lacy gets the nod for his 13 missed tackles forced and 101 yards gained after contact.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve