- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the matchups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the offensive line.
Alabama: There's little doubt that Alabama has the most talented offensive line in the country. If there was, it was likely erased when the Crimson Tide bullied their way to an SEC title game record 350 yards rushing against Georgia. It was a display of just how dominant the front five can be -- D.J. Fluker bowling over defenders, Chance Warmack bursting to the next level for a key block, Barrett Jones orchestrating the action from center.
But Alabama's line hasn't been without its flaws. In the same display of dominance in Atlanta was a show of weakness. In the first half, Georgia attacked the line and had good success rushing the passer. AJ McCarron was harassed and rattled early on, forcing a number of errant passes that would force offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to turn almost exclusively to the running game.
While Georgia had one of the best pass rushers in the country in Jarvis Jones and a front seven that's arguably more athletic than Notre Dame's, the worry of a repeat exists. The Fighting Irish are balanced up front and can attack the offensive line in a number of ways. Brian Kelly's squad ranks in the top 25 in passing defense, rushing defense, sacks and red zone defense.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish might not have Barrett Jones, but they have the next best thing in Braxston Cave. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound senior was a candidate for the Outland and Lombardi awards, as well as a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, an award for the top center in the country which Jones just so happened to have won.
Notre Dame's line might not come in with the hype of Alabama's, but their effectiveness is without question. It starts with their experience as all five linemen are juniors or seniors. And all five linemen are big. The unit averages 304.4 pounds with right guard Mike Golic Jr. the smallest at a mere 295 pounds.
"They're a pretty good group," UA defensive end Damion Square said. "The center is a big, physical guy. All those guys have great size on them, great height. They protect (quarterback Everett Golson) back there pretty well. It's definitely a game we're going to have to strap it up and come to play. It's power football."
Final Verdict: Fawn over the skill players and pass rushers all you want, but this game will be decided by what happens in the trenches. Both Alabama and Notre Dame are built on the simple premise that if you win the line of scrimmage, you'll likely win the game. And while both schools have big, powerful offensive lines, there's none more overwhelming and physical than Alabama's. When Jones, Warmack and Fluker get going, there's no stopping them. Every coach that has witnessed the Bama o-line has come away with the same impression. Said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: "That’s why they are where they’re ranked now and why they’re in the national championship hunt."
5dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
5dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf