Friday, January 4, 2013
How they measure up: Defensive line
By Alex Scarborough
Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the match-ups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the defensive line.
Alabama: There's not a whole lot of flash to the Alabama defensive line. Jesse Williams, the formerly mohawked Monstar, doesn't lack personality and neither does the oft-grinning Damion Square. But their play on the field, as a result of coach Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, is usually understated. Square, Williams and Co. are there to take on blocks and free up the linebackers and defensive backs to make plays.
And by that measure, Alabama's defensive line has been one of the best in college football. Take sacks and tackles for loss -- the traditional measurements -- out of the equation and look at the bigger picture: UA ranks in the top five in passing, rushing and total defense. The Crimson Tide have given up the second fewest points per game in the country, trailing only Notre Dame. Creating negative plays is nice, but winning all four downs is what matters.
Williams is the anchor of the unit at nose guard. The converted defensive lineman has held the point well this season, rotating with Brandon Ivory depending on down, distance and general fatigue. Square and Ed Stinson have served as the primary defensive ends, but Quinton Dial, Jeoffrey Pagan and D.J. Pettway have all played significant snaps. The key for the unit as a whole is size and gap discipline. All three starters come in at more than 280 pounds and have at least three years experience.
Notre Dame: The Golden Domers may operate the same 3-4 scheme as Alabama, but they get different results. Coach Brian Kelly's defense has produced a pair of stars on the defensive line in end Stephon Truitt and nose guard Louis Nix III.
"He’s a high-energy player," UA left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said of Truitt, who comes in at 6-foot-6, 303 pounds. "He’s talented, of course, and it will be an honor to play against him."
With starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame averages 311.6 pounds across the front.
Said UA guard Chance Warmack: "They're just really physical, really big up front."
Final Verdict: The defensive line may be one of Alabama's biggest weakness as their inability to generate a consistent pass rush has allowed quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel to run wild. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's d-line is arguably its biggest asset. Truitt, Nix and Lewis-Moore have combined for 20 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. By comparison, Alabama has 33 total sacks, 7.5 coming from Williams, Square and Stinson. While the ability to rush the passer is not the end all be all, it could be one of the keys to the outcome of the game.