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 running backs.
Alabama: Those who looked for a drop-off in production from the running back position at Alabama were sorely mistaken. A Heisman Trophy contender left, and a fabulous freshman talent replaced him. Everyone knew Eddie Lacy would be the man at tailback, but few expected T.J. Yeldon, just a few months removed from high school graduation, would come to Tuscaloosa and earn what amounted to 1A status at the position. The former four-star recruit flipped from Auburn to Alabama after then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn bolted for Arkansas State.
"We have always had two backs -- it’s sort of a philosophical thing that we like," Saban explained. "Durability is such a critical factor in running backs that if you play one guy all the time it enhances his chances of not being able to continue to play at the same level. It’s always been our goal to play two guys -- not always equally, but fairly equally to where both guys have a better chance to sustain the season at a high level and are productive throughout."
Lacy and Yeldon have combined for 2,182 total rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns. They became the first running backs at Alabama to both break the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
Notre Dame: Like Alabama, the Fighting Irish employ a two-back system, not to mention the production they get on the ground from quarterback Everett Golson. Unlike Alabama, the pair of senior tailbacks don't get the same publicity. Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood have combined for 1,620 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and 39 receptions this season, helping Notre Dame to the 28th-ranked rushing attack in the country, just nine spots behind the Crimson Tide.
"They’re just like us," said UA linebacker Nico Johnson. "Or just like any other team in the SEC. They’re physical, and really, that’s how they play, that’s their M.O. is they’re going to try and out-physical you by running the ball or hitting you in the mouth on defense. When I hear their name, it’s just like smash-mouth football, and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. Who’s able to play the best, who’s able to last the longest in the fourth quarter, and we’re gonna see who lasts."
Since 2005, Notre Dame is 43-2 when it out-rushes opponents. Alabama, for its part, has failed to out-gain an opponent on the ground just once this season -- ironically the lone loss of the year to Texas A&M.
Final Verdict: If there's a matchup that's not getting enough attention, it's this. Notre Dame's and Alabama's offenses rely on having a successful running game. And while it's difficult to say which team has the edge between the two tandems, the winner has to be Alabama. The disparity in yards and touchdowns is simply too much to overlook. The nation found out just how good Lacy and Yeldon can be when the pair took over against Georgia in the SEC title game, setting a conference championship record with 350 rushing yards that day. If those two can do the same against Notre Dame's often dominant front seven, a win for Alabama will be all but certain.