Listen to the hyperbole, and one would think Alabama’s offensive line is more like a steel-plated door that leads into a vault containing some of the world's most valuable diamonds. In other words, breaking through it would require some sort of Ocean’s 11 heist.
After Alabama lost to Texas A&M, plenty of many irate callers into the Paul Finebaum show lamented why the Tide decided to pass when facing a game-deciding series inside the Aggies’ red zone. “You got the best offensive line in the history of college football,” one caller shouted, “so run the damn football!”
Make no mistake, Alabama’s offensive line is among the best in the country, if not sitting at the top of the heap. Barrett Jones is the nation’s best center and stands at 6-foot-5 and weighing over 300 lbs. -- so all Manti Te’o could do was marvel at the senior when the pair were in Houston for the Lombardi Award ceremony last week.
“That’s a big dude,” Te’o exclaimed.
But Notre Dame’s front seven won’t look like a group of punters and kickers running into a group of five behemoths on Jan. 7. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are both products of SEC country, with the latter garnering plenty of support as an All-American defensive end alongside the often-unblockable Jadeveon Clowney. And Nix is a guy to whom some observers will throw a bit of credit for Te’o’s outstanding season -- in fact, on Notre Dame’s third-and-inches stop of Stepfan Taylor on Oct. 13, Te’o said Nix did most of the work, and all he had to do was give Taylor a little shove to keep him out of the end zone.
“What I see is a big, physical Alabama offensive line,” Nix said. “Traditional, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth, and that’s what we expected, that’s what we wanted because win or lose, it’ll better the team, it’ll be better me, it’ll better Tuitt, it’ll better everyone because a hard, physical game is what we need.”
Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond -- these aren’t guys who are going to be easily stonewalled, either. Shembo in particular has shown an explosive ability to get to the quarterback at times, and it’s worth noting Alabama’s offensive line has allowed 23 sacks -- a mediocre national total.
Going back to that point about Te’o’s success in relation to his defensive tackle, Nix’s matchup with Jones could be key in South Florida. It’s one for which he began preparing while watching the SEC Championship at the beginning of the month.
“He’s just a smart center. He knows how to play the game, obviously, because he played three positions on the O-line,” Nix noted. “It takes a real good guy to know how to play all three positions, so he’s a real smart guy, real athletic, very strong at the point of attack. I just have to be ready for him.”
Saying the BCS Championship will be won in the trenches isn’t exactly exclusive, expert analysis. If Notre Dame can win the battle on the line of scrimmage, both while on offense and defense, they’ll be in excellent shape on Jan. 7.
To be the best, you have to beat the best -- and that’s the defending champs, who hail from a conference that’s won the last six BCS titles. That team also happens to have an offensive line that’ll present a major challenge to Notre Dame, but one the team is looking forward to.
“They’re considered the best O-line in the country,” Nix said, “so that’s who we want to play.”
On the other side...
Alabama got some good news Friday morning, as the SEC announced defensive tackle Quinton Dial will not be suspended for this hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray during the SEC Championship Dec. 1. The conference admitted a flag should’ve been thrown on the play, but commissioner Mike Slive decided against suspending Dial for the BCS Championship.
Dial, a 6-foot-6, 304-pound senior, totaled 20 tackles with 4 1/2 for a loss, 1 1/2 sacks and four QB hurries in 11 games this season.