Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin was looking for something, anything, on tape to lend some hope that his stable of talented running backs could make a game-changing play against Alabama's vaunted run defense.
He didn't find much.
"You try to gain some confidence if you look at the big run tape and the big pass tape, (and with) the big run tape I’m like ‘did we do all 12 games?’" Martin said, half-joking. "There’s only four on here, and one was in the fourth quarter against a team that was like 86-0 so I didn’t even count that one because there were no numbers on the field for Alabama that I recognized."
The stats aren't as bad as Martin made them out to be, but they're still not encouraging. Alabama's defense allowed seven runs of 20 or more yards in its 13 games, and only one of those went for 30 or more. Alabama is the only FBS defense against which opponents averaged under 80 yards rushing per game, and only three teams rushed for over 100 yards against the Tide this season.
Two of those teams -- LSU and Texas A&M -- needed 49 and 46 rushing plays to eclipse the century mark. Georgia, behind a physical, fast back in Todd Gurley, ran 29 times for 113 yards in the SEC title game, good for a 3.9 yards-per-carry average. That's the highest Alabama allowed in its 13 games.
"They don’t give up squat running, and we know that," Martin quipped.
But Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood proved to be more than capable as a running back duo over Notre Dame's regular season. It was Riddick who pounded USC's defense to help push the Irish into the BCS Championship, and Wood's 62-yard touchdown dash against Oklahoma helped set the tone for the arguably Notre Dame's biggest win of the season.
Just because Alabama doesn't give up much on the ground, though, doesn't mean the Irish will eschew the run. There's still a balance to be fostered, while Riddick and Wood are good enough for the Irish to succeed against even the best of the run-stoppers.
Regardless, Martin and Notre Dame are preparing for Everett Golson to have to make the game-changing plays that have often fallen on the shoulders of Riddick and Wood. Golson's no stranger to those, either -- his 50-yard completion to Chris Brown against Oklahoma certainly falls into that category -- and he's played on plenty of big stages already.
"I’m not the type that really succumbs to pressure, I guess. I don’t think any moment’s bigger than what it is," Golson said. "For me, it’s about that game that’s played between (the lines). It’s not necessarily about everything that’s going on around it. At the end of the day, it’s about playing Jan. 7 at Alabama."
And make no mistake, Golson's still in the midst of a massive learning process. But as has been the case in plenty of Notre Dame's games, he may not have to do everything right -- just enough to secure a win.
"If we win this game 3-2, we’re good," Martin said. "And that’s been the way we’ve been all year."