Alabama and Notre Dame like to do different things with their defenses, but both programs run a 3-4 base scheme. This allows us a great opportunity to compare the two-deep with both squad's 3 down linemen.
DE, Ed Stinson, RS Junior
6'4" 282 pounds
'12 stats: 29 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3.0 sacks, 5 QB hurries
Career: 62 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 4 sacks, 7 QB hurries
DE, Jeoffrey Pagan, Sophomore
6'4" 285 pounds
'12 stats: 22 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries
Career: 26 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries
NG, Jesse Williams, Senior
6'4" 320 pounds
'12 stats: 36 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.0 sack, 4 QB hurries
Career: 60 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries
NG, Brandon Ivory, RS Sophomore
6'4" 315 pounds
'12 stats: 21 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 1 QB hurry
Career: 26 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 1 QB hurry
DE, Damion Square, 5th-year Senior
6'3" 286 pounds
'12 stats: 33 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 9 QB hurries
Career: 93 tackles, 18.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks, 14 QB hurries
DE, Quinton Dial, Senior
6'6" 304 pounds
'12 stats: 20 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries
Career: 39 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries
DE, Stephon Tuitt, Sophomore
6'6" 303 pounds
'12 stats: 40 tackles, 13.0 for loss, 12.0 sacks, 9 QB hurries
Career: 70 tackles, 16.0 for loss, 14.0 sacks, 14 QB hurries
DE, Tony Springmann, RS Freshman
6'6" 300 pounds
'12 stats: 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 0.5 sack, 3 QB hurries
Career: Same as above
NG, Louis Nix, RS Sophomore
6'3" 326 pounds
'12 stats: 45 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2.0 sacks, 3 QB hurries
Career: 90 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries
NG, Kona Schwenke, Junior
6'4" 290 pounds
'12 stats: 5 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 0.5 sack
Career: 7 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 0.5 sack, 1 QB hurry
DE, Kapron Lewis-Moore, 5th-year Senior
6'4" 306 pounds
'12 stats: 39 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 6.0 sacks, 9 QB hurries
Career: 179 tackles, 22 for loss, 12 sacks, 22 QB hurries
DE, Sheldon Day, Freshman
6'2" 286 pounds
'12 stats: 20 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 2.0 sacks, 1 QB hurry
Career: Same as above
DEPTH & EXPERIENCE
Alabama has a distinct and clear edge in this category.
The Tide returned 3 players this season who were either outright starters (Stinson & Square) or played significant starter-like minutes (Williams), while Quinton Dial has played a ton of minutes since arriving from East Mississippi Community College in 2011.
Brian Kelly has done a good job building up the depth across the defensive line, but it is not quite to the level that Alabama is currently at. The Crimson Tide utilize their entire 2-deep and are not afraid to sub players in and out with high frequency. This depth shows as every member of the Alabama 2-deep has at least 20 tackles on the season.
Notre Dame's depth and experience are good, but you'd like a little more rotation up front.
True freshman Sheldon Day has really come on strong this year and is the lone backup to see a lot of minutes and produce on the field. Kona Schwenke and Tony Springmann each see the field regularly but haven't made a big enough impact the way players like Dial and Pagan have for Alabama.
TALENT & PRODUCTIVITY
With Alabama rotating players a little more than Notre Dame the overall stats are skewed but it's tough to find a starting trio in a 3-4 defense more talented and productive than what the Irish have to offer.
Irish starters Tuitt, Nix, and Lewis-Moore have just 2.5 fewer tackles for loss and 8.5 more sacks than the entire 2-deep of Alabama on the defensive line.
With Nix and Tuitt the Irish have two players with All-American honors and two major difference makers on defense. Even with a lack of depth in comparison to Alabama it is these players who have the ability and talent to take over a game.
Alabama is a highly disciplined 3-4 defense though, they maintain their gaps, and allow the linebackers to do most of the damage. Like Notre Dame they are effective power rushers, adept at taking on double teams, and coming off blocks to make tackles.
However, on obvious passing downs the Irish are able to consistently get pressure on the quarterback with their defensive line. This has allowed Notre Dame to do a lot more with the back end of its defense and is one of the biggest reasons why the Irish have given up just 9 plays from scrimmage of 30+ yards---second fewest in the nation.
I'm giving a decent edge to Notre Dame at defensive line.
Frankly, I think Alabama is okay with that because even though they play a 3-4 defense like Notre Dame they rely more on their linebackers, and on blitzes and strong play from their secondary. Obviously Notre Dame wants to do those things too with their linebackers and secondary, but the blitzes are less frequent and the Irish really do rely on players like Tuitt and Lewis-Moore to get sacks and make stops.
Both lines have equal abilities as power rushers and in gap control responsibilities. I like Alabama's ability to get off blocks and dive to make a stop, but I like Notre Dame's ability to shrink the pocket while maintaining gap control a little better.
It'll be interesting to see if Alabama employs its "mush rush" defense that they've used in recent years against mobile quarterbacks. If the reports out of Tuscaloosa are true it seems likely. That means we likely won't see much production out of the Alabama defensive line as their responsibility will be to primarily power rush, control their gap, and try to shrink the pocket without letting Golson escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.
If this happens, be prepared for Golson to take off once in a while but get tripped up for a loss or a very short gain. Alabama will also send some blitzes that Golson will have to deal with while defensive linemen are eating up blocks by Irish offensive linemen. Most of all, with a mush rush philosophy, Golson will have time and opportunities to throw the ball down field and he'll have to connect if Notre Dame is to win.
This is likely the way the Tide want the game played---dare Golson to make smart reads and tough throws downfield with disciplined defensive line play shrinking the pocket around him and occasional blitzes from athletic linebacker or secondary players.
Clearly this is the reason why we've talked about Golson having so much pressure to perform. He has the athleticism to escape pressure, but also the arm strength to stand in the pocket and move the chains with his arm.
Notre Dame's defensive line will have the challenge of beating a truly outstanding Alabama offensive line and making the Tide running backs shuffle their feet as gaps are closed near the line. If they can do that with some success and get after McCarron on passing downs Alabama is not going to have as much of their own success on offense as they are used to.