BCS Title Game Matchup: The Secondary

Wesley Hitt

Breaking down the corners and safeties in the BCS title game.

Alabama takes a lot of pride in their talented secondary, while we saw one of the best coaching jobs in the country with the Notre Dame secondary this season.

Let's break down each unit for the BCS National Title Game.

THE PLAYERS

Alabam_50_medium

CB, Dee Milliner, Junior

6'1" 199 pounds

'12 stats: 51 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 INT, 18 PBU

Career: 133 tackles, 9 for loss, 6 INT, 34 PBU

CB, John Fulton, Junior

6'0" 187 pounds

'12 stats: 15 tackles, 5 PBU

Career: 23 tackles, 0.5 for loss, 8 PBU

FS, Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Sophomore

6'1" 209 pounds

'12 stats: 30 tackles, 3 INT, 3 PBU

Career: 41 tackles, 5 PBU

FS, Nick Perry, Junior

6'1" 208 pounds

'12 stats: 37 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 PBU

Career: 40 tackles, 3 PBU

SS, Robert Lester, 5th-year Senior

6'2" 210 pounds

'12 stats: 42 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 4 INT, 3 PBU

Career: 141 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 14 INT, 10 PBU

SS, Vinnie Sunseri, Sophomore

6'0" 215 pounds

'12 stats: 52 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 INT, 3 PBU

Career: 82 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 INT, 4 PBU

CB, Deion Belue, Junior

5'11" 179 pounds

'12 stats: 36 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2 INT, 6 PBU

Career: Same as above

CB, Geno Smith, Freshman

6'0" 182 pounds

'12 stats: 8 tackles, 0.5 for loss, 2 PBU

Career: Same as above

Notred_50_medium

CB, Bennett Jackson, Junior

6'0" 185 pounds

'12 stats: 61 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 4 INT, 4 PBU

Career: 90 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 4 INT, 4 PBU

CB, Jalen Brown, RS Freshman

6'1" 199 pounds

'12 stats: 3 tackles, 1 PBU

Career: Same as above

FS, Matthias Farley, RS Freshman

5'11" 200 pounds

'12 stats: 43 tackles, 2.0 for loss, 1 INT

Career: Same as above

FS, Elijah Shumate, Freshman

6'0" 198 pounds

'12 stats: 8 tackles, 3 PBU

Career: Same as above

SS, Zeke Motta, Senior

6'2" 215 pounds

'12 stats: 61 tackles, 2.0 for loss, 2 PBU

Career: 163 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2 INT, 6 PBU

SS, Nick Baratti, Freshman

6'1" 206 pounds

'12 stats: 8 tackles, 1 INT

Career: Same as above

CB, KeiVarae Russell, Freshman

5'11" 182 pounds

'12 stats: 50 tackles, 2.0 for loss, 2 INT, 2 PBU

Career: Same as above

CB, Josh Atkinson, Sophomore

5'11" 185 pounds

'12 stats: 6 tackles, 0.5 for loss

Career: 8 tackles, 0.5 for loss

DEPTH & EXPERIENCE

Injuries devastated the Irish secondary this season and put Notre Dame at a big disadvantage for the title game. Austin Collinsworth tore his labrum in the spring game, and both Lo Wood and Jamoris Slaughter tore their Achilles---combined this left the defense short two starters and without a third (Collinsworth) who would have played a lot at safety and let Slaughter be used as a nickel corner.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide are sitting pretty.

Only two starters returned for 2012 (Alabama lost CB Dre Kirkpatrick 17th overall to Cincinnati and S Mark Barron 7th overall to Tampa Bay) so the experience coming into 2012 was good but not great. However, the current depth in the secondary is phenomenal and that in turn has built a lot of experience this season.

Of the 8 listed players on the above depth chart, only 1 (Fulton) doesn't play a significant role in the defense and even Fulton plays far more often than Irish backups like Brown and Atkinson. Even Landon Collins (not listed, but remember him?) sniffs the field often enough, although mostly on special teams.

The important thing to remember is that Alabama rotates a lot of bodies on the field in the secondary. Milliner and Belue will stay at corner, but there is a heavy 3-man rotation at safety among Lester, Clinton-Dix, and Perry. Vinnie Sunseri plays a ton as a nickel corner (STAR in Saban terminology), while freshman Geno Smith has impressed and seen time at nickel in recent games as well.

TALENT & PRODUCTION

Notre Dame's secondary does feature three VHT's (as Phil Steele would say) but also 2 three-star talents who have developed nicely. Alabama is full of mostly 4-star talent and a couple truly elite blue-chip prospects---according to recruiting rankings.

Obviously the presence of a 1st-team All-American and perhaps the country's best corner in Dee Milliner tilts the scales in a big way for the Crimson Tide. He's got great size for a corner, hits like a safety, and combined that with the foot speed and cover ability of someone much smaller. That's what you call the total package.

Moreover, the production for the Alabama secondary is really great and in contrast Notre Dame doesn't have the numbers outside of the starters to match up. If there's an injury to an Irish starter that is really, really bad news.

The secondary is Nick Saban's baby and it shows. Whether it be pattern reading, aggressive blitzes, cross-training players at field and boundary corner, or teaching athletes to be versatile at safety or nickel---this coaching is readily apparent when Alabama plays.

Milliner and Belue are quite aggressive corners and they are going to get up in Notre Dame's receivers faces at the line and stay on their hips during their routes. They are very physical with lots of hand-checking, body contact throughout routes, and the sneaky use of their back hand on the receivers will assuredly be irritating for Irish fans.

The Tide are very aggressive with their safeties too. It's not uncommon for one of Lester, Perry, or Clinton-Dix to come flying up to the edge of the line of scrimmage right before the snap. You see some of this from Zeke Motta as well, but that's almost always after he reads run and comes down in support. Alabama on the other hand is not afraid to play a single safety back and shoot the other safety in to the box whether the opponent is passing or running.

EDGE

Edge to Alabama.

However, there a few things to discuss.

First, the talent disparity isn't large once you take Milliner out of the equation. Of course you can't really take Milliner out of the equation but the talent level is fairly even for players 2 through 5 on the respective depth charts.

Second, I'll give an edge to Notre Dame in tackling. The job the Irish did wrapping up and limiting yards after catch this season was simply phenomenal.

Motta has always been a strong tackler but has improved his decision making and angles, Farley (with the exception of his first game with a cast after surgery) has tackled exceptionally for a first-year starter, and both Jackson and Russell tackle way above their listed weights.

Russell in particular has been a complete revelation this year with this tackles in key moments---to say nothing of his athleticism, ball skills, and confidence.

Third, the Alabama secondary is so aggressive that it can be a negative at times. Their sprinting a safety towards the line of scrimmage can sometimes leave that player in no-man's land, and a diving attempt to break up or intercept a pass can lead to not wrapping up the receiver and extra yards after catch.

With that aggressiveness comes a lot of playmaking for Alabama but they are susceptible at times. Notre Dame forsakes some playmaking in order to be less susceptible.

At the end of the day this is a really, really good Alabama secondary. They generate more turnovers, more pass-breakups, give up nearly 30 yards less per game, and are a major factor in perhaps the nation's best 3rd down defense. This proves their aggressiveness pays off much more often than it leaves them susceptible.

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