Defense wins football games. It’s a mantra that is still firmly held by coaches and fans everywhere. It’s a minority opinion with the high-speed offenses that now populate college football and the NFL. However, a look over the champions in the last seven years shows that defense is still necessary to win championships. This is more present in the college game due to the last six national championships being won by teams from the SEC, a conference that stresses dominating defense and that conference could be on its way to gaining its seventh straight title.
This year’s SEC representative in the BCS title game is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Last year they won the title with a shutout thanks to a historically great defense. This year, the defense is still great and able to inspire just about as much awe as it did last year. However, their opponent this year, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, has just as awe-inspiring a defense, and have completed an undefeated regular season primarily because of it.
As mentioned above, the Crimson Tide’s defense isn’t quite as good as last year’s, but few can really tell the difference. They have only one less game allowing 10 or fewer points, they still have shutout opponents, and they’ve still given off the impression that this is an elite defense that is part of an elite team.
Something that may play into the Fighting Irish’s favor is that this Crimson Tide defense can be human, and they showed it during the final month of the regular season. Zach Mettenberger of the LSU Tigers had his best game of the season against the Crimson Tide in a game where the Crimson Tide offense had to bail out the defense. Then in the lone loss of the season for the Crimson Tide, Johnny Manziel produced a 20-point first quarter that had the Crimson Tide scratching and clawing back the whole game, only to fall just short against the Texas A&M Aggies. And in the SEC title game, Aaron Murray was mostly contained in the first half, but the Crimson Tide defense had no answers for him in the second half.
While the caliber of quarterback the Crimson Tide had problems with are better to much better than Everett Golson, freshman quarterback for the Fighting Irish, it’s not just about the skill of those quarterbacks, but their ability to lead their respective offenses in their respective games against the Crimson Tide.
The Fighting Irish have had their most successful season on defense in years, and it hasn’t been against a bunch of tomato can opponents. One thing I’ve given the Fighting Irish credit for this year is scheduling hard. The Fighting Irish have become a little lackadaisical over the years with their scheduling, but this was almost a throwback to the days of old when the Fighting Irish were taking on the top opponents possible with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
And throughout their run, the Fighting Irish have come across teams with big offensive weapons and they’ve turned those teams and their weapons away every time.
Against the Michigan Wolverines, Denard Robinson had given the Fighting Irish fits for years. This year was by far Denard’s worst game against the Fighting Irish and was one of the worst performances of the whole season by the Wolverines’ offense.
Against the Michigan St. Spartans, they had to deal with Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans running back who supplied a good portion of the team’s offense all season. Bell was stuffed by the Fighting Irish defense and the Spartans failed to score a touchdown in the game.
Against the Stanford Cardinal, there was Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal running game for the Fighting Irish to deal with. They did their job and even survived a poor call in overtime when a touchdown by Taylor wasn’t counted.
When the Fighting Irish faced the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes early in the season, the Hurricanes had an offense that was putting up massive amounts of points in their opening few games. This was the Fighting Irish’s coming out party to the nation as far their defense’s run of big games this year. With their 41-3 stomping of the ‘Canes, the message was sent by the Fighting Irish defense that they could play with any offense.
Against the USC Trojans, the Fighting Irish stopped another pass-happy offense, though a late goal-line stand was the big highlight in this Fighting Irish victory.
If there was one game that embodied what this Fighting Irish defense has been all about this season, it was the Fighting Irish’s win over the Oklahoma Sooners. In Norman, Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish defense couldn’t be stopped despite being in a hostile environment and against a top-level college quarterback (Landry Jones). Manti Te’o made a key interception, the Sooners running game never got going, Jones was held at bay, and the Fighting Irish created some key turnovers and big plays on defense throughout.
Monday Night in Miami will be the ultimate defensive duel. And fittingly it will be for the national championship. The top two defenses in college football with go toe-to-toe on the biggest stage these young men have played on in their football careers. And whichever team ends up raising the crystal football will likely do it because of one final big performance from their defense.