Outside Surprise

Irisheyes.com continues its "10 for a Title" series examining 10 crucial game elements necessary for Notre Dame if the Irish are to earn a BCS Championship victory over Alabama. Next in the series: rising to the occasion on the perimeter.

Impartial, logical observers of Monday night's BCS Championship game largely agree that a long-standing gap between Notre Dame and the SEC elite has considerably narrowed. And it's a gap that has decided football games since the days of leather helmets and cinder fields.

Notre Dame is Alabama's relative equal up front. It's unlikely the Irish front seven will be overrun, and though not implausible, unlikely the Irish won't be able to block Alabama consistently enough to win a close contest.

As for the perimeter?

"There are some similarities, certainly in terms of the line of scrimmage," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly when asked to compare his roster to Alabama's. "We're continuing to develop the skill level of our football team. But I think there's some more similarities up front on the offensive and defensive line."

Tight end Tyler Eifert's skill level is second-to-none. Seniors Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood form a similar tandem to Crimson Tide's battering rams Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. But on the perimeter, Notre Dame remains few steps behind their southern counterparts.

The key is closing that secondary gap -- against the Alabama secondary -- for the one game that remains.

"From what we've seen on film, it looks like they play a lot of man and off-man," said junior X receiver T.J. Jones of Alabama's No. x ranked pass defense. "Individual routes (become paramount). Beating one-on-one, so it will come down to how we fare individually against their DBs."

Can Jones separate from All-American cornerback Dee Milliner? Can redshirt-freshman DaVaris Daniels return from a broken collarbone to make a game impact? Can slot target Robby Toma break open vs. an athletically imposing slot defender who's studied his tendencies for six weeks? Can any Irish receiver win the battle for the ball vs. (by far) the best collection of secondary talent they've faced?

"Iron sharpens iron," said Jones of how he prepared for the contest. "In my opinion, (Irish CBs Keivarae Russell and Bennett Jackson) are two of the best corners in the country. So if I can compete with them every day at a high level then I feel I can compete with everyone in the nation."

Daniels, a 6'2" target who made crucial 20-plus yard catches at Oklahoma to extend drives, offered a comfort zone with what he and his cohorts will face as well.

"That's what we worked on in practice so its something we're comfortable with now," Daniels noted of the probability of one-on-one matchups. "Hopefully we can find some holes in their defense and exploit them."

Daniels offered that he's close to 100 percent healthy after breaking his collarbone on November 10 in a win over Boston College. "If I'm not all the way back, I'm right next to it," he said.

He'll have to be. The game will be decided by matchups up front -- but it might swing on the efforts of one or two crucial man-to-man victories by Notre Dame's supporting cast on the outside.

(Note: Click the links below for the first seven game keys in our "10 for a Title" series):

#1 Hit for one score from outside the red zone

#2 Plus-One Turnovers

#3 Return of the Man?

#4 Even Steven

#5 Status Quo

#6 Cashing In

#7 Splitting the Pipes

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