Notre Dame passing game facing tough Dee
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 10:52PM
Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner (28) runs back a turnover as teammate Brandon Ivory (62) puts a block on Michigan running back Thomas Rawls (38) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Updated: February 6, 2013 6:14AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Alabama has the fourth-ranked pass defense in the country and an All-America cornerback in junior Dee Milliner.
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame’s unassuming senior tight end, isn’t impressed.
“They’re not perfect; they’re not supermen,” Eifert said Friday. “They’re a really, really good defense, but they have their weaknesses, too. They’re good cover corner guys, but sometimes they may not play the ball as well as a receiver would in the air. Things like that.”
Eifert was then asked if the Crimson Tide had faced anybody like him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
Tailback and frequent pass-catcher Theo Riddick also said the Irish passing game — ranked 76th in the nation — has an advantage over the Crimson Tide that it can exploit Monday in the BCS National Championship Game.
Milliner actually has heard it before, and he shrugged it off Friday.
“If they say they can exploit it, go ahead,” said Milliner, who has two interceptions and 20 passes defended this season. “Hopefully if they feel that way, they’re going to try something in the game, and we can change the way they think.”
Alabama, on the other hand, had nothing but respect for Eifert, a two-time All-American himself. In fact, Milliner said he has gone up against somebody like Eifert — current Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery.
“He’s built a little like the receiver from South Carolina, Alshon Jeffery,” Milliner said. “Just that type of size and height.”
The 6-6, 251-pound Eifert is three inches taller and about 35 pounds heavier than Jeffery but has tremendous athleticism and an uncanny knack for getting tough balls in coverage. He had 44 catches for 624 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, with star receiver Michael Floyd drawing most of the attention, he had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s harder to get to him this year because he’s our go-to guy,” offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “You have to be Harry Houdini to find one-on-one matchups in the red zone for Eifert.”
Converted linebacker Troy Niklas is being groomed as Eifert’s replacement, but as Alabama very well could find out, there are few players who can do what Eifert can.
“There’s no heir apparent to what Tyler can do in the passing game for us,” Martin said. “Even [Thursday], we threw three or four balls that I actually stopped and looked away because I knew they were incomplete passes, then heard somebody yell, ‘Great catch, Tyler.’ I’m like, ‘He caught that one?’ ”
NOTE: Max Redfield, a five-star safety who decommitted from USC in November, committed to Notre Dame on Friday during the Under Armour All-America Game.
Redfield is rated the No. 3 safety and No. 24 overall player by Rivals.com. He’s the third five-star recruit in Notre Dame’s incoming freshman class, joining linebacker Jaylon Smith and running back Greg Bryant.