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Putting it all on the line

Irish defense faces punishing Crimson Tide ground game

– With a BCS championship on the line, Notre Dame and Alabama know Monday’s game will be decided at the line.

Specifically, an Irish defensive line and linebacking corps that is giving up only 92.4 rushing yards per game and has surrendered only two rushing touchdowns goes up against a Crimson Tide offensive line that has paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers, 224.6 rushing yards per game and 35 rushing touchdowns.

“They don’t make mistakes,” said Alabama’s Barrett Jones, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. “That’s the thing you see on film. They don’t slant the wrong gap and leave huge holes where they are going to give you easy touchdowns. They are going to make you earn it.”

Only Oklahoma’s Blake Bell and Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham earned rushing touchdowns against the No. 1 Irish (12-0) this season, and Notre Dame has not given up a rushing touchdown since Graham’s 16-yard scoring run in the second quarter of the Irish’s 29-26 triple-overtime home win Nov. 3.

Alabama has run for two touchdowns in 10 of its 14 games as junior running back Eddie Lacy has run for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns and freshman T.J. Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“Both (Alabama’s) running backs are great running backs, and they hit the hole with intensity, and they’re aggressive,” safety Zeke Motta said. “They are patient too, so it will be a good challenge for us and I’m looking forward to that. I would say (the Tide) are like a combination between Michigan State and (USC) because of the line and the running backs that they have.”

Alabama’s offensive line is the most star-studded collection of players it has on its run-heavy offense.

The 6-foot-5, 302-pound Jones and 6-3, 320-pound left guard Chance Warmack were named first-team All-Americans by The Associated Press, and 6-6, 335-pound right tackle D.J. Fluker was a second-team selection. The line is rounded out with 6-6, 311-pound left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and 6-3, 303-pound Anthony Steen.

“They’re the finest collection tackle to tackle, group of players that we’ve faced so far,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “It’s not another happy-go-lucky group of offensive linemen. This is an angry, aggressive, intense group of players that play hard and finish blocks.

“We talk about the (running backs) are really the battery of that team, the battery of that offense, which is the battery of that team. But they’re facilitated by the offensive line. The offensive line is really the marquee position group of that pretty marquee offense.”

Notre Dame has plenty of marquee defensive talent, especially up front.

Stephon Tuitt, a 6-6, 303-pound defensive end, had a team-high 12 sacks and 42 tackles, and Kapron Lewis-Moore, a 6-4, 306-pound end, had 8 1/2 tackles for loss and 39 tackles. Louis Nix III, a 6-3, 326-pound nose guard, had 45 tackles with 5 1/2 tackles for loss.

Manti Te’o, a 6-2, 255-pound All-American linebacker, led ND with 103 tackles, and linebackers Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Danny Spond combined for 189 tackles.

“This is as good a front seven as we’ve seen,” Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “They do a great job jumping in and out of their odd defense and going from an odd to a four-down front, and they’ve got big, physical, fast players. They run well on the back end, very well coached.

“They’re just a really, really good.”


Notre Dame
vs. Alabama
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Miami
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM, 107.3 FM

Coming Monday

•Get ready for the BCS championship game with our 8-page special section that previews No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Alabama and includes features, columns, matchups, stats and more.

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