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Amid hype, basics to rule title game

– Notre Dame and coach Brian Kelly are in a whole new world with the No. 1 Irish (12-0) playing No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in tonight’s BCS championship game at Sun Life Stadium.

Notre Dame will try to win its first national title since 1988, and even though Kelly has been to three national title games with Division II Grand Valley State, it was nothing like the BCS title game.

“I think more than anything else, it’s the anticipation of the game because there’s such a lead-up for this one with all of the media attention, where at Grand Valley State, we were staying at the Best Western,” Kelly, who went 2-1 in Division II championship games, said during Sunday’s final coaches news conference before the title game.

“I don’t know that anybody knew where we were. It was just another game. It was the championship game, but it certainly doesn’t have the same kind of feel.”

While the BCS championship game has a different feel in the month-plus run up to the game, the basics will still apply when the Irish and Crimson Tide clash tonight.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is trying to win his third title in four years and fourth championship overall, said the standard factors of controlling the line of scrimmage, stopping the run, being able to run the ball, making big plays, limiting your turnovers and creating other and being efficient in the red zone and on third downs are still points of emphasis as with all other games.

But in a one-game championship situation there is another factor that is just as important as those football fundamentals and that is a team’s mindset when the ball is kicked off in college football’s grand finale.

“I think in bowl games in general, psychological disposition is really, really important, because I’ve talked before about how it’s so difficult to bring the momentum of the season to this game, regardless of where you were when the season ended, because there’s such a separation in the two,” Saban said. “So you’ve got to kind of look at it as a one-game season, and when you look at these bowl games, you can tell that the way the team approaches it, the passion that they have for it, sometimes is a little bit different, and it does affect the outcome of the game.”

Kelly wants his team to have the mentality that it can make mistakes against Alabama, and the Irish will need to live with some mistakes tonight as they try to end the Southeastern Conference’s run of six straight national championships.

“If you’re going to sit back and hope that it’s going to come your way, you’re going to miss,” Kelly said. “(Former UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden has made this quote to be part of his philosophy, as well, and I stole it from him, and I’ve used it quite a few times with our football team. This is one of those games where you have to be aggressive, and you’re going to make a mistake. I’m not talking about catastrophic mistakes, throwing picks for touchdowns, but you may make a mistake here.

“As long as you know that you’re playing hard and aggressive, that’s the kind of mentality (you need).”

It’s a good mentality for a team to have, but the Irish likely will not be able to turn that philosophy into a championship victory.

Notre Dame made this run by building an SEC-style team with a strong running game and punishing defense.

But Alabama is the template for that model and has been doing it at this level longer. The Irish will put up a good fight, but the Tide will roll to another title tonight.

Tony Krausz is the assistant sports editor and Notre Dame beat writer for The Journal Gazette. He may be reached by email at; phone 461-8127; or fax 461-8648.

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