FORT, LAUDERALE, Fla. – It will be strength on strength when Alabama’s rushing attack and Notre Dame’s front seven meet in the Discover BCS National Championship game.
And when players and coaches addressed the media on Thursday, it was the main topic of discussion.
Behind what is considered the best offensive line in the country, the Crimson Tide’s ground game pounded Georgia for 350 rushing yards in the Southeastern Conference championship.
That was with its leader, center Barrett Jones, hobbled by a foot injury. Jones is still recovering, but said “he will be 100 percent” come game time.
Jones will have to be in order to stop Notre Dame’s Louis Nix, a 326-pound nose tackle.
The Fighting Irish run a 3-4 base defense, meaning Jones and Nix will be matched up for much of the game. Against the 3-4, the Tide trusts Jones to handle the nose guard one-on-one, which allows guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen to block linebackers. Add tackles D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio and the Tide has a line built to punish teams on the ground. The line created gaping holes for running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to both eclipse 1,000 yards rushing.
“They’re the finest collection, tackle to tackle that we’ve faced,” said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.”… They’re uniquely big and fast.”
Notre Dame’s front seven is uniquely fast and big as well. Upfront along with Nix, there are defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt. All three are considered SEC-caliber players. Nix demands double teams which allows the linebackers to make plays on the ball carrier.
And then there’s Manti Te’o, who anchors a stout linebacker core. The Heisman Trophy finalist is the emotional leader for the team and a proven playmaker for the Fighting Irish. He leads the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense which allows only 10.3 points per game and has given up only two rushing touchdowns.
“The thing that stands out to me about Manti is he always seems to find the ball, as do all great players on defense,” said Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. “… It’s going to be very important that we know where he is at all times.”
Alabama wants to run right at its opponent. Notre Dame is hell bent on stopping the run. The team that is able to impose its will may very well be the winner and the collisions will be violent. But perhaps Warmack summed it up the best.
“They’re not afraid of us and we’re not afraid of them,” he said.