Notre Dame vs. Alabama: Star power, power football

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In a world full of spread-the-field, hurry-up offenses, Alabama is a bastion of traditional football.

The Tide put its no-frills muscle on display Saturday, mashing Georgia with 350 yards rushing.

Eddie Lacy, listed at a conservative 220 pounds, went for 181 against the Bulldogs to up his season total to 1,182 with 17 touchdowns. Freshman T.J. Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.

But this is no 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Both backs average over 6 yards per carry, behind an offensive line anchored by All-American center Barrett Jones, who is nursing a foot injury.

And quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

The Tide has been more potent offensively this season than last to make up for a defense that has slipped, but only a bit. Alabama leads the nation in total defense (246 yards per game) and is second in points allowed (10.7 per game). Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley and Trey Depriest average 242 pounds.

When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that.

Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles _ only Alabama has as many _ but none since 1988.

Notre Dame has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country (10) and is sixth overall in total defense (286 yards per game).

“It’s clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense,” Kelly said. “If you play great defense you’ve got a chance. For us to move Notre Dame back into national prominence we had to develop a defense.”

The face of the Irish isn’t a strong-armed quarterback or speedy ball carrier. It’s middle linebacker Manti Te’o, a 255-pound offense wrecker with a nose for the ball. The senior has seven interceptions and is a likely Heisman finalist.

Te’o, along with 300-pound linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, have formed a red-zone wall for the Irish. Late goal-line stands highlighted victories against Stanford and USC.

“There’s some pretty physical guys that have some great toughness and some great licks,” Saban said in assessing Notre Dame.

While nurturing redshirt freshman Everett Golson, Kelly has leaned on Notre Dame’s running game, which averages 202 yards.

“This is just a good all-around football team with tremendous balance on offense and a very physical defense,” Saban said.

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