Continued from page 1

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

They won’t in any way be intimidated by Notre Dame’s impressive defensive front, which has allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season.

“The backs are really the battery of that team, the battery of that offense,” Diaco continued. “But they’re facilitated by the offensive line. The offensive line is really the marquee position group of that pretty marquee offense.”

No wonder the Crimson Tide feels no great urge to throw the ball. The team is way down in the NCAA stats when it comes to passing yards _ 84th at 214.5 per game _ but highly effective when it does go to the air. AJ McCarron is the nation’s highest-rated passer, set a school record with 26 touchdown passes, and was intercepted only three times.

Alabama is the more likely team to break off a big play in the passing game, especially with another super freshman, Amari Cooper, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch and hauling in nine touchdown passes.

But it’s all set up by the ground game. The Tide has run the ball an eye-popping 525 times, averaging 40 carries a game and far more than its 300 passing attempts. In only one game _ a last-minute victory at LSU _ has Alabama thrown the ball more than its run it.

Notre Dame is a bit more likely to go to the air, but not by much. The Irish rank 75th in passing yards with an average of 218.3.

“You have to adapt,” Kelly said. “That’s how we came up the formula this year to play the way we played.”

In a triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh, the Irish threw it 53 times. They would prefer a performance more in line with the regular-season finale against Southern Cal, in which Notre Dame displayed almost perfect balance (222 yards rushing, 217 yards passing).

Of course, it will be much tougher to run against Alabama’s defense, which leads the nation with an average of just under 80 yards per game. But, regardless of what happens Monday, Kelly has done a masterful job of breaking in a new quarterback while winning every game.

“I didn’t believe, nor did I want, to use this year as a bridge year, a transition year,” the coach said. “We had to find a way to win those games. Manage those games. Limit possessions. Hold onto the football.”

No doubt about it.

This BCS title game is going old school.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at