Notre Dame, Alabama both know BCS national title lies in the trenches
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com January 3, 2013 11:27PM
Wake Forest v Notre Dame
Updated: February 5, 2013 6:36AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Reporters were lined up three and four deep around the dais Thursday morning, bodies contorting and arms straining to get a camera in sight of his face or a microphone in range of his voice. For 45 straight minutes, he was surrounded by a rotating throng of inquisitors.
The man of the hour, the star of the show?
Alabama center Barrett Jones.
Yeah. Monday’s BCS national championship is going to be that type of game.
If you’re looking for high-octane passing games, five-receiver sets, and a 54-51 final score, well, better luck next year. Notre Dame-Alabama certainly sounds like a national championship game from a bygone era, and it’s probably going to look like one, too.
‘‘Certainly, this game will come down to who wins the trenches,’’ Jones said.
And that’s why — with rosters featuring big names such as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon — so much talk has centered on the center of the line of scrimmage, where two normally unheralded positions could decide the national title. It’s the 302-pound Jones against 326-pound Irish nose guard Louis Nix III.
If Jones neutralizes Nix, Lacy and Yeldon likely will eat up big chunks of yards and big chunks of the clock, and the Crimson Tide will grind out the Irish. If Nix can get Jones on his heels, Lacy and Yeldon can expect to see a lot of Nix and Te’o in the backfield, and the Irish will suffocate the Tide the way they did so many other teams this season.
Both players relish the challenge.
‘‘I think it’s a good matchup,’’ Nix said. ‘‘People say I’m an underrated nose tackle, which I think I am. I don’t get a lot of praise, and I understand that, because we have Manti and a bunch of other guys on the field that make plays. [Jones] is a great O-lineman, maybe the best O-lineman in the country. I’m happy I’ve got the opportunity to go up against him.’’
The feeling — and the respect — is mutual.
‘‘He’s got great size, he’s got great feet, he plays really hard, he uses his hands well,” said Jones, the Rimington Award winner who declared himself ‘‘close to 100 percent’’ after returning to practice on Tuesday from a sprained foot suffered in the SEC championship game. ‘‘He’s just a very sound player. I expect to probably play the best player I’ve played against all year.’’
Jones spearheads a ground attack that has scored 35 rushing touchdowns while averaging 224 yards per game this season — junior Lacy (1,182 yards) and freshman Yeldon (1,000) are the first two Tide backs to run for 1,000 yards in the same season. Nix, meanwhile, plugs the middle on the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing defense, which has allowed 92 yards per game and just two rushing touchdowns all season.
Nix — who’s from SEC country in Jacksonville, Fla. — is one of the reasons why Notre Dame’s defense has been compared to those in the nation’s top conference, which has won the last six national titles. Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore — a Texan — bristles at the idea, saying the Irish don’t play SEC defense, they play ‘‘Notre Dame defense.’’ But the Tide think it’s an apt comparison.
‘‘I think it’s very, very comparable,’’ offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. ‘‘This is as good a front seven as we’ve seen.’’
Added another of Thursday morning’s unlikely rock stars, Alabama guard Chance Warmack: ‘‘They’re a really good defense. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tremendous challenge for me and the whole offense.’’
The Tide praised the Irish secondary, too, which performed well above expectations with three converted offensive players starting for the first time this season. And the Irish went out of their way to call Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron one of the most effective and underrated passers in the country.
But with these two teams, and their smashmouth styles befitting their long and storied traditions, there’s no secret where this game will be decided: Front and center.
‘‘It’s going to come down to who wants it most,’’ Lacy said. ‘‘Who can be more physical, and who can dominate.’’