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Power football takes center stage

Andrew Owens | Saturday, January 5, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – When the Irish and Crimson Tide line up in the trenches Monday night, it will mark a victory for traditional, defensive-minded football in an era where gimmicks and finesse are the flavor of the day.

Notre Dame and Alabama have reached the BCS National Championship Game, and much of that is due to physical nature of the squads. No. 1 and No. 2 on defense. No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think it’s great,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “We want to limit as many plays as we possibly can. When the offense is playing smashmouth on both sides, time is ticking off the clock and plays are being minimized from an exposure standpoint. We love it.”

Fittingly, the game’s most important matchup is arguably the faceoff between Alabama senior guard Barrett Jones and Notre Dame junior nose guard Louis Nix. The anchors of the respective lines are embracing the challenge of facing the opposing unit.

“I don’t want to call it old-school, but it’s all the bread and butter of football,” Alabama senior guard Chance Warmack said. “They play smashmouth defense and we play smashmouth offense. It’s going to be a big opportunity to see which team holds up.”

Diaco said the approach each team employs makes the most sense for building an elite program.

“If you can’t run the ball and you can’t stop the run, you’re going to lose,” he said. “You have no chance to win. None. If your offense throws for 300 yards, you may or may not win. If you run for 300 yards, you will win every time. Period. That’s it.

“A lot of head coaches came from offensive side of the ball and have a lot of plays they want to call. They’re like science experiments over there. They’ve got a big book and it’s got 300 pages and each play is like their child and they want them executed in the game. Defensive coaches just want to have one more point than the other guy.”

Two teams known more for their finesse than for incorporating a physical approach that rivals Alabama and Notre Dame – Kansas State and Oregon – were No. 1 and 2, respectively, on Nov. 10 before losing on Nov. 17. The consolation prize was a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, a contest Oregon won as the teams tried to outscore each other.

Instead, it’s the Crimson Tide and Irish are on the biggest stage and playing for the glory.

“There’s something to be said for a physical matchup. I think both teams pride themselves on being physical and we’re going to find out who’s the most stubborn team is – who’s going to line up in their stuff and run down people’s throats,” Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “Their defensive line is big and physical, and our defensive line is big and physical. Their offensive line is big and physical, and our offensive line is big and physical.

“We’re going to find out who that is and I think that’s going to determine the outcome of the game. Someone’s going to have to [adjust and] spread it out whether it’s us or them and then we’ll see how that goes.”

As the line of scrimmage goes, so will go the national championship game.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu