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Smart’s commitment to philosophy energizes Crimson Tide defense

Andrew Owens | Friday, January 4, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Like the head coach he works for, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart preaches attention to detail. It’s how his unit consistently snuffs the competition in dominating fashion.

A substantial part of Smart’s message revolves around desire. Even with as much as the Crimson Tide has accomplished, Smart said they have to continue to uphold that play.

“You’ve got to be careful about complacency, and that’s what we’ve tried to emphasize to this group is that, A, are they hungrier than you? Because if they’re hungrier that’s a competitive advantage,” he said. “You better not let anybody be hungrier than you.”

Smart, a rising star in the coaching ranks, leads a defense that recorded more turnovers and sacks on 3rd-and-7 or longer than successful conversions, Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said.

“If you want to get demoralized if you’re a Notre Dame fan, watch the Alabama third and seven-plus tape, which we did one morning, and then we called it a day after that because we were all demoralized,” he said. “If they just punted on third down the whole season against Alabama than actually going for it on third and seven-plus. They do a very good job in those situations.”

For the Crimson Tide, the pursuit of a third national crown in four years might come down to the turnover margin. In the only three games an opponent has played within 19 points of the Crimson Tide (LSU, Georgia and the lone loss to Texas A&M), Alabama has been on the losing end of the turnover battle, and decisively.

It committed two turnovers at LSU, three against Texas A&M and two against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game for a total of seven in those three contests. In the other 10 victories (all blowouts), it committed just eight.

Alabama ranked 19th nationally in forced turnovers, but just one of the 28 came in those three contests. Smart said it is critical that the Crimson Tide finish on the positive end of the turnover margin in Monday’s national championship game.

“I don’t feel like we were behind because we didn’t get turnovers, we were behind because we didn’t stop them, especially the Texas A&M game and the LSU game,” Smart said. “We didn’t stop them when we had to. We had some losses in the red [zone] that if we hold them to field goals on third down, we have a better chance. To hold them to three instead of seven, it’s a big difference.

“But obviously turnovers always play a great outcome in the game, and I think they know that, we know that. … Philosophically we both agree that we’re not going to turn the ball over and beat ourselves.”

Notre Dame’s red zone offense has often been its Achilles heel this season and allowed teams like USC and BYU to keep the game close. It ranked 75th in red zone efficiency during the regular season, while the Crimson Tide claim the nation’s most efficient red zone defense.

“I think for us it’s like any other part of the field, it’s execution,” Martin said. “It’s playing physical, it’s in the run game, carving out some space for our running backs, and then obviously in the pass game, giving Everett some time and then him making sure he figures out that coverage and where to get the ball and put the ball in the right place.

“I don’t think there’ll be issues structurally for opportunities to make plays, but they’re a difficult defense to get the ball in against.”

The Crimson Tide lost a handful of starters from last year’s defense that pitched a shutout in the BCS National Championship Game against LSU, but Smart’s expertise contributed to Alabama’s return to the national championship game.

“The blueprint would be big, physical, stop the run, dominate the line of scrimmage – very similar to Notre Dame’s defense with big linebackers, stop the run, force a team to be one-dimensional,” Smart said.

“Try to create negative passing situations and loss yardage plays. That’s the blueprint, is getting big, physical defensive linemen that control the front that allow you to special coverages on the back end, that’s kind of what we’ve always done, and tried to replace those guys with guys like them. So if you can recruit to that blueprint, you’ve got a chance.”

And Alabama will have a great chance to win if it executes each detail of the defensive coordinator’s blueprint Monday night.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu