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Notre Dame has an opportunity to expose 'Bama line

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For more on the BCS National Championship Game, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

Tide line battling key injury, pass blocking deficiency

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 3:08 am

For Notre Dame football fans, trying to analyze how the vaunted Fighting Irish defense will fare against an equally recognized Alabama offense is a quandary to say the least.

Would you rather have your tooth knocked out with a punch or just yank it out?

That's what is facing Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his players.

The two teams will play in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).

Two things that Diaco's group may have going for it is the fact that Crimson Tide All-American center Barrett Jones might – there is some debate about this – be less than 100 percent. And if – and there is even more debate about this – if the Alabama offensive line has a weakness, it would be its pass blocking and protection of quarterback AJ McCarron.

“This is as good a (defensive) front seven as we've seen,” Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “They do a great job jumping in and out of their odd defense and going from an odd to a four-down front, and they've got big, physical, fast players. They run well on the back end, very well coached. They're just a really, really good defense.”

Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te'o gets placed on all of the magazine covers, while defensive end Stephon Tuitt makes the sacks that get put on the highlight reels. However, Nussmeier can tell you the biggest, literally, piece of that defense is up front in Irish nose guard Louis Nix III.

“Well, he's a big, physical player, very athletic,” Nussmeier said of the 6-foot-3, 326-pound Nix III. “One of the things you can say about their defensive unit as a whole is they do an excellent job of getting off blocks. They set blocks and get to the football. Obviously there are a lot of key match-ups in this game, and obviously he's a very, very good player.”

Nix III will be matched up against Jones, who was injured against Georgia early in the SEC Championship Game and has been wearing a protective boot on his foot while in Florida. However, McCarron, who is going to need a healthy Jones in order to stay upright against the top-ranked Notre Dame (12-0), surprisingly isn't concerned about Jones' status.

“I did not know that he was even hurt during the Georgia game,” McCarron said. “So that should let you know how he played. But I'm not concerned at all about him playing (against Notre Dame).”

That isn't good news for the Irish Nation that Jones, even when hurt, plays and plays well.

What is good news for the Irish faithful is that the Crimson Tide has a propensity to allow McCarron to get hit a surprising amount of the time.

The No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) have given up sacks on 7.1 percent of its pass plays this season, which is worse than 88 other NCAA Division I teams. And the Irish have the athletes capable of exposing that deficiency.

“Watching the film, they are a real physical team and get after it on defense,” Alabama offensive lineman Chance Warmack said. “They are disciplined out there and don't make many mistakes. The whole defensive front has played a big role in the success that they have had this season to go with the linebackers and secondary. They have done a tremendous job in terms of stopping the run and in coverage as team. Everyone I have seen on film has done a great job of playing good, sound defense.”