BY CHRIS KUC

Chicago Tribune

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama defense is familiar with teams trying to run right at – and through – it. That’s a way of life in the SEC.

No team in major college football has been more adept at halting running attacks than the Crimson Tide, who ranked first in the country by yielding a paltry 79.8 yards per game.

What does that mean for Notre Dame when the teams take the field for the BCS national championship game Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla.? Quarterback Everett Golson better have his arm loose.

Alabama makes no secret it intends to shut down the Irish running game and force Golson to make plays through the air.

“We want to take away the run and make them one-dimensional,” senior safety Robert Lester said. “If we can take away the run and force them to put the ball in the air, it gives us more chances to make plays on the ball and gives more chances for them to make mistakes.”

Though Notre Dame’s offensive style isn’t exactly three yards and a cloud of dust, the Irish have two players averaging more than 73 rushing yards per game in Cierre Wood (74.0) and Theo Riddick (73.3).

“In most of the film we watch, (the Irish) kind of spread everyone out and move sort of laterally,” Alabama nose guard Jesse Williams said. “It’s a little different than the SEC run-down-your-throat (style) – sort of how we play. (But) we go against a lot of great running teams (and) we have a good defense, especially against the run.”

Here’s where things get sticky for the Irish: Alabama also has a top-notch secondary that is physical, closes on the ball quickly and thrives on creating turnovers.

And when the Tide does induce miscues, their offense takes advantage. Alabama has converted its 28 takeaways (17 interceptions) into 149 points. On the flip side, opponents have scored only 24 points off 15 Alabama turnovers.

“Every day in practice we put up a goal sheet of what goals we’ve accomplished the previous practice,” said Lester, who has four interceptions to raise his career total to 14. “Forcing turnovers is something we put a big emphasis on, and we’ve done a great job in doing so.”

That has led to a confident group of defensive backs that also includes All-America cornerback Dee Milliner, cornerback Deion Belue and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix.

“We try to be the best secondary, so we’re always around each other talking about it,” said Milliner, who added that he believes he’s part of the top unit in the nation.

“I say that because of what we do on the field and the way we make plays and go about trying to get better each day. It always starts with communication and knowing where you’re supposed to be, knowing who is going to be there and just talking back there.”

Added Lester: “We haven’t had a lot of mental errors. We’ve had a lot of communication (because) you have to make sure everybody’s on the same page to eliminate the mental errors.”

)2012 Chicago Tribune

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