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December 4, 2012
Alabama has earned its reputation as a great rushing team. Three of the last four seasons, the Crimson Tide has averaged better than 200 yards rushing per game, including 215 per contest in 2009, 214 in 2010 and just shy of 225 per game in 2012.
After a 350-yard rushing effort in the SEC championship game against Georgia, Alabama now boasts two 1,000-yard rushers - junior Eddie Lacy, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder with 1,182 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 6.4-yard average, and freshman T.J. Yeldon, a 6-foot-2, 216-pounder with 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns and a 6.5-yard average.
Behind a massive, veteran offensive line, the Crimson Tide has been chewing up most of its opponents this season with a run-first mentality.
During Alabama's 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game, CBS analyst Gary Danielson called the Crimson Tide's rushing attack "vicious football."
Vicious and determined to run at all costs.
"Everybody notices size and strength and physicality," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, whose No. 1-ranked Irish will take on the No. 2-rated Crimson Tide in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.
"What really stood out to me (against Georgia) was that they were going to exert their will and it didn't matter that they were down, they were going to run the football. They were going to go with their strength.
"I like watching teams that want to beat you mentally as well as physically. They mentally won that game as much as they did physically."
Trailing 21-10 midway through the third quarter, Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier didn't bat an eye. They stayed with the ground game, scored the next 15 points to take the lead, and then stayed with the rushing attack in the fourth quarter after falling behind the Bulldogs again.
"The offensive line is huge," said Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore." They're really good. They seem like they gel well together. I was very impressed with (center) Barrett Jones, and (left guard) Chance Warmack pulls and is really athletic. He can move up to the second level. It's going to be a tough challenge for us.
"One thing that really stood out to me was the way the running backs ran. Lacy and Yeldon are really hard to take down. We're going to have to wrap up. We've got to be prepared for their tough running."
There were three games this season in which the Crimson Tide did not rush for 150 yards, including the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, and two others in which they rushed for less than 180 yards.
Of Alabama's 72 snaps against Georgia, Lacy and Yeldon ran it a combined 45 times. Lacy accounted for 181 yards on 20 carries while Yeldon totaled 153 rushing yards on 25 carries.
"You think about Alabama and they're notorious for having pretty dang good linemen," said Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta. "It's going to be a physical run game."
And yet it's not a given that the Crimson Tide will exceed 150 yards rushing against the Irish, which has been Alabama's magic number since 2008. Since that season, the Crimson Tide has had 49 games in which they have rushed for 150 yards or more. Alabama won every one of those 49 games.
Yet there were three games this season that the Crimson Tide did not rush for 150 yards -- including the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M -- and two others in which they rushed for less than 180 yards.
One of those games was, surprisingly, in the second week of the season against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers limited the Crimson Tide to 103 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry. (A.J. McCarron threw four touchdown passes.) Lacy managed just 36 yards on nine carries while Yeldon, new to the system, carried six times for 25 yards.
In Week Five against Mississippi, Alabama rushed for 125 yards on 34 carries (3.6) with Lacy netting 82 yards on 19 carries while Yeldon managed just 38 yards on 10 attempts. After Mississippi State limited the Crimson Tide to 179 yards on 40 carries (4.4), Alabama gained 166 yards on the ground (on just 25 carries) in the 21-17 victory over LSU.
The Crimson Tide rushing attack was held to less than 180 yards for the third straight game when the Aggies limited them to 122 yards on 31 carries (3.9). Lacy totaled 92 yards on 16 carries; Yeldon had just 29 yards on 10 carries.
"You watch that on film and you think, 'All right, we stand up against these guys just fine,'" Motta said.
Another match-up of strength vs. strength will occur if/when the Crimson Tide gets to the red zone. Alabama has scored 35 rushing touchdowns this season, including at least one in 12 out of 13 games and at least two in nine out of 13 games. The Irish have allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season.
"We're a pretty good defensive line and front seven," Lewis-Moore said. "It's going to be a nice little match-up."
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