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January 4, 2013
Approaching the moment of truth
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Contrary to popular notion in some pockets of the country, Notre Dame didn't reach the national championship game against Alabama with smoke and mirrors.
But as the hours leading up to the penultimate moment of the 2012 season ever-so-slowly approaches in South Florida, even the staunchest of Notre Dame supporters have to wonder whether the upstart Irish - unranked when the season began - have enough to contend with an Alabama program that is now in its third national title tilt in four seasons.
Several Irish players were asked Friday at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa what assets Notre Dame possesses that will allow them to get the job done against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.
"We're a team that will play for four quarters, and we've got great linemen on defense and offense," said tight end Tyler Eifert. "Just starting there gives us a good chance."
"The versatility that we have at certain positions," said left tackle Zack Martin. "Up front, as an offensive line, we just have to execute. That's been our biggest thing: five guys executing as one. Then we have so many guys that we can put all around the field that are a threat. Theo (Riddick) runs the ball and he catches the ball. Everett (Golson), when he's running and passing, it doesn't get much better than that. We know we have the players to go out there and win. We just have to execute."
Riddick echoed Martin's sentiments.
"I honestly think our versatility," Riddick said. "We have so many guys that are playmakers and can do so many things. You just can't lock in on one player."
Wide receiver TJ Jones said that the us-against-the-world mentality has played in Notre Dame's favor all season.
"The fact that we've been the underdog in every one of our big games this year," Jones said. "People are doubting us again this game, and we just use it as motivation. We have a close bond this year that I haven't seen the past two years with this team, and I think we're ready to show the world that Notre Dame is for real."
The problem with those theories is that Alabama has the been-there-done-that advantage. For Alabama's seniors and fifth-year seniors, this is their third trip to the national championship game. Meanwhile, this is every Notre Dame player's first BCS game.
"They've been here before and experienced this," said Eifert of Alabama. "That's an advantage. It's got to be helpful just to have been through the whole preparation, having so much time off and knowing what to expect come game time."
"It's Alabama," Jones said. "They have two national championships in the last three years. A lot of these guys have two rings. They know how to win. They've been here before. They're going to be able to handle it a little easier than us, just because they've been there. It's going to take some maturity on our end just to settle down."
Riddick, however, took an opposing viewpoint, which is not uncommon of Notre Dame's leading rusher.
"To be honest with you, I don't think it really matters," Riddick said. "We've got to go out there and treat this like any other game."
Added Martin: "I don't put much stock in that because it's a new team this year."
Eifert doesn't believe nerves will play a factor for the Irish, at least not for him, who seems to take any kind of adversity in stride.
"Once you get the first play over, most of the nerves go away for most of the guys," Eifert said.
"I think you can avoid it to some extent," Jones said. "But at the same time it's the national championship, so that first drive, maybe even the second drive, there are going to be nerves, jitters. But once we get that out of our system with those first couple hits, first couple plays, we'll be fine."
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin is most confident that red-shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson won't crack under the pressure.
"His first-ever game is in Dublin, Ireland," said Martin of Golson. "His first-ever home game was against Purdue. Road game, prime time, Michigan State. Night game at Notre Dame against Michigan. On the road against Oklahoma. On the road at USC…
"Coming off the bench, going through all the things that he's been through, he's about as battle-tested as they come. Take every quarterback this year and try to figure out if they've gone through as much as Everett Golson. To me it's not even close, and for our football team, we're pretty battle tested."
Golson agreed with his offensive coordinator. His most nervous moments during the 2012 season came in the interview room, not between the white lines.
"It's a big stage, but I think the person that I am, I don't ride the wave too much," Golson said.
The one thing all the Irish offensive players agree upon is that if they can establish a rushing attack against Alabama's No. 1-rated rush defense, the rest of the offensive game plan should open up nicely.
"Not many teams have run against them, so it's important to go out and run the football," Martin said. "When you see them on tape, they have very active defensive linemen who make plays, and linebackers like we have that run to the ball and make plays. Just establish the run game and everything else will come from that."
Even Jones - the wideout - believes the passing game is secondary in importance for the Irish.
"I think it's establishing the run," Jones said. "From what we've seen throughout the year, nobody's been able to run the ball on them, and when they bring pressure, nobody has been able to stop the pressure and get time to throw the ball. So making the right checks and establishing the run will help us out."
The more the Irish are told they can't do something, the more likely they are to pull it off.
"I don't know if we're good enough to beat Alabama, but if we're good enough to beat Alabama, I think our kids have shown they're a pretty resilient bunch, whether it's home or away," said Chuck Martin.
"They've been told for 12 weeks that they weren't good enough to get this far and somehow we're sitting in front of you guys answering questions."
The real questions will be answered Monday night.
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