By Tim O'Malley, IrishEyes.com
Five reasons Notre Dame will win
The Irish are fundamentally sound
Alabama's balanced offense has faced athletic, explosive defenses in 2012, including one each day in practice. But one of football's lost arts can be found in spades on the defensive side of scrimmage in South Bend -- Notre Dame has the best tackling defense in the nation. Crimson Tide running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon won't continually break free as they did against sloppy Georgia in the SEC Championship game.
Alabama’s best player will endure his toughest outing
Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones is a master of his craft, and the most versatile, cerebral technician in the college game. Monday night in Miami, Jones will square off against Notre Dame’s second-best football player, junior nose guard Louis Nix, the gregarious behemoth inexplicably snubbed by most post-season All-America teams. Nix’s blend of raw power and short space quickness won’t be unique to Jones -- his gap discipline working in congress with that skillset will. Look for Notre Dame to win the battle of the middle, a rarity vs. Bama’s best.
Don't forget about Everett Golson and Notre Dame's offense ... they can hurt you too.
Long road to hoe
From the first game in Dublin, Ireland, through Game 12 in Los Angeles, Notre Dame’s opponents began nearly 120 offensive series 60 or more yards away from the Irish goal. Only two of those drives ended in touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s long-stated goal to "minimize points" was realized in 2012 as the Irish defense surrendered just nine touchdowns, only one of which occurred from beyond 15 yards away, and just one surrendered against four ranked teams. The Irish occasionally concede yardage but have consistently found a way to force a punt, field goal or a turnover as an end result.
Once, they drove downfield for the winning score. Two more times they prevailed in overtime, in both instances after knotting the score late. On four other occasions, Notre Dame’s "other" unit ensured victory with time-consuming marches through the heart of the opponent’s defense. The defense rightfully receives ample credit for Notre Dame’s No. 1 ranking, but an improved, methodical, and now versatile Irish offense won all seven fourth quarter battles it faced in the team’s seven tight contests of 2012. Alabama wins close games by breaking an opponent’s will -- that’s not yet proven possible vs. Brian Kelly’s Irish.
Heart (and head) of a champion
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An unlikely game-winning drive by the backup quarterback. A pair of inspired, violent goal line stands. An opponent’s chip-shot field goal that sailed wide and a penalty vs. the Irish overlooked in the process. A 14-point fourth quarter deficit overcome. Four overtimes played without a touchdown allowed.
These are the unlikely highlights of Notre Dame’s journey, but the myriad plays intertwined better define Kelly’s crew. They’re methodical and balanced offensively, consistent and disciplined defensively, and singular in overall focus, the latter a mission to find a way to win each week, one game at a time.
That fits this winner-take-all scenario perfectly.