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Elite Alabama tailbacks and Notre Dame defense eager to face off

By Michael Casagrande and Dieter Kutenbach

Sun Sentinel (MCT)

LAST UPDATED: 12:39 p.m. HST, Jan 4, 2013

The BCS National Championship Game was created to pit the nation’s two strongest teams in a battle of strength versus strength, and in breaking down the 2013 edition of the game, there is no matchup stronger than the Alabama running offense going up against the Notre Dame run defense.

“That’s football at its finest,” Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o said of the matchup.

The units are among the nation’s best. Of offenses that run a traditional pro-form offensive set, the Crimson Tide was the nation’s second-most prolific rushing team. Notre Dame only allowed two rushing touchdowns all seasons.

Notre Dame’s rushing defense was particularly stout inside their own 20-yard line.

Thirty-three times an opponent drove inside the Irish 20-yard line in 2012, only eight times did the Irish allow the drive to end with a touchdown.

“It’s probably the best we’ve played all season long,” running back Eddie Lacy said of Notre Dame’s red-zone defense.

Notre Dame has laid the same praise on the Alabama rushing attack, which featured two 1,000-yard rushers in Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon.

“This proves (to be) our biggest challenge yet,” Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said. “Both those running backs are great. ... They are patient too, so it will be a good challenge for us.”

Practice guests: The general public wasn’t invited, but for the first time since opening the season, media access was granted for 15 minutes of Notre Dame’s practice. A pool of roughly 100 reporters and photographers saw a brief glimpse at the workout at the Miami Dolphin’s facility in Davie.

The first-team offense worked on the field closest to the media circus. It ran several game-like drills as opposed to the individual exercises Alabama does when cameras are permitted.

Jones ready: The platform wasn’t more than a foot off the ground, but Barrett Jones didn’t hesitate jumping with both feet in the morning interview room. He never hesitated in spite of the protective boot he wears on his injured left foot.

He left the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1 on crutches after the SEC Championship Game, but the 2011 Outland Trophy Award winner says he’ll be out there Jan. 7 against Notre Dame.

“It feels great,” Jones said before practicing at full strength in the afternoon.

Dirty ‘D’ word: Jones is a four-year interview room vet. He wasn’t about to take the bait when asked about being on the cusp of a dynasty with three titles in four years.

“Do you know what would happen if Coach (Nick) Saban watched this interview and heard me say the ‘D’ word?” Jones said as reporters laughed. “We only focus on one game at a time. You already hate this answer.”

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