Alabama ready for big-play Irish defense

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By JOHN ZENOR, Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — When Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier sizes up the Crimson Tide's challenge in the BCS championship, it comes down to cracking a Notre Dame team that leads the nation in scoring defense.

"They've given up 10.3 points a game, they do a great job of keeping you out of the end zone," Nussmeier said Thursday. "The goal of the game is to score points."

Sounds simple, right? But the Tide and Fighting Irish are alike in that they seldom make reaching the end zone easy for opposing offenses.

Second-ranked Alabama faces No. 1 Notre Dame on Monday in the national title game. As the buildup continued Thursday, the leaders of Alabama's offense talked to reporters about the huge task of facing Notre Dame and All-America linebacker Manti Te'o.

"They do a really good job of making big plays on the defensive side," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "They do a really good job in the red area. I mean, they're first in the nation in almost every category on defense, so they're really good."

Alabama's defenders might take umbrage at part of that. The Tide actually is tops nationally in total and run defense.

There's no disputing the "really good" part, though.

Nussmeier's offense has been solid, too, in his first season. 'Bama has already set a school record for points in a season with 500, 23 points better than the 1973 team.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are both 1,000-yard rushers and freshman Amari Cooper has been a front-line receiver who has nine touchdown catches.

Now comes a meeting with a defense that is allowing opponents to score touchdowns on a scant 24 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line, or the red zone, and has yielded just two rushing touchdowns this season.

"They've created a lot of lost-yardage plays in the red zone, and when you get behind the sticks and you get out of rhythm down there it's very difficult because obviously the field shrinks," Nussmeier said.

Lacy knows how formidable Notre Dame's run defense has been. Then again, Bama has run for 35 touchdowns.

"It's a challenge," Lacy said. "We embrace it, and we're going to try to score more than two touchdowns."

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