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January 1, 2013

Notre Dame will pick spots to go up-tempo

SOUTH BEND, Ind.

Disrupting the opponent's comfort zone is the ultimate goal.

Finding favorable matchups is a by-product.

Picking some spots to pick up the tempo can give an offense an edge.

Heading into college football's BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Notre Dame's offense can use any advantage it can get against Alabama.

The Fighting Irish have shown brief glimpses of the high-octane, football-on-caffeine sort of offense coach Brian Kelly once embraced at other outposts.

Kelly's teams in another lifetime weren't last in time of possession and among the leaders in offensive production by accident. Speed and precision were part of the script.

"Basketball on grass" seemed like tiddlywinks compared to that.

At Notre Dame ... not so much.

Kelly sacrificed fast-forward for methodical but clean.

Little by little through the season, the pace has quickened. The Fighting Irish had spurts of up-tempo play that brought the offense back to the basics, and put the pressure on the opponent's defense.

Turning up the heat on Alabama, which boasts the best defense in the country, is a necessity. After all, that's how Texas A&M and "Johnny Football" brought the Crimson Tide to its knees.

"There's a time and place for (an up-tempo pace)," Kelly said of the looming battle. "Are we going to be exclusively in a tempo? No. I'd like to pick our spots. Part of our offense will reflect more of that, at times, during the game. It won't always be that way.

"Moving (Alabama's defensive) personnel in and out of the game, we'd like (certain players) to match up against some of our guys that we think there would be a matchup problem with when we have multiple tight ends on the field."

That's a nice way of saying Alabama could have trouble dealing with Tyler Eifert.

Eifert is big (6-foot-6, 251 pounds), fast, and has soft hands (44 receptions, 624 yards, 4 touchdowns). Notre Dame's leading receiver this season and all-time leader in receptions by a tight end is too fast for a linebacker to cover and too big for a corner or safety.

Give quarterback Everett Golson enough time to find him, and the Fighting Irish have a legitimate weapon.

"When you go up-tempo, you simplify some of the calls," Kelly said. "There's the chance there could be confusion (on the field). There's no question that up-tempo is beneficial. We're going to utilize it, but our whole game won't reflect it. We'll pick our spots."

"It's tough, conditioning-wise," Irish right tackle Christian Lombard said of the hurry-up attack. "If that's what it's going to take to win, then we're all for it. Whatever it takes, run game, passing game.

"Seeing the defense is the big thing that we're always talking about. There's going to be enough time pre-snap to do all that stuff. Then we go play from there."

"It's definitely hard when you're over 300 pounds, running around," said left guard Chris Watt, 6-3, 310. "We have certain calls that we have when we're on the go; do them quickly. Or, we have to react to what's going on in front of us.

"The up-tempo helps us out because we know Alabama won't be able to get its defense set. When they do, they can make some calls that could hurt us.

"We've run (up-tempo) in the past. It's something that we've worked on throughout the season. We broke it out sporadically."

"If you go in there and say, 'we're just going to play the game between the tackles,' you're in for a long day," Kelly said. "We have to utilize 53 1/3 (yards) by 120 (yards; the entire field). We've got to be attacking all areas and getting the kind of matchups that we need.

"We've got to get big-chunk plays. (Alabama) knows that. We know that. What are they, 2.5 (yards) per play, they're giving up? If you think you're going to win the game by pounding it in there, you're not going to win the game."

Wait a minute. Them's fightin' words, from Watt's point of view. This is an Irish offense that has prided itself on the run-first plan with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

Is Kelly issuing his offensive line a challenge?

"A little bit," Watt said with a confident smile. "Alabama has a really good run defense, but we think we're a great offensive line and have some great blockers on the edge. It definitely will be a challenge. We know we'll have to block well in the passing game and the running game."

"They're all impact players," Lombard said of the Alabama defenders. "Usually, you can pick out a guy and say, 'we're going to key on him.' These guys are all solid guys. It's going to be tough."

"Up front, (Alabama's defense is) athletic at 290 pounds," Kelly said. "Their athleticism, plus their size; the combination of both up front makes them very difficult to go against. Very disciplined group. They're athletic in the back end of the defense.

"There are teams across the country that you could take one player and go, 'Wow, that's a premiere player.' There's not one of (Alabama's) 11 guys where you could say, 'Let's go attack him.' They're just a good football team from 1 through 11 on the defensive side."

Create an edge. Find a mismatch.

The only way to the end zone may be out of their comfort zone.

Al Lesar writes for the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.


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