Matchup for the ages
TUSCALOOSA | Tradition. Defense. Play on the line of scrimmage.
These were some of the words University of Alabama coach Nick Saban and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly used to describe the matchup for the BCS National Championship Game Sunday night when the BCS brought the two together for a teleconference.
Old-school football played by two of the game's oldest programs.
"To me, Notre Dame and Alabama probably have, from a tradition standpoint, as much with coach Bryant and all the great Notre Dame teams of the past as there could be," Saban said. "For those two storied programs to play in a national championship game makes it even more special."
The Tide and Irish feature two of the nation's elite defenses. Despite allowing four touchdowns to the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide finished the season No. 1 in the nation in rush defense an total defense. Notre Dame led the nation in scoring defense at 10.3 points per game, while Alabama ranked No. 2 at 10.7.
"Defensively, they probably have maybe the best front seven in the country," Saban said. "Statistically, they're in the top 10 of just about every major category."
Kelly said defense was at the heart of his effort to rebuild the Irish to its return among the nation's top programs.
"For us to move Notre Dame back into national prominence, we had to begin with our defense. Our focus in recruiting, in developing our talent and recruiting, in particular, and getting the right staff, was on the defensive side of the ball," Kelly said. "You look to the SEC and the team we're playing ... with Alabama leading that charge, was built on defense."
Alabama's play on the line of scrimmage relies heavily on center Barrett Jones, who sustained a foot injury in UA's 32-28 win over Georgia Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Saban said Jones' recovery will require about two weeks, which would project Jones' return for roughly when the Crimson Tide is expected to resume practice.
"Barrett did have a foot injury. He's probably going to be a couple weeks recovering from it," Saban said. "I feel like he'll be able to come back by the time we start bowl practice, and should be OK by then, but these kind of things you've got to kind of take day to day."
While Kelly spoke highly of Alabama's offensive line, he made mention Sunday night of freshman receiver Amari Cooper as well.
"I was extremely impressed with both lines of Alabama. Extremely skilled across the board," Kelly said. "What makes them difficult to defend is that they've got a great playmaker on the perimeter as well, where you can throw the ball down the field. Everyone's talked about their great offensive line, but I think the backs are physical. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for our football team."