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Three key focus areas as Alabama prepares for Notre Dame

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Following its holiday break, No. 1 Alabama returned to the practice field Saturday as it continued preparation for its Rose Bowl matchup against No. 4 Notre Dame.

The Crimson Tide (11-0) is currently a 20-point favorite over the Fighting Irish (10-1), according to VegasInsider.com. This year’s Rose Bowl will be moved from Pasadena, Calif. to Arlington, Texas. The game is set to kick off at 3 p.m. CT on Jan. 1 and will be televised on ESPN.

Here are three areas of focus for Alabama as it prepares for Notre Dame.

Getting to Ian Book 

Alabama’s pass rush has been revitalized in recent weeks. After recording 14 sacks in its first eight games, the Tide has gotten to the quarterback a combined 18 times over its last three outings.

Freshman outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. has six sacks over that span, including two in each of the past three games. Christian Barmore has a combined three sacks and two forced fumbles over his last three games, while Christopher Allen has recorded two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles over the stretch. Alabama will need that trio to be firing on all cylinders as it goes up against a Notre Dame offensive line that was named one of three finalists for this year’s Joe Moore Award.

Notre Dame has allowed opponents 2.09 sacks per game. Alabama will likely have to get to Irish quarterback Ian Book a bit more than that if it wants to have success in the Rose Bowl.

During the ACC Championship Game, Clemson was able to sack Book six times while limiting Notre Dame in a 34-10 victory. By comparison, the Tigers only got to the Irish quarterback twice during their 47-40 loss at Notre Dame in November.

Book finished ninth in this year’s Heisman voting. Through 11 games, the redshirt senior has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,601 yards and 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He’s added 430 yards and eight more scores on the ground. If given time to work, Book could make things difficult for the Tide’s defense.

“He's a veteran so he knows what to expect in games like this,” Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtin II said. “So it's an opportunity to stop him from doing what he does best on offense.”

Another Butkus Award winner and a balanced Irish defense

A high-powered Alabama offense against a stingy Notre Dame defense led by a Butkus Award winner? That scenario played out well for the Tide during its last meeting against the Irish as it steamrolled over Manti Te’o and Notre Dame during a 42-14 blowout victory in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

This year, Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is hoping to have more success stopping the Tide’s attack. The senior linebacker leads Notre Dame with 11 tackles for a loss and is tied for the team lead with 56 total stops. He’s also recorded an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

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Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, left, and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, left, and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr.