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January 5, 2013

Irish-Tide: Which defense will be crowned champs?

Irish-Tide: Two top-ranked defenses collide in finale

MIAMI — When Fighting Irish senior safety Zeke Motta boarded the charter flight for South Florida, it was less than 20 degrees in South Bend, Ind., and snow continued to blanket the Notre Dame campus.

When his flight landed it was sunny and nearly 80 degrees as the No. 1 Irish arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport in preparation for Monday night’s BCS National Championship game against No. 2 Alabama at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

“It’s good to be back,” said Motta, who hails from Vero Beach, Fla. “You dream about this moment and this opportunity. It’s amazing and a blessing.”

Be careful what you wish for. The heralded Irish defense, ranked No. 1 in points allowed (10.33 per game), must warm to the challenge of matching up with an Alabama offense that is one of the most balanced in the country.

In 2012, Alabama, led by quarterback AJ. McCarron, has rushed for 2,920 yards and passed for 2,788, a difference of just 132 yards.

Alabama, shooting for its second consecutive national championship and third in four years, is also incredibly efficient in “red zone” situations, putting points on the board 51 out of 57 trips inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.

Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco, recently awarded the Broyles award for the top assistant coach in the country, said the secret to Bama’s offensive balance is McCarron who is a two-year starter and already has a national title notched in his belt.

“He’s the driver,” Diaco said Thursday morning. “He’s the coach on the field and puts them in the right spots. … (McCarron) conducts the game just like if (head coach) Nick Saban was taking the snap himself. I mean, he doesn’t put the team in bad spots. He doesn’t make poor decisions with the ball.”

That analysis has teeth in McCarron’s 24-2 record during his two seasons running the show in Tuscaloosa. He has thrown 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year, making him the most efficient quarterback in the country.

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