When the Alabama Crimson Tide take the field on January 7th in the BCS Championship Game, it is no secret that the Tide's powerful running game will be a point of emphasis.
Alabama has built its reputation on stifling defense and pounding the opposition into submission by running between the tackles over the last five years.
It has been fairly effective, too, if you consider two BCS titles and a chance for a third effective.
Notre Dame, however, has other plans. The Irish have the nation's fourth best rushing defense and their confidence will rightfully be high as they have yet to be beaten in 2012.
The Tide will try to break through Notre Dame's front seven via their dynamic duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. The pair have combined for almost 2,200 yards on the ground this season and have reached the end zone 27 times.
This is most definitely going to be one of those unstoppable force meets immovable object kind of nights.
For Alabama, the key to a successful ground attack will once again revolve around it's incredible offensive line. All-American's Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack lead the line and right tackle D.J. Fluker is enough of an NFL candidate that he may consider entering the draft a year early.
The 'Bama line averages over 315 lbs per man and run-blocking is its strength.
Lacy and Yeldon have both carried the Tide at times this season and are capable of changing a game single-handedly.
The biggest problem for Notre Dame may be that these guys are so fresh. Lacy has averaged just 14 carries per game this year and Yeldon has averaged only 12. Of the 60 1,000-yard rushers in the nation this season, only one has done it with fewer carries than these two.
After fighting through an ankle injury in the first half of the season, Lacy is finally running at full strength for the Tide and his yards per carry have improved every month.
Lacy averaged just 4.91 yards per carry in September but bumped it up to 6.27 in October and finished the month of November averaging 7.36 yards per attempt.
When Lacy needs a breather, he will be spelled by the freshman Yeldon. T.J. has averaged a blistering 6.49 yards per carry on the season and has gone for over 100 yards on four occasions.
It seems that the only one who can stop Yeldon is head coach Nick Saban.
As stated previously, Notre Dame has one of the top five rushing defenses in the country.
Over the past five seasons, Alabama has faced a top 20 rushing defense 13 times. In those games, the Tide has run for an average of 148 yards per game, 4.01 yards per carry, and has totaled 27 touchdowns.
The last time the Tide faced the best rushing defense in the land, Alabama ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries to beat Texas for the 2009 BCS crown.
In two games against top 20 rushing defenses this year, the Tide has run for 391 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Irish rushing defense is allowing just 92 yards per game and they lead the nation in rushing touchdowns allowed with just two.
In seven games versus bowl teams, Notre Dame is giving up just 102 yards per game on the ground while holding non-bowl opponents to just 78 yards.
Having said that, the competition has not exactly been as tough as what Alabama will bring to the table. Aside from Navy, the best rushing offense the Irish have faced was Michigan (39th nationally). Alabama is currently 20th, averaging 37 yards per game more than the Wolverines.
After that, the best ground games that Notre Dame has had to deal with are Stanford (51st), Oklahoma (60th) and Purdue (60th).
Michigan and Stanford ran for 161 and 147 yards on the Irish, respectively. Lowly Pittsburgh (91st nationally) ran for 144 yards and a 4.36 yards per carry average on the Irish.
On the other hand, Notre Dame held Oklahoma to just 15 yards on 24 carries.
Notre Dame has a very impressive and dominating defense. They will force Alabama to earn everything it gets both on the ground and through the air.
But Alabama is loaded with depth, size, and experience on the offensive line and has two of the most dominant backs in the nation running behind it.
The Irish will hold the 'Bama ground game to modest success in the first half, but eventually Lacy and Yeldon will begin to wear down the Notre Dame front seven.
Alabama will run for over 150 yards on the night. Expecting the Tide to reach 200 yards, though, may be an unreasonable expectation.
My best guess would be that 'Bama carries the ball somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 times for roughly 160 yards and a touchdown.
Regardless of the outcome, though, these two teams will not leave the field without a laundry list of bumps, bruises and contusions as two of the very best will collide for the BCS championship.
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