SOUTH BEND — It’s a thought that is comforting and disconcerting at the same time.
When No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) lines up against No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami, the Irish offense will be staring at a defense that is similar and just as imposing as the one it lined up against in practice all season.
And for each misstep Notre Dame has against its own defense in the practices leading up the championship game, the Irish are getting a taste of what could go wrong against the Crimson Tide.
“The message was this is exactly how it’s going to be,” Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “If we don’t block it any better or execute it any better than we did, it is going to be an awfully long Jan. 7.”
Both defenses use a base 3-4 scheme, with three linemen and four linebackers but switch smoothly into four-man and five-man fronts when needed.
Alabama’s defensive line is made up of 6-foot-4, 282-pound defensive end Ed Stinson, 6-4, 320-pound nose guard Jesse Williams and 6-3, 286-pound end Damion Square, who have combined for 98 tackles and 15 tackles for loss.
Behind the line, the Tide have 6-6, 248-pound outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard and 6-3, 262-pound outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson, who have combined for 72 tackles and 15 tackles for loss with Hubbard leading the team with six sacks.
Alabama uses three linebackers in the middle with 6-3, 245-pound senior Nico Johnson sharing time with 6-2, 245-pound sophomore Trey Depriest and 6-2, 232-pound junior C.J. Mosely. The three middle linebackers are the team’s top three tacklers with Mosely, a consensus All-American, leading the way with 99 tackles. Depriest has 56 tackles, and Johnson has 54.
The Tide’s front seven has led Alabama’s defense to the top ranking in overall defense, giving up 246 yards per game, and run defense, giving up 79.8 rushing yards per game.
“The fact of the matter is Alabama is king of the hill,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “They set the precedent for defensive football in the country. They are the group that everybody is chasing.”
Notre Dame’s defense is led by its own consensus All-American middle linebacker in Manti Te’o. The 6-2, 255-pound senior led the Irish with 103 tackles and had seven interceptions, a school record for a linebacker.
Te’o is joined in the middle by the rotation of 6-3, 240-pound Dan Fox and 6-1, 245-pound Carlo Calabrese, who have combined for 103 tackles with four tackles for loss.
At outside linebacker, the Irish have 6-2, 250-pound Prince Shembo and 6-2, 248-pound Danny Spond, who have combined for 86 tackles with Shembo recording 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks.
The linebackers operated behind a line of 6-4, 306-pound end Kapron Lewis-Moore, 6-3, 326-pound nose guard Louis Nix III and 6-6, 303-pound end Stephon Tuitt. The three have combined for 125 tackles with 27 tackles for loss, and Tuitt has a team-high 12 sacks.
Notre Dame’s front seven led the Irish to the top ranking in scoring defense, giving up 10.3 points per game, and the No. 6 ranking in total defense, 286.3 yards per game, and No. 4 rushing defense, 92.4 yards per game.
“They probably have maybe the best front seven in the country,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Statistically, they are in the top 10 in just about every defensive category.
“I was very impressed with their defense. … There are some pretty physical guys that have some great toughness.”