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Bama's first four offensive possessions resulted in three punts and a fumble. Once UGA started to give way in the second quarter, though, it was like pushing a boulder down a hill. Beginning with 5:04 to play before the half, five of the Crimson Tide's final seven drives resulted in points, via four touchdowns and a field goal. On those five drives, they ran 25 plays for 303 yards. Of those 25 plays, 22 were carries by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, for 243 yards – a little more than 80 percent of the total, on more than 11 yards per carry. For the game, Lacy and Yeldon combined for 334 and three touchdowns on 7.4 per carry, and Alabama amassed a 15-minute edge in time of possession. On the rare nights that Nick Saban allows himself to dream of offense, this is what he sees: A squad of alpha mashers seizing huge chunks of territory at will, by sheer primal force. They may have been lining up across from nine future draft picks on Georgia's defense, ten, pick your number. Saban's Death Star is going to play for another national title because, offensively, it was the best version yet of what it was built to be.
Williams paced the sidelines over and over and over, a trainer shadowing his every move. He wiggled his knee and tucked down into a three-point stance and pushed off. He took two swigs of Gatorade, grabbed his helmet and found his position coach on the edge of the field. He was going in, even if it was on one good knee or none at all. UA defensive line coach Chris Rumph tried to put Williams' attitude into words: "That unbelievable toughness from Down Under." A few minutes later Williams came on as an extra blocker on offense. His big body and even bigger presence was needed. He lined up at fullback and rose out of his crouch at the snap, barreling headlong into the defensive line. Eddie Lacy, Alabama's starting tailback who has dealt with turf toe all season, followed his embattled teammate into the end zone to give his team the lead. That's the way it would go in Atlanta -- the wounded Crimson Tide fighting back and overcoming a season of bumps and bruises to beat Georgia 32-28 to win the SEC championship.
In a world full of spread-the-field, hurry-up offenses, Alabama is a bastion of traditional football. The Tide put its no-frills muscle on display Saturday, mashing Georgia with 350 yards rushing, behind tailbacks Eddie lacy and T.J. Yeldon. The Tide has been more potent offensively this season than last to make up for a defense that has slipped, but only a bit. Alabama leads the nation in total defense (246 yards per game) and is second in points allowed (10.7 per game). When Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that. Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles - only Alabama has as many - but none since 1988.
Offense is in, but defense is still what it takes to win big. That's the lesson of college football's 2012 season. For the fourth straight year, scoring rose during the regular season — with FBS schools averaging 29.6 points per game. That's up from 28.3 per game last season, from 27 in 2009. Despite all of the pass-happy, fast-paced fun, those atop the BCS standings paint a far different picture of what it takes to be successful. Notre Dame, Alabama and Florida are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the BCS standings, and they also fall into that same order in another category — points allowed.
Kelly sounded a lot like Saban as he discussed how the Irish blocked out the BCS distractions during the final month of their season. "We're totally committed to the week-to-week process of preparing our team. We avoid the noise as best we can on a day to day basis and really focus on ourselves and how we play the game on Saturday. That's out there, but we've done a great job of just staying focused. We really don't pay attention to those other things."
It's a team Kelly has essentially modeled after Alabama and the other SEC teams that have won national championships during the conference's six-year winning streak. The third-year Notre Dame coach admitted as much Sunday as he openly discussed how and why his team looks a lot like Alabama's. Defense is where it started for Notre Dame's national turn-around. "It's clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense," Kelly said. "Whether it's high school, college or NFL, if you play great defense, you've got a chance. For us to move Notre Dame back into a national prominence, we had to begin with our defense. "You look at the SEC and the teams that are playing for national championships. Obviously, with Alabama leading that charge, they were built on defense."
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."
So, to the players, coaches, staff, administration and all of those who make up the 2012 Crimson Tide, thank you from Afghanistan for making the past 14 weeks go by a little faster and making some of those days much easier to take. Thank you for making the next several days less cold and dreary and the holidays a bit brighter as we go about our missions knowing there is one more very big game still to come. We have something to look forward to other than returning home, which is still months away. It's pretty hard to overestimate the value of something so precious.
The storm will come later. There will be no fatigue by January, not from the Crimson Tide team or its fans. If that ever was a danger, the opponent - Notre Dame - and the chance to make history will eliminate that. Saban himself admitted on Sunday that Notre Dame has "a special place" for him because of his Catholic heritage and his Midwestern coaching roots. The Irish hold a "special place" for most Alabama fans, too, although it is hardly an affectionate one. So the storm will come. But this is the calm. The BCS controversy, such as it was, came from the inclusion of Northern Illinois in the BCS (to say nothing of Wisconsin and Louisville). It didn't stir a lot of heat in Alabama - when you are in the championship game, the other games seem fairly insignificant - but did spark some debate. There is no question that there were better teams available from the SEC (Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU) and from other leagues (Oklahoma, Oregon State). But the rules are the rules and there is no question that the rules have worked in Alabama's favor in the past two years, so you won't hear a tremendous uproar about them. So it was quiet. There was no rush of novelty. The seniors on this team will have played in as many national championship games as any players in college football history, and more than 99.99 percent of them. The atmosphere is, as Saban likes it, business as usual. That will change after Christmas or so, but for now, it is exactly the sort of silence that Alabama needs.
I know the experts in Vegas have opened the line with Bama more than a TD favorite, but I just don't see this Alabama team as invincible, or close to it. The Tide has shown it can struggle against a dual-threat QB who can extend plays and has a strong arm. Everett Golson isn't as dangerous as Johnny Manziel, but the ND QB has proven in the second half of the season that he is a much better passer than many thought. Golson also has a more potent go-to weapon in TE Tyler Eifert than does Manziel. A&M also gave the Tide some problems by sticking someone over Barrett Jones and challenging Bama. The Irish certainly have the capability to do that, too. These are not your older brother's Fighting Irish. Bama's biggest edge over Notre Dame won't be size or strength, it'll be experience. The Tide players, starting with AJ McCarron, have been through the whole BCS title game deal and have thrived in it before. So have Nick Saban and his staff. They know exactly what they're doing and why. For the Irish, this all will be new and the next five weeks should be fun as we've got a matchup of two proud programs with some of the richest history in the sport.