NOTRE DAME, Ind. – There was one surprise when the BCS bowl pairings were announced on Sunday night and it had nothing to do with the BCS National Championship game. The shock of the night came when Northern Illinois was announced to face Florida State in the Orange Bowl, but s expected, No. 1 Notre Dame will face No. 2 and defending national champion Alabama in the title tilt in the same stadium on Jan. 7.
“It’s exciting right now,” Fighting Irish safety Zeke Motta said right after the announcement was made on ESPN. “To be able to finally decide on who you’re playing and start breaking down film and getting back to work. It’s a great feeling to know that you made it 12-0.”
Motta watched just a “little bit” of Saturday night’s SEC Championship game between Alabama and Georgia, but he saw enough to know Alabama ran the ball for 350 yards against the Bulldogs.
“They’ve got a good run game,” Motta said. “So that’ll be a good chance for us to show what we’re about on defense. It’ll be a great challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
While Motta only watched some of Alabama’s dramatic 32-28 win over Georgia, defensive teammate Kapron Lewis-Moore stayed in his own seat and watched a bit more.
“They’ve got a really strong, physical line,” the captain said of Alabama’s offensive front. “We’ve gotta bring our A-game, but what really impressed me the most about Alabama is the way the running backs are. They run hard, they run powerfully and we’re really gonna have to wrap-up.”
The Crimson Tide’s big back, Eddie Lacy rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Bulldogs, while backfield mate T.J. Yeldon rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. They averaged 9.1 and 6.1 respective yards per carry.”
The most obvious comparison to Alabama that Notre Dame has played this year is Stanford. Lewis-Moore sees agrees with the comparison.
“I think they’re a lot similar to Stanford,” Lewis-Moore said. “Playing Stepfan Taylor, he’s a real physical back. He’s always moving forward. They have a lot of similar running styles.”
Stanford ranks 50th in the nation with 173 rushing yards a game, while Alabama ranks 20th at 224 yards. The Cardinal rushed for 147 yards against the Irish back on Oct. 13. The Irish rank 4th nationally, allowing just 92 yards per game. The 161 yards ND gave-up against Michigan in Sept. is the season-high for an opponent.
Notre Dame is looking for the program’s 12th overall national title and its first since 1988, while Alabama is trying to secure its third crown in the last four years.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Lewis-Moore said of the championship game against the defending champs. “Playing for the national championship – I honestly don’t think it’s set in with a couple guys yet, but playing a team from the SEC is always gonna be a challenge and I think we’re up to the challenge.”
Running back Theo Riddick was the only Irish offensive player to speak to the media on Sunday night. He is excited for the chance to take down the defending national champs as well.
“It makes it very special,” Riddick began. “But regardless (of) whether they were there or if Georgia came in it’s a great (and) significant game. So regardless of who’s there it’s going to be a major game, but to have them as our opponent it just makes everything a little more meaningful.”
While Lewis-Moore watched more of the SEC Championship game than Motta, Riddick watched even less. From what he did view though, the Stanford comparison is apt.
“I only caught glimpses,” Riddick said of his Saturday afternoon/early evening television viewing. “And it was more the second half when it was power football, so if anything I would say a little bit of Stanford, but obviously a little more versatile also, so what can I say – they’re a good ball club.”
Riddick says he was more interested in “relaxing” and enjoying his time off than watching his future opponent on TV, adding he has plenty of time for film study and work on the practice field over the course of the next five weeks.
The Irish are already installed as double-digit underdogs in the national championship game to an Alabama team that gave-up more points Saturday night (28) than the Irish surrendered in their last three games combined (19).
“I think we’ve been going through that throughout this whole season in terms of gaining respect,” Riddick said of his team’s national perception throughout its unbeaten season. “But you can’t get all tied up into that. All we can do is control the things we can control and try to play the best we can in this national championship game.”
Notre Dame will bring the nation’s number one scoring defense into the game. It is a defense that has allowed just over 10 points a week. The only time an opponent topped 20 points against the Fighting Irish this season was in their 29-26 triple overtime win over Pittsburgh a month ago. Even with the nation’s top defense and a No. 1 national ranking they again play the part of underdog, but it is a role that suits the Irish just fine.
“That’s for the media and people in Vegas,” Lewis-Moore said of his team’s underdog status. “That’s cool and everything, but a lot of people counted us out against Oklahoma and USC, so it’s not something we haven’t seen all year.”
“I like it,” Motta said of Alabama being such a heavy favorite in the most important game in nearly the last quarter century of Notre Dame football. “I like being the underdog in any game. That’s good. The odds are against you. You get the chance to prove people wrong. I like that.”
Here’s the complete BCS bowl rundown:
BCS Championship Game: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama – Jan. 7
Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville
Fiesta Bowl: No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin