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Defense The Name Of The Game For Irish & Tide

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Alabama Defense

TUSCALOOSA, AL – NOVEMBER 24: Dee Milliner #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide returns a fumble by Tre Mason #21 of the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Alabama Crimson Tide have been known for their defensive prowess since head coach Nick Saban took over. But Alabama isn’t the only team bringing a stellar defense to the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game next week.

Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will have to find a way to do something no team has been able to do this season: crack Notre Dame’s stingy and opportunistic defense.

Nationally, Notre Dame’s defense is ranked number one in the country, giving up just 10.3 points per game. Fittingly, Alabama’s defense is ranked second in the country, allowing only 10.7 points per game.

Looking deeper into Notre Dame’s defensive numbers, the Irish allow opponents to convert just 34.6 percent of third downs and only 31.3 percent of fourth downs this season, according to cfbstats.com. That’s good enough for 25th in the nation in third down conversions and 14th nationally on fourth down.

Obviously, getting to the red zone against the Fighting Irish’s defense will be a tough road for the Tide’s offense. But even getting to the red zone against Notre Dame in 2012 hasn’t necessarily yielded much success.

The Fighting Irish allow red zone conversions 63.5 percent of the time and allowed a total of just 33 red zone attempts this season, according to cfbstats.com. Note Dame is ranked second in the country in red zone defense, trailing only the Crimson Tide, who allows red zone conversions 63 percent of the time.

The Crimson Tide will be led by quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. He leads a Tide offense that averages 38.5 points per game and gains nearly 7 yards per offensive play.

McCarron’s best trait may be that he protects the football incredibly well. In 2012, McCarron has thrown 26 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions and averages roughly 205.3 yards per game while completing 67 percent of his throws.

McCarron has already faced LSU and Georgia’s stingy defenses and came out with two victories. Combined, McCarron was 27-48 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Tigers and Bulldogs in 2012.

But Notre Dame will be arguably the toughest defense he has faced. McCarron and Nussmeier will likely turn to the running game to soften up the Irish’s defense, but even running behind Alabama’s nearly pro-ready offensive line will be tough against Notre Dame.

The Irish give up just 3.2 yards per carry and have allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season long.

Alabama has dictated its will to almost every opponent this season, but the Fighting Irish present Alabama with quite possibly its toughest challenge of the season, which is only fitting for the BCS National Championship game.

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