MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Alabama Crimson Tide have become synonymous with a solid running game since Nick Saban took over, but that running game is only as good as the offensive linemen blocking for the running backs. For Alabama, the offensive line is arguably the biggest strength of the team.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide’s road to the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game has been cleared by five NFL-ready offensive linemen including Barrett Jones, a two-time All-American who actually switched positions this season to allow for another talented lineman to start.
“This has a chance to be the best offensive line I’ve ever played on, and we’ve had some good ones over the past few years,” Jones said.
Jones and his Tide teammates arrived in South Florida on Wednesday:
Jones has helped pave the way for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in 2009, Heisman finalist Trent Richardson last year, and T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy this year. Not surprisingly, Alabama has seen both Yeldon and Lacy eclipse 1,000 yards rushing this season.
“He’s just a smart player,” Notre Dame guard Louis Nix III said. “He knows what he has to do. He’s strong at the point of attack. Just an overall great player.”
As good as Jones has been, he may not even be the best offensive lineman for the Tide. That distinction may go to Chance Warmack who is expected to be a first-round NFL Draft pick. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is only a sophomore, but pushed Jones to center this season and right tackle D.J. Fluker was a top recruit who may leave for the NFL after this season.
Alabama put its offensive line on display in the SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs last month. The Tide fell behind 21-10 in the third quarter and then decided to get physical with the Dawgs and run the football.
The Tide’s offensive line began opening gaping holes in the Georgia defense allowing the team to run the ball 51 times for 350 yards. Alabama decided to jam the ball down Georgia’s throat behind the offensive line and like so many opponents before them; the Dawgs had no answer for the Tide’s line.
Notre Dame’s challenge will be to try to clog up the gaps in a hurry because if Alabama’s blockers make it to the second level, the Irish will get mauled by the Crimson Tide. But, Notre Dame’s front seven is arguably the best Alabama’s faced this year, though LSU would be close.
Alabama will have to game plan for Irish linebacker Manti Te’o and a defense that has allowed a total of two rushing touchdowns this season. The game promises to be the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)