College football notes: Ground rules - Tide, Irish to pound away

January 4, 2013 

In this era of wide-open, pass-happy offenses, college football's ultimate prize will be decided Monday night by two throwback teams, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama.

The Fighting Irish (12-0) have run for nearly as many yards as they've managed through the air. The Crimson Tide (12-1) is coming off a dominant performance on the ground in the Southeastern Conference championship.

"Alabama is that kind of team where you just know they're going to run the football," Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said Thursday. "The whole world knows they're going to run the football. Just try to stop us — that's their mentality. It's really kind of cool to see."

The same could be said of the Irish, who are dominant on defense but a bit erratic when they drop back to throw.

While Coach Brian Kelly might technically operate out of a modern spread offense, he's scaled back his desire to pile up the points and the passing yards as he did in his previous tenure at Cincinnati. Notre Dame has relied on a running back-by-committee approach and quarterback Everett Golson to wear down opponents, averaging 202 yards rushing per game.

Theo Riddick has gained 880 yards and five touchdowns, Cierre Wood has 740 yards and four TDs, while George Atkinson III has chipped in with 361 yards, five TDs and a team-leading 7.1 yards per carry. Golson is also a threat to tuck the ball and run, gaining 305 yards and scoring five times.

"Coach Kelly is known to sling the ball around, but this year we've kind of done both," Lewis-Moore said. "We've run the ball very well with Theo, Cierre and George. We're kind of like a three-headed monster."

If that's the case, then Alabama is a two-headed beast.

Junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon have both rushed for 1,000 yards and combined for a staggering 27 touchdowns, taking advantage of what is generally regarded as the best offensive line in the nation.

"It's like old-school football," Lacy said. "We line up in the I-formation and pound it. A lot of teams are in the spread and things like that. We like to keep it old school around here. The old-fashioned way still works."

New is old again for A&M

Spencer Nealy and some of his Texas A&M teammates were discussing potential bowl games even before their first SEC season began.

"We were like, how funny would it be if we made the Cotton Bowl," Nealy said. "We were looking at SEC vs. Big 12 teams."

Well, Texas A&M's season of firsts — Coach Kevin Sumlin's first year, quarterback Johnny Manziel becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and the SEC debut — will end with the 10th-ranked Aggies (10-2) playing a familiar Big 12 foe.

In the only bowl matching the SEC against the Big 12, Texas A&M takes on 12th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night. Both teams have five-game winning streaks.

"It's a little more than a game," Nealy said. "It's almost like we had a great season but we have to win this one."

In their 16 Big 12 seasons, the only time the Aggies won more than nine games was 1998, when they were 11-3 in their conference title season. They left the league with a winning record (7-6) last season only after a bowl win over Northwestern.

Once in the SEC, which has six national titles in a row, Texas A&M lost its opener 20-17 to Florida. The other loss was 24-19 to LSU before the current winning streak that includes the Aggies' first-ever road win against a No. 1 team — at SEC champion Alabama, which plays in the BCS title game Monday night.

Around the nation

South Carolina: Quarterback Connor Shaw will have surgery on his left foot Friday. The junior was injured in a win over Tennessee on Oct. 27 but played in wins over Arkansas and Wofford. He missed the Gamecocks' victory over Clemson but was back for Tuesday's win over Michigan.

Florida State: All-America defensive end Bjoern Werner will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

Michigan State: Running back Le'Veon Bell is headed to the NFL after a tireless junior season in which he carried the ball 382 times.

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