Tide, Irish preparation becomes a chess match

by | CBSSports.com staff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Throughout his career as a head coach, Nick Saban has been praised for his ability to game-plan for opponents with ample preparation time.

Perhaps the most pertinent example is Alabama’s 21-0 dismantling of LSU in the 2012 BCS Championship Game only two months after the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide 9-6 in Tuscaloosa.

“Both teams have 43 days to prepare, and both teams know what the other teams have done to get here, and both teams know their tendencies,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “They know our tendencies pretty well, but we know our tendencies pretty well, too. It'll be a fun night when it comes to the chess match part of it.”

To attempt to neutralize that perception, Notre Dame will not vary far from what it has done throughout this season and will stay close to its identity.

“You just kind of do what has gotten us here and execute what we have,” Martin said.

Irish offensive tackle at full strength

Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin said he has recovered from an ankle injury sustained Nov. 24 in a 22-13 victory against USC.

“I’m doing well,” Martin said. “I’m out there practicing and feeling good and I’m looking forward to playing on Monday … I’m 100 percent. I’m ready to go.”

The senior was selected as a team captain at the beginning of the season and has started all 38 games of his Notre Dame career.

First-team battles

Alabama is well known for its vicious practice sessions in which the first-team offense and the first-team defense conduct rushing drills. Because the Tide have a power rushing attack and arguably one of the best offensive lines in the history of the sport, coupled with a stout defense, the sessions often resemble game action.

“It gets real intense,” Lester said. “You start feeling like the opposing teams on Saturdays. It’s a tough feeling going against the offensive line. It’s very physical out there especially with the big backs we have back there. It almost can make Saturdays a lot easier than what it is.”

Because of the talent on Alabama’s roster, there have been some noteworthy matchups between Tide teammates privy only to those in practice. One of the most noteworthy, according to Smart, is the matchup between offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and defensive end Damion Square.

“Damion does a great job, but I just cringe at the thought of having to hammer big Fluker every play,” Smart said. “They have good wars, and they're really spirited and in the right mindset. I'm not talking about talking trash or fighting. They get after each other, and I think that's what makes us who we are. I think that creates our identity by going good-on-good quite a bit.”

Saban's familiar foe

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is quite familiar with Alabama coach Nick Saban. Throughout their careers, the pair has crossed paths multiple times. When the Irish and the Crimson Tide square off for the BCS Championship on Monday night, Hiestand will draw from his experience in facing Saban’s teams, attempting to gain an advantage.

“He was at Illinois when [Saban] was at Michigan State and also he was at Tennessee the last two years,” Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin said. “He knows what they do and he’s played against them the last couple of years, so I’d say that’s definitely an advantage.”

In the times the two have faced each other, Saban’s teams hold a 4-0 advantage over Hiestand’s.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS


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