College Football Insider

Explosive tailback tandem may push Irish's vaunted D back on heels

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If its running game explodes, Alabama should be on its way to a third national title in four years.

It's that simple.

Alabama has averaged 207.3 rushing yards since 2010, but in five losses during that span, the Tide averaged 85 yards on the ground.

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Notre Dame's ability to stop the SEC's championship streak at six will hinge in part on its defensive line.

"This is about the big fellas," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "This game will be decided unquestionably up front."

Enter Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, the latest lethal SEC rushing pair fresh out of the Crimson factory.

Not only has the tandem combined for 2,182 yards and 27 touchdowns, it looks a little like the duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson while doing so.

At least that's the way D.J. Fluker sees it.

"Speed and power," Bama's right tackle said.

The Tide has had a workhorse with at least 16 rushing touchdowns in each title run under Nick Saban -- Ingram in 2009 (16), Richardson last season (21) and Lacy (16).

But Ingram and Richardson never recorded seasons with double-digit touchdown and matching 1,000-yard campaigns in the same year, which Lacy (1,182 yards), a junior, and Yeldon (1,000 yards, 11 TDs), a freshman, did this season. In fact, this is the only duo in Alabama history to accomplish that feat.

The last SEC pair with matching 1,000-yard seasons was Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2007.

Ingram, Richardson, Lacy and Yeldon all played at a listed collegiate weight in the 215- to 224-pound range, though the 6-foot-2 Yeldon and the 6-1 Lacy are a little taller than Ingram and Richardson (5-10 and 5-11, respectively).

Lacy grinds out the tough yards, and Yeldon can, too, though he's got more shake to his game.

Nick Saban runs an NFL-friendly program, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the running game. An offensive line that averages 314 pounds creates holes that Lacy and Yeldon either plow through or patiently wait to develop.

Kelly says his Irish must play "no-crease defense" and force Alabama tailbacks East and West.

"If they've got gaping holes in there, they are going to run through you," Kelly said. "We've got a lot of work to do up front. If we can do that and slow those big bodies down a little bit, we can probably drag them down. But that's not going to happen every play."

Notre Dame will let teams drive downfield but flourishes in the red zone -- forcing teams into field-goal attempts, placing the onus on Lacy and Yeldon to push the Irish into the end zone.

But these two aren't in a rush when they get the ball.

"They are patient, too," Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said. "It will be a good challenge for us."

It starts with Lacy, who has worked his way into the conversation of Alabama's great backs.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says Lacy has great "contact balance," meaning he can get hit more than once while staying upright.

Lacy relies on more than physicality.

"My whole mindset was that they're great guys, but I'm good as well," said Lacy of Ingram and Richardson. "I do what they do and try to do my best at it. ... It's a standard. I decided I would play the game the way I know how to play and whatever the outcome may be let it be what it is. It ended up pretty good and I'm pretty much up there with those guys."

Yeldon could be there soon, if he isn't already. He established his presence on the practice field immediately, Fluker said.

"He came in and made it clear that, 'Hey, I'm here to play,' " Fluker said. "He's been an amazing guy to come in and take over the workload."


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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