Alabama secondary ready to prove Notre Dame wrong

01/05/2013 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:13 PM

The one thing players try to avoid during interviews is providing the opposition with words of encouragement — better known as bulletin-board material.

Notre Dame running back Theo Reddick might not have intended to do that Friday, but he did Alabama’s defense a favor when he responded to a question about what the top-ranked Irish (12-0) learned from the Crimson Tide’s only loss to Texas A&M back on Nov. 10.

“[We learned] that we can take advantage of their secondary,” Riddick said. “They play a lot of man-to-man.

“With [quarterback Everett] Golson’s ability to get away, I think that can cause a lot of problems.”

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner simply smiled when told what Riddick had said.

“I’m glad they would say something like that. It makes you want to play even more — go out there and make plays,” the 6-1, 199-pound junior unanimous First Team All-American said.

“We know that because we’ve been hearing it all season — we’re the group that can be exploited. … Since they think we’re the weak links of the team, hopefully they’ll try to exploit us and we’ll make plays to change their mind.”

Alabama, which lost three starters in its secondary from a year ago including two first-round picks in safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, certainly had a few struggles this season. The Tide gave up a combined 49 catches, 549 yards and three touchdowns in back-to-back games against LSU and Texas A&M.

But Bama still finished eighth out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools nationally in pass-efficiency defense, giving up just seven passing touchdowns on the season and finished fourth in terms of yardage (166.23 yards per game).

“At the beginning of the season, we just had to buy in and knew we had to play younger guys,” said Milliner, a Thorpe Award finalist. “They got a lot of playing experience.

“Losing three or four players to the NFL, that’s what you do on a team every year. You’re going to lose great players to the NFL, but that’s why it’s called recruiting. You’ve got to recruit more great players to play, and that’s what we did.”

Notre Dame ranks 74th in pass efficiency and 76th in passing offense, averaging 218.83 yards per game.

“We have certain goals we want to accomplish as a secondary,” said safety Robert Lester, considered the second-best draft-eligible strong safety in the country by NFLDraftScout.com. “I think if we focus on those goals and actually go into the game and accomplish those goals, I think that will be a big enough statement for us.”

Smart content

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, interviewed by Auburn last month and one of the most sought after assistant coaches in the country, reiterated Friday he’s happy to be at Alabama.

“Ultimately, my goal is to be a head coach,” Smart, 37, said. “Where that is, I have no idea. It’s not like I wake up every day trying to leave Alabama.

“I have the best non-head-coaching job in the country, period. I want to be where I know I can win, and I know you can win at Alabama.

“... If I was 47, I might feel differently. But the most important thing to me right now is winning championships and developing young men.”

Rooting For Bama

Former University of Miami and FAU football coach Howard Schnellenberger, who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Paul “Bear” Bryant (1961-65) and won three national championships (1961-65), said he will be watching Monday night’s BCS title game intently.

And he’ll be rooting for the Tide, but not exactly for the reason you might expect.

“I’m pulling hard for University of Alabama not because of Coach Bryant, but because Notre Dame didn’t recruit me, and I wanted to go there so bad,” Schnellenberger said. “I was a good Catholic boy, good athlete, but they went after my friend Paul Hornung instead.”

Schnellenberger, who went to high school with the future Heisman-winning Irish tailback Hornung, said he spent time with coach Nick Saban in September when FAU lost to the Tide up in Tuscaloosa 40-7.

He was blown away with Saban’s team.

“He’s got that thing so balanced right now,” Schnellenberger said. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”

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