“Fighting Irish,” he said. “Fighting Irish. That’s who we are. That’s how we’ve constructed how we want our guys to play.
“We’re going to battle you. First time our back has a chance, he’d better lower his shoulder and run through a tackle. He’d better finish off tackles, play tough and physical. We want that kind of demeanor.”
Second-ranked Alabama (12-1) is a 9.5-point favorite and should win tonight’s titanic Bowl Championship Series final showdown with No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) in Sun Life Stadium. Both defenses can stop the run, but Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has experience making plays in the BCS final.
Still, don’t expect an easy game for the Crimson Tide.
Don’t be shocked if Alabama fans come away from tonight’s game feeling like they felt after the LSU and Georgia games — exhilarated, relieved and respectful of the team Alabama just beat.
And don’t be shocked if Notre Dame comes out on top.
The takeaway from weeks of gaining insight on Notre Dame under Kelly is that of a program built similarly to Alabama’s under Nick Saban. It’s built defense-first and as much on mindset as recruiting.
Team of destiny? The Irish have won close games this year, and Pitt’s missed field goal in overtime lends itself to such talk. Kelly wants no part of it.
“I think you get what you deserve,” he said. “We had some close games this year, but to win those close games versus losing those close games, you have to have more than just luck. You have to have a will, a determination. You have to have a confidence.
“I believe that all of those things have to be built. Every one of those words that I just used have to take place within the workings of your program.”
Sounds like Saban, doesn’t it?
Kelly has admitted borrowing from SEC programs, and Alabama has played among the SEC elite through his tenure at Notre Dame. He has even drawn comparisons to Saban and welcomes them.
“Nick obviously has the reputation of being a great program builder,” Kelly said. “He’s defined himself as only a few coaches that have won the championships that he has, so I take that as a great personal compliment, as it relates to constructing football programs and putting winning football teams on the field.”
With phraseology like “as it relates to” and allusions to process by other words, Kelly sounds a lot like another coach in tonight’s game who got his current program to the BCS final in his third year.
As for the third-year Kelly team that will take on Saban’s sixth Alabama team tonight, the biggest perceived difference is at quarterback. McCarron, a junior, won this game for Alabama a year ago, and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson is a first-year starter.
Saban looks at Golson and sees a season of progression, then add weeks of reflection and practice since the regular season.
Alabama’s coach warns against sleeping on Golson, calling him “a much better passer than is publicly perceived and given credit for, and certainly a very athletic guy who can extend plays and make plays with his feet.”
Throw in matchup problems presented by 6-foot-6 tight end Tyler Eifert and running back/wide receiver hybrid Theo Riddick. Add all that Notre Dame does with motion and formations to create matchup problems with them.
Tonight’s game promises to be more of an adventure for Alabama’s defense than is publicly perceived.
It becomes more of an adventure for Alabama’s offense if center Barrett Jones’ sprained left foot is not fully healed. If he can’t push off of it full go against Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, then the nation’s fourth-ranked run defense will have even more of a chance to show it against Alabama.
Still, Alabama comes into the game with the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing defense, No. 1-ranked total defense and a quarterback that didn’t just manage this game a year ago. McCarron made the difference against LSU.
Alabama, going for its third BCS title in four years, comes into tonight’s game as the team most ready for the moment and should win 24-17.
Still, be warned.
“I think, going into the game, people can surmise the way this thing is going to play out,” Kelly said. “We want to make sure that we get this thing in the fourth quarter and find a way to win the game, and that’s how the game will be managed, just like the other 12 games that we played.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.