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There’s more to Notre Dame-Alabama than just muscle

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert can be difference-maker when he lines up as wide receiver. | Keith Srakocic~AP

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert can be a difference-maker when he lines up as a wide receiver. | Keith Srakocic~AP

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Time: 7:30 p.m. Monday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN. • Line: Alabama by 91/2.

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:44AM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Looking for skirmishes that will decide the national championship battle Monday night? Keep an eye on these two:

◆ When Alabama has the ball, the best offensive line in the nation will try to open running lanes on a stellar Notre Dame defensive line that has only given up two rushing touchdowns.

◆ When Notre Dame has the ball, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick hope to create matchup nightmares when they line up like wide receivers.

The first battle, in the trenches, is getting the most attention, and for good reason.

Operating behind the nation’s most accomplished set of blockers, the Crimson Tide has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Eddie Lacy (1,182) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (1,000), and has scored 35 rushing TDs. It also has sprinkled in 27 passing TDs when defenses have tried to stack the box.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame — which is allowing 92.4 rushing yards, fourth in the nation — didn’t give up a rushing touchdown until the fourth quarter of its eighth game, at Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

After that Sooners score, ‘‘Guys were looking around like, ‘What’s going on?’ ’’ Notre Dame senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

This strength vs. strength matchup will feature a lot of pure-muscle, smashmouth stuff. But that’s not the whole story, the combatants say.

‘‘Sheer strength does play a part,’’ Lewis-Moore said. ‘‘But I think it’s going to be more about fundamentals and techniques than strength.’’

When behemoths like 6-5, 302-pound Alabama center Barrett Jones and 6-3, 326-pound Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix  III collide, strength will matter. But so will agility and hand-checking. And the recognition and communication to choreograph the protection — or break it down — will be particularly critical.

‘‘Whoever makes the least mistakes will come out on top,’’ said Crimson Tide guard Chance Warmack, also discounting the pure-muscle theory. ‘‘We’re both physical, both strong, both play sound football. It’s going to be whoever makes the least mistakes.’’

While the ‘‘big uglies,’’ as broadcasting legend Keith Jackson liked to call linemen, will be engaging in a strength-and-technique battle in the trenches, the Irish will be trying to win a speed-and-will battle in their passing lanes.

How well Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Everett Golson, can deliver the ball is an open question. Both sides acknowledge, though, that he’ll have special targets when tight end Eifert and running back Riddick run routes like receivers.

Who would create the most problems for Riddick when he’s playing receiver?

‘‘A cornerback, but that’s very hard,’’ Riddick said, his eyes gleaming. ‘‘You have to be in the nickel package for that.’’

And that would open up something somewhere else.

Who would he like to see covering him?

‘‘It depends what route I’m running,’’ the 6-6, 251-pound Eifert said. ‘‘I’d rather have a linebacker cover me on a go, and a corner if I’m trying to do short routes or quicker; they can stay closer to me.’’

When asked about Irish weapons, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner mentioned Eifert’s name first.

‘‘Tyler Eifert’s a dynamic tight end that can line up at receiver,’’ said Milliner, a 6-1, 199-pound junior. ‘‘He can line up anywhere on the field and make plays. They have a lot of guys that can do things, but he can be a dominant player.’’

Milliner tried to downplay Eifert’s half-a-foot size advantage.

‘‘That ain’t nothin’,’’ Milliner said. ‘‘They’ll probably try to throw jump balls to him because of his size. That’s when you have to go to your mechanics and play the ball.’’

If it sounds like there will be a lot of little chess matches going on within the physical wrangling, that’s exactly right.

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