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Douglas S. Looney
November 24, 1980
...and also gagged, shutting out the Tide 7-0 to remain undefeated and in the battle for the national championship
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November 24, 1980

Notre Dame Had 'bama Bound

...and also gagged, shutting out the Tide 7-0 to remain undefeated and in the battle for the national championship

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So the Irish took over on the 'Bama 12 and punched it down to the 1, whereupon Kiel stepped away from the center too quickly and the ball squirted out of his hands. "I thought, 'Oh, God, I really blew it," said Kiel. 'Bama's Middle Guard Warren Lyles covered the fumble on the one. Two plays later Jacobs was involved in another fumble, on his own three, and Zettek, who made nine tackles on the day, recovered it. With the Irish, he said later, "doing the unusual is commonplace."

On the second play after Zettek's recovery, with the ball on the Alabama two and 6:02 to go in the half, Kiel called Power Right 33 Seal. Phil Carter, the splendid Irish halfback, took the hand-off and crashed up the middle, diving and stretching into the end zone. Carter, the game's leading rusher with 84 yards, is that rare breed, the kind of back who genuinely loves to run straight ahead and take on the linebackers. "I like to take a beating," he has said. For his part, Devine says, "I always see all 22 players on the field every play, but Carter is so fast that once I only saw 21."

Still, the Tide had its chances. In the third quarter it missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt. On the first play of the final quarter, fourth down and two from the Notre Dame 35, Alabama was stopped cold. The Irish blew a 19-yard field goal from a difficult angle midway through the fourth quarter when Harry Oliver slipped as he was about to kick the ball. Given this reprieve from what would have been a 10-0 deficit, Alabama had one last opportunity to tie—win if it scored and made good on a two-point conversion. But with the ball on the Notre Dame 37, fourth and less than one, Halfback Linnie Patrick was stopped for no gain by Irish Linebacker Bob Crable.

Crable led the Irish defense, making 11 tackles, nine unassisted. Linebacker Coach George Kelly attributes Crable's astounding play to the fact that "he's so fearful of failure." Crable was a heralded freshman in 1978, but he played miserably before catching on. With a vengeance. He deserves much credit for the fact that the Irish haven't given up a touchdown in their last five games. 'Bama's total offense was only 246 yards, compared with its average of 388.1.

Yet the Tide was even more stingy, limiting the Irish to just 192 yards of total offense, thanks in large measure to Linebacker Thomas Boyd and Strong Safety Tommy Wilcox, each of whom had 19 tackles; 14 of Boyd's were unassisted. But the Irish cashed in when that one double opportunity reared its gorgeous head. Joe Yonto, veteran defensive coordinator for Notre Dame, said of his group's performance, "They gave up too many yards." But his big smile spoke his true feelings.

In Alabama, nobody complains openly about Bryant. It's against the law. But after two defeats this year, with the national championship out of reach, there is whispered discontent. Fans aren't pleased with the way Bryant has handled the quarterback situation. In one game he used five. Jacobs, coming off knee surgery, is slower now and his passing woeful. But Bear has experimented with others—notably freshman Walter Lewis, who took over near the end of the first half—in ways that clearly have hurt continuity. And some of the faithful aren't elated with Bryant's minimal use of Major Ogilvie, one of the better running backs around. On Saturday, Ogilvie carried only three times for four yards. In the Mississippi State defeat, he carried seven times.

To question the decisions of a man who will soon be the winningest coach in history is perhaps presumptuous. But Bryant prompts it himself with his repeated observations that only his coaching can screw things up. He doesn't mean it, of course, but it does set others to considering the possibility.

At the least, Bryant should be questioning his wisdom in giving one of his famed hats to Notre Dame Athletic Director Moose Krause years ago at a New York City dinner. Moose has worn it the week of all four Alabama games. "This hat," says Moose, "is undefeated."

And so, of course, is Notre Dame, no matter what Zettek might say. But remaining so might be a problem. Before meeting Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, the Irish must get by what figures to be an angry group of USC Trojans in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. USC lost to Washington last week, ending its chances for the national championship, but if the Trojans beat the Irish, Notre Dame will be gone, too, and will be playing New Year's Day merely to keep Georgia from the title. And if that happens....

Dan Devine will worry about that later. No matter what else happens, he'll always have last week in Birmingham to savor while he fusses over his steaks.

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